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23.3.2 Backup Files

On most operating systems, rewriting a file automatically destroys all record of what the file used to contain. Thus, saving a file from Emacs throws away the old contents of the file—or it would, except that Emacs carefully copies the old contents to another file, called the backup file, before actually saving.

For most files, the variable make-backup-files determines whether to make backup files. On most operating systems, its default value is t, so that Emacs does write backup files.

For files managed by a version control system (see section Version Control), the variable vc-make-backup-files determines whether to make backup files. By default it is nil, since backup files are redundant when you store all the previous versions in a version control system. See section General Options.

At your option, Emacs can keep either a single backup for each file, or make a series of numbered backup files for each file that you edit.

The default value of the backup-enable-predicate variable prevents backup files being written for files in the directories used for temporary files, specified by temporary-file-directory or small-temporary-file-directory.

Emacs makes a backup for a file only the first time the file is saved from one buffer. No matter how many times you save a file, its backup file continues to contain the contents from before the file was visited. Normally this means that the backup file contains the contents from before the current editing session; however, if you kill the buffer and then visit the file again, a new backup file will be made by the next save.

You can also explicitly request making another backup file from a buffer even though it has already been saved at least once. If you save the buffer with C-u C-x C-s, the version thus saved will be made into a backup file if you save the buffer again. C-u C-u C-x C-s saves the buffer, but first makes the previous file contents into a new backup file. C-u C-u C-u C-x C-s does both things: it makes a backup from the previous contents, and arranges to make another from the newly saved contents if you save again.


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