other-buffer function actually provides a buffer when it is
used as an argument to a function that requires one. We can see this
switch-to-buffer to switch to a
But first, a brief introduction to the
function. When you switched back and forth from Info to the
*scratch* buffer to evaluate
(buffer-name), you most
likely typed C-x b and then typed *scratch*1 when prompted in the minibuffer for the name of
the buffer to which you wanted to switch. The keystrokes, C-x
b, cause the Lisp interpreter to evaluate the interactive function
switch-to-buffer. As we said before, this is how Emacs works:
different keystrokes call or run different functions. For example,
forward-char, M-e calls
forward-sentence, and so on.
switch-to-buffer in an expression, and giving it a
buffer to switch to, we can switch buffers just the way C-x b
Here is the Lisp expression:
switch-to-buffer is the first element of the list,
so the Lisp interpreter will treat it as a function and carry out the
instructions that are attached to it. But before doing that, the
interpreter will note that
other-buffer is inside parentheses
and work on that symbol first.
other-buffer is the first (and
in this case, the only) element of this list, so the Lisp interpreter
calls or runs the function. It returns another buffer. Next, the
switch-to-buffer, passing to it, as an
argument, the other buffer, which is what Emacs will switch to. If
you are reading this in Info, try this now. Evaluate the expression.
(To get back, type C-x b <RET>.)2
In the programming examples in later sections of this document, you will
see the function
set-buffer more often than
switch-to-buffer. This is because of a difference between
computer programs and humans: humans have eyes and expect to see the
buffer on which they are working on their computer terminals. This is
so obvious, it almost goes without saying. However, programs do not
have eyes. When a computer program works on a buffer, that buffer does
not need to be visible on the screen.
switch-to-buffer is designed for humans and does two different
things: it switches the buffer to which Emacs' attention is directed; and
it switches the buffer displayed in the window to the new buffer.
set-buffer, on the other hand, does only one thing: it switches
the attention of the computer program to a different buffer. The buffer
on the screen remains unchanged (of course, normally nothing happens
there until the command finishes running).
Also, we have just introduced another jargon term, the word call. When you evaluate a list in which the first symbol is a function, you are calling that function. The use of the term comes from the notion of the function as an entity that can do something for you if you `call' it—just as a plumber is an entity who can fix a leak if you call him or her.
rather, to save typing, you probably only typed RET if the
default buffer was *scratch*, or if it was different, then you
typed just part of the name, such as
*sc, pressed your
TAB key to cause it to expand to the full name, and then typed
your RET key.
 Remember, this expression will move you to your most recent other buffer that you cannot see. If you really want to go to your most recently selected buffer, even if you can still see it, you need to evaluate the following more complex expression:
(switch-to-buffer (other-buffer (current-buffer) t))
In this case, the first argument to
other-buffer tells it which
buffer to skip—the current one—and the second argument tells
other-buffer it is OK to switch to a visible buffer.
In regular use,
switch-to-buffer takes you to an invisible
window since you would most likely use C-x o (
to go to another visible buffer.