Flip through Emacs buffers Alt-Tab style.
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This package streamlines the operation of switching between recent buffers, with an emphasis on minimizing keystrokes. Inspired by the Alt-Tab convention in Windows, it keeps the most recently used buffers on the top of the stack.


buffer-flip is available on Melpa.


Installing with package-install

M-x package-install RET buffer-flip RET

Then add the following to your config, adapting to your preferences.

;; key to begin cycling buffers.  Global key.
(global-set-key (kbd "M-<tab>") 'buffer-flip)
;; transient keymap used once cycling starts
(setq buffer-flip-map
      (let ((map (make-sparse-keymap)))
        (define-key map (kbd "M-<tab>")   'buffer-flip-forward) 
        (define-key map (kbd "M-S-<tab>") 'buffer-flip-backward)
        (define-key map (kbd "M-ESC")     'buffer-flip-abort)

;; buffers matching these patterns will be skipped
(setq buffer-flip-skip-patterns 

Installing with use-package

(use-package buffer-flip
  :ensure t
  :bind  (("M-<tab>" . buffer-flip)
          :map buffer-flip-map
          ( "M-<tab>" .   buffer-flip-forward) 
          ( "M-S-<tab>" . buffer-flip-backward) 
          ( "M-ESC" .     buffer-flip-abort))
  (setq buffer-flip-skip-patterns

Usage example

The following assumes the above key bindings.

To begin cycling through the buffers, press Alt-Tab. This begins the flipping process by switching to the most recently used buffer. At this point the transient buffer-flip-map is active. Pressing Alt-Tab will continue to cycle through the buffer stack, more recent buffers first. Pressing Alt-Shift-Tab will cycle in the opposite direction. Just begin working in the currently-displayed buffer to stop cycling. Doing so places that buffer on top of the stack. Alt-Esc cancels cycling and switches to the buffer you started in.

Pressing Does this
Alt-Tab Flips to second most recent buffer
Alt-Tab Alt-Tab Flip to third most recent buffer
Alt-Tab Alt-Tab Alt-Tab Alt-Esc Start flipping through buffers and then cancel, returning to the original buffer.
Alt-Tab Alt-Tab Alt-Shift-Tab Flips forward through the two most recent buffers, then flips backward one buffer.

Another good key binding

Personally I use the following key bindings which rely on key-chord. I like it because I can reach the keys easily in home position.

(use-package buffer-flip
  :ensure t
  :chords (("u8" . buffer-flip))
  :bind  (:map buffer-flip-map
               ( "8" .   buffer-flip-forward) 
               ( "*" .   buffer-flip-backward) 
               ( "C-g" . buffer-flip-abort)))

With these bindings,

Pressing Does this
u8 Alternates between the two most recent buffers
u8 8 Flip to third most recent buffer
u8 8 8 C-g Start flipping through buffers and then cancel, returning to the original buffer.
u8 8 * Flips forward through the two most recent buffers, then flips backward one buffer.

This is incidentally the default key binding for previous versions of this package. The current version has no default key binding.

There is a functional difference between this binding and the Alt-Tab version above, which is that pressing the u8 chord repeatedly will alternate between the two most recent buffers because it restarts the cycling process each time by invoking the buffer-flip command. In contrast, pressing Alt-Tab repeatedly cycles through deeper and deeper buffers on the stack. This is because Alt-Tab is bound to both buffer-flip and buffer-flip-forward. The first press puts you into cycling mode, and subsequent presses cycle forward.


A common operation in my work flow is to switch to the other window buffer before flipping buffers. That is, I want to keep my current buffer on top, but I want to get to some buried buffer on the other window. buffer-flip-other-window does just that. If there is only one window, the function will split the window automatically. It's a little like pop-to-buffer for buffer-flipping. It can be bound to its own keystroke, or can be invoked by calling buffer-flip with a prefix arg.

The (Non) UI

Or, "Why don't you have a screenshot?" This package streamlines the operation of switching to recent buffers, a common operation in my workflow. Many buffer management systems display a list of buffer names for you to select from. Extra ui elements like that often come at the cost of additional keystrokes. This package doesn't have any ui elements, it simply changes the current buffer as you cycle. Once you are looking at the buffer you want, just start editing and the cycling automatically exits. Pressing the key bound to buffer-flip-abort during cycling will take you back to where you started.

This package is not efficient for switching to a deeply-buried buffer. There are other tools for that.


The Alt-Tab convention for switching windows was one thing Microsoft got right. Because it keeps the most recently-used things on the top of the stack, it is often very fast to switch to the thing you want. There are similar Emacs packages out there, but many are too heavyweight for my needs, or are not stack-based.

A note on the buffer stack

There is no additional buffer stack maintained by this package. Emacs already keeps its buffers in a stack, and this package leverages that fact. You can see the Emacs buffer stack by running M-x list-buffers or by evaluating (buffer-list).