Emacs: Key Notation: Return, Tab, Escape

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

2023-09-16 note: this page is obsolete. Emacs 29 (Released 2023-07) has made many changes in key syntax.

<return> vs RET

"<return>" is the Return key while emacs runs in a graphical user interface.

"RET" is the Return key while emacs runs in a terminal.

"RET" is also equivalent to "C-m" (Ctrl+m). [see Emacs Key Syntax Explained]

if you define:

(global-set-key (kbd "<return>") 'backward-char)

and run emacs in terminal, your keybinding will have no effect.

you need to use:

(global-set-key (kbd "RET") 'backward-char)

But the problem is, by binding (kbd "RET"), you are also binding (kbd "C-m"), regardless you run emacs in terminal or GUI.

<tab> vs TAB

<escape> vs ESC

WARNING: Binding ESC may make arrow keys or f1 f2 keys not work, in text terminal, or in text terminal and running a remote emacs because text terminal relies on escape sequence to represent those keys.