After executing the Emacs binary I see on a screen (what in common sense is called a window) an Emacs-frame.

An Emacs-frame has the [-] [+] [x] icons in the title bar, a menu, a toolbar, a status-bar and provides the possibility of creating multiple tabs I refer here to as Emacs-frame-tabs in order to be able to distinguish them from the tabs which are Emacs-window-tabs.

An Emacs-frame-tab covers the entire free space of the Emacs-frame not occupied by bars or the minibuffer ...

By the way: is a minibuffer an Emacs-window or an Emacs-frame-tab with restricted user access for creating tabs and windows, or just an own independent element???

... and allows to create multiple Emacs-windows in that free space.

Emacs Options Menu "Show/Hide" comes with an option to display in any Emacs-window an Emacs-window-tab-bar (called in the Menu: Window Tab Line).

It seems that the Emacs-frame-tab-bar and Emacs-window-tab-bar displays in the tabs the names of Emacs-buffers.

An Emacs-buffer is an elisp object which represents all of the data required to generate a visualization of the data in an Emacs-window, which can, but not need to be some text loaded from a file in order to edit it.

As you see from the above I have created an own way of describing the structure of what Emacs comes with and the term "Emacs-frame-tab" for which I haven't yet found any Emacs-native word.

Is there anyone here able to give a better structured description of the visual perceivable elements Emacs comes with?

Or is my naive approach to create an own "Emacs language" necessary to be able to keep the concepts apart and understand them, the currently best existing explanation of the hierarchical structure of the elements of Emacs GUI (Graphical User Interface elements)?

2 Answers 2

> Is there a name describing what is shown when I choose an Emacs-frame-tab?

Let me next to answering the question with: "Yes. The term describing it is:

"root window"

also explain where this answer comes from, why is it so hard to guess it from reading the Emacs documentation and why I mean it is helpful to think about Emacs user interface using it:

The problem with Emacs documentation I refer to in the link given above is ambiguous usage of the terms: frame, window, window configuration, tab and buffer. They are wildly mixed depending on the context meaning different things or are just not properly used.

If you search the index of commands in the Emacs documentation you won't find looking for the keyword "root" or the keyword "window" that there are two functions related to windows which use the term "root":

split-root-window-right  ( look up using: C-h k -> C-x w 3 )
split-root-window-below  ( look up using: C-h k -> C-x w 2 )

The help text for split-root-window-below is a good example of the problems with Emacs documentation and its terminology stating following as explanation of the function:

Split root window of current frame in two. The current window configuration is retained in the top window,the lower window takes up the whole width of the frame."

Already the short sentence: "Split root window of current frame in two." comes with at least two issues:

  • it is missing to state what exactly will be split in two. Will be the root window split in two root windows, or the frame in two frames? I would say none of both will be split. What the command actually does is splitting the graphical area representing the "root window" into two areas. It places all of the already displayed windows in one of these areas and a new window showing the content of the buffer displayed by the window which was active at the time of executing this command into the other area.
  • it is using two terms "root window" and "frame" without being able to provide any clarification how they differ, suggesting that the "root window" resides within a "frame" ('root window of current frame'). But to my knowledge a "frame" could not have more than one "root window". In other words the "frame" is the "root window". There is no hierarchy involved here.

The term "frame" is in the Emacs documentation and on Wiki-pages used also to describe the Emacs "Window" in the common sense of this word.

The concept of "root window" (not present in the list of concepts provided in the Emacs documentation) will be very helpful in understanding how Emacs works and will also help to avoid confusion resulting from thinking about the elements of Emacs user interface in wrong and not helpful terms.


You need to avail yourself of the built–in Emacs Manual. You can show a list of all manuals installed on your system with C-h i.

Specifically, see chapter 20.8 Window Tab Line and chapter 21.17 Tab Bars of the Emacs manual.

The documentation starts out by defining terms:

21.17 Tab Bars

On graphical displays and on text terminals, Emacs can optionally
display a “Tab Bar” at the top of each frame, just below the menu bar
(*note Menu Bars::) and above or below the tool bar (*note Tool Bars::)
depending on the variable ‘tab-bar-position’.  The Tab Bar is a row of
“tabs”—buttons that you can click to switch between window

Thus the Tab Bar contains tabs, and each tab is a button that controls what window configuration the frame will display. A window configuration is simply a list of windows and their arrangement. You might have a stack of three windows vertically, or four arranged in a square, or any other configuration you can imagine. These windows are just windows, they don’t have a special name just because the tab bar is visible.

20.8 Window Tab Line

The command ‘global-tab-line-mode’ toggles the display of a “tab line”
on the top screen line of each window.  The Tab Line shows special
buttons (“tabs”) for each buffer that was displayed in a window, and
allows switching to any of these buffers by clicking the corresponding
button.  Clicking on the ‘+’ icon adds a new buffer to the window-local
tab line of buffers, and clicking on the ‘x’ icon of a tab deletes it.
The mouse wheel on the tab line scrolls the tabs horizontally.

Each window may also have a tab line, also containing tabs, which are buttons that control which buffer is displayed within the window. Again, these buffers are just ordinary buffers and don’t get a new name merely because the tab line is visible.

  • All four of your comments here are based on misreadings or misunderstandings.
    – db48x
    Mar 27 at 13:01
  • You say “But clicking on the Emacs File Menu ''New Frame' causes creating of another Emacs instance.”, but this is incorrect. After clicking New Frame (make-frame-command), the result is a single Emacs process which is displaying two frames. You can verify this by several methods, such as opening two frames and then checking your operating system’s process list (such as by running ps -u in a separate shell). I’m not going to bother to examine the rest of your confusions in detail; suffice it to say that the manual is correct and if you think it is wrong then you are confused or mistaken.
    – db48x
    Mar 27 at 13:07
  • Please read again the title of my question: "Is there a name describing what is shown when I choose an Emacs-frame-tab?" and answer this question instead of pointing me to the manual and exploiting my confusion as evidence that I am wrong in what I try to show you.
    – Claudio
    Mar 27 at 13:28
  • I edited my answer to contain the first paragraph from each of the chapters I pointed to, which defines very clearly what the tab bar and tab lines do, and what the names of things are.
    – db48x
    Mar 27 at 14:19
  • You can check out my new answer to discover what you were probably not yet aware of while providing yours.
    – Claudio
    Mar 28 at 22:20

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