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29.3 Tabs vs. Spaces

Emacs normally uses both tabs and spaces to indent lines. If you prefer, all indentation can be made from spaces only. To request this, set indent-tabs-mode to nil. This is a per-buffer variable, so altering the variable affects only the current buffer, but there is a default value which you can change as well. See section Local Variables.

A tab is not always displayed in the same way. By default, tabs are eight columns wide, but some people like to customize their tools to use a different tab width. So by using spaces only, you can make sure that your file looks the same regardless of the tab width setting.

There are also commands to convert tabs to spaces or vice versa, always preserving the columns of all nonblank text. M-x tabify scans the region for sequences of spaces, and converts sequences of at least two spaces to tabs if that can be done without changing indentation. M-x untabify changes all tabs in the region to appropriate numbers of spaces.

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