Sometimes I want to prevent myself from accidentally editing a buffer. How can I write-protect the buffer?

3 Answers 3


You can toggle read-only-mode on a buffer with C-x C-q: the mode line changes from -:--- README.org ... to -:%%- README.org ... (where README.org is the name of the file that the buffer is visiting, although read-only-mode applies to any buffer, including buffers that are not associated with files). That indicates that the buffer is read-only: trying to modify the buffer afterwards (e.g. by typing RET) elicits the message newline: Buffer is read-only: #<buffer README.org>.

See the description of read-only-mode with C-h f read-only-mode. There are several wrinkles described there that I do not describe above. For a description of the mode line (including the read-only bits described above), see the Mode line section in the Emacs manual.

read-only-mode is a minor mode and like all minor modes, running the mode function (with M-x read-only-mode or more simply with the keybinding C-x C-q) toggles the mode from off to on or vice versa. Underneath the covers, the mechanism uses the buffer-read-only buffer-local variable that @shynur describes in his answer but there is generally no need to muck around with that interactively. Changing read-only status from a program is a different matter: the doc string of the mode is a must-read in that case.


Buffer local variable: buffer-read-only


  • Put it in your file:

    Your text...
    Local Variables:
    buffer-read-only: t

    Save your file and then M-x normal-mode.

  • Set it manually, say M-: (setq-local buffer-read-only t) (setq-local is unnecessary, but it is more readable than setq when you set a buffer local variable).

  • 1
    Great idea. You could even define a keybinding for (setq-local buffer-read-only t). Aug 4, 2023 at 10:22
  • 2
    C-x C-q is bound to read-only-mode, a minor mode, so you can use it to toggle the read-only state of a buffer.
    – NickD
    Aug 4, 2023 at 11:49
  • @NickD If you provide this as an answer, it would be very helpful. I could do it, but I don't want to lay claim to your idea. Aug 7, 2023 at 10:30
  • henning: NickD already told you the standard key binding for the standard command to do that. There's no reason to add custom code to this answer.
    – phils
    Aug 7, 2023 at 11:43
  • 1
    henning: Don't be so sure. Your code wasn't triggering the message, but it's setting the same variable: read-only-mode specifically toggles buffer-read-only (old-timers know this command as toggle-read-only; it was reframed as read-only-mode a while ago, but there was never a read-only-mode variable). Try alternating your command and read-only-mode and you'll see that they're both controlling the same thing. Other than the toggling behaviour, the main difference relates to the view-read-only user option (but that's not enabled by default).
    – phils
    Aug 7, 2023 at 14:00

Just toggle view-mode, which "provides commands for scrolling through the buffer conveniently but not for changing it". Typing q disables view-mode and returns to the previous buffer. Typing e disables view-mode and keeps the current buffer visible, e.g. for editing.

  • If it is possible for you to edit accidentally, the same is true for you to press e accidentally.
    – shynur
    Aug 4, 2023 at 9:33
  • That is true, but less likely. Assuming (somewhat unrealistically) that all keys on a keyboard have the same probably of being hit accidentally, and assuming the number of keys is 100, it is even 100 times less likely. But I really welcome better suggestions. Aug 4, 2023 at 10:12
  • "better suggestion" -- buffer-read-only
    – shynur
    Aug 4, 2023 at 10:13
  • Write it up, and if it works, I'll gladly accept. Aug 4, 2023 at 10:16

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