31.10. The Diary

The Emacs diary keeps track of appointments or other events on a daily basis, in conjunction with the calendar. To use the diary feature, you must first create a diary file containing a list of events and their dates. Then Emacs can automatically pick out and display the events for today, for the immediate future, or for any specified date.

By default, Emacs uses ~/diary as the diary file. This is the same file that the calendar utility uses. A sample ~/diary file is:

12/22/1988  Twentieth wedding anniversary!!
&1/1.       Happy New Year!
10/22       Ruth's birthday.
* 21, *:    Payday
Tuesday--weekly meeting with grad students at 10am
         Supowit, Shen, Bitner, and Kapoor to attend.
1/13/89     Friday the thirteenth!!
&thu 4pm    squash game with Lloyd.
mar 16      Dad's birthday
April 15, 1989 Income tax due.
&* 15       time cards due.

This example uses extra spaces to align the event descriptions of most of the entries. Such formatting is purely a matter of taste.

Although you probably will start by creating a diary manually, Emacs provides a number of commands to let you view, add, and change diary entries.

31.10.1. Commands Displaying Diary Entries

Once you have created a ~/diary file, you can use the calendar to view it. You can also view today's events outside of Calendar mode.


Display all diary entries for the selected date (view-diary-entries).

Mouse-2 Diary

Display all diary entries for the date you click on.


Display the entire diary file (show-all-diary-entries).


Mark all visible dates that have diary entries (mark-diary-entries).


Unmark the calendar window (calendar-unmark).

M-x print-diary-entries

Print hard copy of the diary display as it appears.

M-x diary

Display all diary entries for today's date.

M-x diary-mail-entries

Mail yourself email reminders about upcoming diary entries.

Displaying the diary entries with d shows in a separate window the diary entries for the selected date in the calendar. The mode line of the new window shows the date of the diary entries and any holidays that fall on that date. If you specify a numeric argument with d, it shows all the diary entries for that many successive days. Thus, 2 d displays all the entries for the selected date and for the following day.

Another way to display the diary entries for a date is to click Mouse-2 on the date, and then choose Diary from the menu that appears.

To get a broader view of which days are mentioned in the diary, use the m command. This displays the dates that have diary entries in a different face (or places a + after these dates, if display with multiple faces is not available). The command applies both to the currently visible months and to other months that subsequently become visible by scrolling. To turn marking off and erase the current marks, type u, which also turns off holiday marks (Section 31.6).

To see the full diary file, rather than just some of the entries, use the s command.

Display of selected diary entries uses the selective display feature to hide entries that don't apply.

The diary buffer as you see it is an illusion, so simply printing the buffer does not print what you see on your screen. There is a special command to print hard copy of the diary buffer as it appears; this command is M-x print-diary-entries. It sends the data directly to the printer. You can customize it like lpr-region (Section 31.18).

The command M-x diary displays the diary entries for the current date, independently of the calendar display, and optionally for the next few days as well; the variable number-of-diary-entries specifies how many days to include. .

If you put (diary) in your .emacs file, this automatically displays a window with the day's diary entries, when you enter Emacs. The mode line of the displayed window shows the date and any holidays that fall on that date.

Many users like to receive notice of events in their diary as email. To send such mail to yourself, use the command M-x diary-mail-entries. A prefix argument specifies how many days (starting with today) to check; otherwise, the variable diary-mail-days says how many days.

31.10.2. The Diary File

Your diary file is a file that records events associated with particular dates. The name of the diary file is specified by the variable diary-file; ~/diary is the default. The calendar utility program supports a subset of the format allowed by the Emacs diary facilities, so you can use that utility to view the diary file, with reasonable results aside from the entries it cannot understand.

Each entry in the diary file describes one event and consists of one or more lines. An entry always begins with a date specification at the left margin. The rest of the entry is simply text to describe the event. If the entry has more than one line, then the lines after the first must begin with whitespace to indicate they continue a previous entry. Lines that do not begin with valid dates and do not continue a preceding entry are ignored.

You can inhibit the marking of certain diary entries in the calendar window; to do this, insert an ampersand (&) at the beginning of the entry, before the date. This has no effect on display of the entry in the diary window; it affects only marks on dates in the calendar window. Nonmarking entries are especially useful for generic entries that would otherwise mark many different dates.

If the first line of a diary entry consists only of the date or day name with no following blanks or punctuation, then the diary window display doesn't include that line; only the continuation lines appear. For example, this entry:

      Bill B. visits Princeton today
      2pm Cognitive Studies Committee meeting
      2:30-5:30 Liz at Lawrenceville
      4:00pm Dentist appt
      7:30pm Dinner at George's
      8:00-10:00pm concert

appears in the diary window without the date line at the beginning. This style of entry looks neater when you display just a single day's entries, but can cause confusion if you ask for more than one day's entries.

You can edit the diary entries as they appear in the window, but it is important to remember that the buffer displayed contains the entire diary file, with portions of it concealed from view. This means, for instance, that the C-f (forward-char) command can put point at what appears to be the end of the line, but what is in reality the middle of some concealed line.

Be careful when editing the diary entries! Inserting additional lines or adding/deleting characters in the middle of a visible line cannot cause problems, but editing at the end of a line may not do what you expect. Deleting a line may delete other invisible entries that follow it. Before editing the diary, it is best to display the entire file with s (show-all-diary-entries).

31.10.3. Date Formats

Here are some sample diary entries, illustrating different ways of formatting a date. The examples all show dates in American order (month, day, year), but Calendar mode supports European order (day, month, year) as an option.

4/20/93  Switch-over to new tabulation system
apr. 25  Start tabulating annual results
4/30  Results for April are due
*/25  Monthly cycle finishes
Friday  Don't leave without backing up files

The first entry appears only once, on April 20, 1993. The second and third appear every year on the specified dates, and the fourth uses a wildcard (asterisk) for the month, so it appears on the 25th of every month. The final entry appears every week on Friday.

You can use just numbers to express a date, as in month/day or month/day/year. This must be followed by a nondigit. In the date itself, month and day are numbers of one or two digits. The optional year is also a number, and may be abbreviated to the last two digits; that is, you can use 11/12/1989 or 11/12/89.

Dates can also have the form monthname day or monthname day, year, where the month's name can be spelled in full or abbreviated to three characters (with or without a period). Case is not significant.

A date may be generic; that is, partially unspecified. Then the entry applies to all dates that match the specification. If the date does not contain a year, it is generic and applies to any year. Alternatively, month, day, or year can be a *; this matches any month, day, or year, respectively. Thus, a diary entry 3/*/* matches any day in March of any year; so does march *.

If you prefer the European style of writing dates--in which the day comes before the month--type M-x european-calendar while in the calendar, or set the variable european-calendar-style to t before using any calendar or diary command. This mode interprets all dates in the diary in the European manner, and also uses European style for displaying diary dates. (Note that there is no comma after the monthname in the European style.) To go back to the (default) American style of writing dates, type M-x american-calendar.

You can use the name of a day of the week as a generic date which applies to any date falling on that day of the week. You can abbreviate the day of the week to three letters (with or without a period) or spell it in full; case is not significant.

31.10.4. Commands to Add to the Diary

While in the calendar, there are several commands to create diary entries:

i d

Add a diary entry for the selected date (insert-diary-entry).

i w

Add a diary entry for the selected day of the week (insert-weekly-diary-entry).

i m

Add a diary entry for the selected day of the month (insert-monthly-diary-entry).

i y

Add a diary entry for the selected day of the year (insert-yearly-diary-entry).

You can make a diary entry for a specific date by selecting that date in the calendar window and typing the i d command. This command displays the end of your diary file in another window and inserts the date; you can then type the rest of the diary entry.

If you want to make a diary entry that applies to a specific day of the week, select that day of the week (any occurrence will do) and type i w. This inserts the day-of-week as a generic date; you can then type the rest of the diary entry. You can make a monthly diary entry in the same fashion. Select the day of the month, use the i m command, and type rest of the entry. Similarly, you can insert a yearly diary entry with the i y command.

All of the above commands make marking diary entries by default. To make a nonmarking diary entry, give a numeric argument to the command. For example, C-u i w makes a nonmarking weekly diary entry.

When you modify the diary file, be sure to save the file before exiting Emacs.

31.10.5. Special Diary Entries

In addition to entries based on calendar dates, the diary file can contain sexp entries for regular events such as anniversaries. These entries are based on Lisp expressions (sexps) that Emacs evaluates as it scans the diary file. Instead of a date, a sexp entry contains %% followed by a Lisp expression which must begin and end with parentheses. The Lisp expression determines which dates the entry applies to.

Calendar mode provides commands to insert certain commonly used sexp entries:

i a

Add an anniversary diary entry for the selected date (insert-anniversary-diary-entry).

i b

Add a block diary entry for the current region (insert-block-diary-entry).

i c

Add a cyclic diary entry starting at the date (insert-cyclic-diary-entry).

If you want to make a diary entry that applies to the anniversary of a specific date, move point to that date and use the i a command. This displays the end of your diary file in another window and inserts the anniversary description; you can then type the rest of the diary entry. The entry looks like this:

%%(diary-anniversary 10 31 1948) Arthur's birthday

This entry applies to October 31 in any year after 1948; 10 31 1948 specifies the date. (If you are using the European calendar style, the month and day are interchanged.) The reason this expression requires a beginning year is that advanced diary functions can use it to calculate the number of elapsed years.

A block diary entry applies to a specified range of consecutive dates. Here is a block diary entry that applies to all dates from June 24, 1990 through July 10, 1990:

%%(diary-block 6 24 1990 7 10 1990) Vacation

The 6 24 1990 indicates the starting date and the 7 10 1990 indicates the stopping date. (Again, if you are using the European calendar style, the month and day are interchanged.)

To insert a block entry, place point and the mark on the two dates that begin and end the range, and type i b. This command displays the end of your diary file in another window and inserts the block description; you can then type the diary entry.

Cyclic diary entries repeat after a fixed interval of days. To create one, select the starting date and use the i c command. The command prompts for the length of interval, then inserts the entry, which looks like this:

%%(diary-cyclic 50 3 1 1990) Renew medication

This entry applies to March 1, 1990 and every 50th day following; 3 1 1990 specifies the starting date. (If you are using the European calendar style, the month and day are interchanged.)

All three of these commands make marking diary entries. To insert a nonmarking entry, give a numeric argument to the command. For example, C-u i a makes a nonmarking anniversary diary entry.

Marking sexp diary entries in the calendar is extremely time-consuming, since every date visible in the calendar window must be individually checked. So it's a good idea to make sexp diary entries nonmarking (with &) when possible.

Another sophisticated kind of sexp entry, a floating diary entry, specifies a regularly occurring event by offsets specified in days, weeks, and months. It is comparable to a crontab entry interpreted by the cron utility. Here is a nonmarking, floating diary entry that applies to the last Thursday in November:

&%%(diary-float 11 4 -1) American Thanksgiving

The 11 specifies November (the eleventh month), the 4 specifies Thursday (the fourth day of the week, where Sunday is numbered zero), and the −1 specifies "last" (1 would mean "first," 2 would mean "second," −2 would mean "second-to-last," and so on). The month can be a single month or a list of months. Thus you could change the 11 above to '(1 2 3) and have the entry apply to the last Thursday of January, February, and March. If the month is t, the entry applies to all months of the year.

Most generally, sexp diary entries can perform arbitrary computations to determine when they apply. .