The paper icon on the toolbar also runs this command. In some applications, a similar icon simply creates a new, unnamed file (e.g., Document1 in Word). Emacs expects you to provide a filename, as we'll see in a moment.
To press C-x C-f, hold down Ctrl, press x and then press f. Now release Ctrl.
After you press C-x C-f, Emacs uses the minibuffer to ask you for the filename. Whenever Emacs wants input from you, it puts the cursor in the minibuffer. When you're done typing in the minibuffer, press Enter.
What if you try to read the same file twice? Instead of creating a new buffer, Emacs just moves you to the buffer the file is in.
You can also open a file in Emacs by dragging and dropping it on an Emacs window or on the Emacs icon.
Now is a good time to try typing if you haven't already done so. You may find yourself wanting to learn more about cursor movement and editing; that's fine. Feel free to skim the rest of this chapter and go on to Chapter 2. We recommend that you read the sections on saving files and exiting Emacs. There's also a table of commands at the end of this chapter for future reference. If you'd like to learn more about working with files as well as some shortcuts, stay with us through the rest of the chapter.
If you happen to read the wrong file, an easy way to get the right file is by typing C-x C-v (for find-alternate-file). This command means "Read a different file instead of the one I just read." After typing C-x C-v, Emacs puts the name of the current file in the minibuffer; you can then correct a typo or the path, the most common reasons for finding the wrong file. Make the correction and press Enter. Emacs replaces the buffer's contents with the alternate file.
Emacs has a very helpful feature known as completion. If you want an existing file, you need only type the first few letters of the name, enough to uniquely identify the filename. Press Tab, and Emacs completes the filename for you. For example, suppose you are trying to find a file called dickens.
If more than one file starts with di, Emacs displays a window with various files that start with that string. You select one by typing a few more characters (enough to identify your file as unique) and pressing Tab again. Or you can select one of the alternatives with the mouse or by pressing PgUp to move to the completions window, moving to the desired option, then pressing Enter.
Completion also works for long command names. It's a wonderful Emacs feature that can save you time—and show you some commands you might not know existed in the process. Chapter 14 provides more details on the glories of completion.
If you want to insert one file into another, you simply move to the appropriate location in the file and type C-x i. (Yes, we know, we haven't told you how to move around in a file yet. Use the arrow keys for now and we'll teach you the "real" Emacs cursor movement commands in Chapter 2.) To append a file, move to the end of the file (M->) and type C-x i. As with C-x C-f, Emacs prompts you for the filename in the minibuffer.
When you use any command that asks for a filename (such as C-x C-f), Emacs displays a default directory in the minibuffer and asks you to type the rest of the filename. How does Emacs choose the default directory? The default directory is taken from the buffer that the cursor is currently in. If you are editing a file in your home directory when you type C-x C-f, Emacs assumes you want to edit another file in your home directory. If you are editing the file /sources/macros/html.macs then Emacs makes the default directory /sources/macros. If you want to find a file in another directory, edit the default directory that Emacs displays.