I want to test out a few alternative keybinding setups but I’m not sure what the simplest/most effective way to do that is.

I would like to have it so that instead of C-d being forward delete ("delete-char" which is what it is by default), whenever I hold down C-d I can use the left (kbd <left>?) and right (kbd <right>?) arrow keys to delete backwards and forwards.

I can can’t even get unsetting C-d to work: When I put (global-set-key (kbd "C-d") 'nil) in my init.el and eval-last-sexp, C-d seems to actually be disabled. But if I save-buffer and close emacs, when I open a new instance, C-d is back to being a forward delete.

Once I get past that problem, the next problem is figuring out how to even express "while C-d is pressed, <left> and <right> arrow keys trigger delete-backwards-char and delete-char and if either are held down they will repeatedly call their functions" in the init file in elisp.

If I can get this resolved the proper way, I can apply the solution to repurpose other default keybindings, but at this point I can't imagine solving this single case without some real guidance.

  • emacs.stackexchange.com/tags/elisp/info
    – Drew
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 15:03
  • @Drew My mistake, thanks for informing me.
    – Nika
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 15:05
  • No problem at all. And yeah, it's not obvious. Thx.
    – Drew
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 17:08

2 Answers 2


To find the key representation you can do this:

  1. C-x b *scratch*
  2. Type whatever key you are interested in. Don't bother about what Emacs does or doesn't do when you type those keys. In your case you would type Ctrl-d, followed by Right Arrow.
  3. Do C-h l. You will see the following entries
 C-d     ;; delete-char
 <right> ;; right-char
 C-h l   ;; view-lossage

  • Portion before the ;; says what keys you pressed. The portion after ;; says the command they run. Based on the above information you know that Ctrl-d followed by Right Arrow is same as C-d <right>. So, to bind a command to Ctrl-d RightArrow you need to use (kbd "C-d <right>")

  • You want C-d <right> to run what C-d does. The lossage says C-d is mapped to delete-char. So, you would do

(global-set-key (kbd "C-d <right>") 'delete-char)
  1. When you put the above code in .emacs and re-start Emacs you will see the following error message
global-set-key: Key sequence C-d <right> starts with non-prefix key C-d

The above message is a fancy way of saying that you need to unbind C-d. You already know C-d is written as (kbd "C-d"). So, you add

(global-unset-key (kbd "C-d"))

before you global-set-key.

This is the lossage information for all the keys that are relevant to the question

 C-d         ;; delete-char
 <backspace> ;; backward-delete-char-untabify
 C-d         ;; delete-char
 <right>     ;; right-char
 C-d         ;; delete-char
 <left>      ;; left-char
 C-h l       ;; view-lossage

If you follow the above process, this is what you will end up with in your ~/.emacs.

(global-unset-key (kbd "C-d"))
(global-set-key (kbd "C-d <right>") 'delete-char)
(global-set-key (kbd "C-d <left>") 'backward-delete-char-untabify)
  • How would this make C-d act as a modifier key similar to Shift? Unless I am using this wrong, here I have to [C-d, then remove my hand from C-d and press <left>] each time I want to backward delete one character; so with the snippet above, I would have to write C-d <left> C-d <left> C-d <left> to delete "hey". Ideally I have it so that I can hold down C-d and while holding down C-d, I can press <left> <left> <left> or just hold down <left> do backwards delete the "hey".
    – Nika
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 14:51

You need to save the configuration in your ~/.emacs.

  1. C-x C-f ~/.emacs
  2. Copy the following elisp snippet in to your ~/.emacs
(global-unset-key (kbd "C-d"))

(defvar my-Ctrl-d-map
  (let ((map (make-sparse-keymap)))
    (define-key map (kbd "<right>") 'delete-char)
    (define-key map (kbd "<left>") 'delete-backward-char)
(fset 'my-Ctrl-d-map my-Ctrl-d-map)

 (lambda (key cmd)
   (put cmd 'repeat-map 'my-Ctrl-d-map))

(repeat-mode -1)
(repeat-mode 1)

(global-set-key (kbd "C-d") 'my-Ctrl-d-map)

  1. Restart Emacs.

Note that repeat-mode is available in Emacs >= 28.1

  • This does just about what I was hoping, but not quite: This snippet allows me to press C-d and then after releasing my hand from the C-d chord, I can press any combination from (<left>*<right>*)* or hold down in one direction and it will delete in that direction. I was hoping that I could get it so that while C-d is held down, the functionality is active, but as soon as I remove my hand from C-d, the <left> and <right> arrow keys go back to just being regular backward and forward movement. I am thinking similar to how the Shift key works. (Upvoted anyway for all your help)
    – Nika
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 14:22
  • Based on what you say, you are looking for the other solution emacs.stackexchange.com/a/72443/31220. The actual elisp snippet is at the bottom of that link. FWIW, when you are in repeat-mode, when you press any key other than the repeated keys, you will exit the repeat-mode. Try doing C-d <left> C-g <left> <right>, see what happens. You can replace C-g with any key, as long as it is different from <left> and <right>. Try doing C-d <left> a b <right> <left>.
    – user31220
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 14:39
  • I replied to your other post. I think your other post moves further away from what I was originally looking for than this one. I'm sorry if I am not explaining clearly what kind of behavior I am looking for. Did my other comment clarify anything?
    – Nika
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 14:56

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