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Emacs frontend to GNU Global source code tagging system

This package is part of GNU ELPA (M-x list-packages) and is also available on MELPA.

The goal is to make working with GNU Global in Emacs as effortlessly and intuitively as possible and to integrate tightly with standard emacs packages. ggtags.el is tested in Emacs 24 and 25. Patches, feature requests and bug reports are welcome. Thanks.


  1. Build on compile.el for asynchronicity and its large feature-set.
  2. Automatically update Global's tag files when needed with tuning for large source trees.
  3. Intuitive navigation among multiple matches with mode-line display of current match, total matches and exit status.
  4. Read tag with completion.
  5. Show definition at point.
  6. Jump to #include files.
  7. Support search history and saving a search to register/bookmark.
  8. Query replace.
  9. Manage Global's environment variables on a per-project basis.
  10. Highlight (definition) tag at point.
  11. Abbreviated display of file names.
  12. Support all Global search backends: grep, idutils etc.
  13. Support exuberant/universal ctags and pygments backend.
  14. Support all Global's output formats: grep, ctags-x, cscope etc.
  15. Support projects on remote hosts (e.g. via tramp).
  16. Support eldoc.
  17. Search GTAGSLIBPATH for references and symbols.



Why GNU Global

The opengrok project composed a feature comparison table between a few tools.

Install Global and plugins

  1. Compile and install Global with universal-ctags

    ./configure --prefix=<PREFIX> --with-universal-ctags=/usr/local/bin/ctags
    make && make install

    The executable ctags is unfortunately named because emacs also includes a command of the same name. So make sure it is from See plugin-factory/PLUGIN_HOWTO (plugin-factory/README for Global < 6.5) in GNU Global source for further information.

  2. Install pygments plugin

    The pygments plugin has been included in global since version 6.3.2. pip install pygments is the only step required. Note the plugin is not activated by the default gtags.conf or .globalrc. See global/plugin-factory/PLUGIN_HOWTO.pygments for details.

    The following instructions are for older global.

    pip install pygments
    git clone
    cd global-pygments-plugin/
    ./configure --prefix=<PREFIX> --with-universal-ctags=/usr/local/bin/ctags
    make && make install
    cp sample.globalrc $HOME/.globalrc

    Make sure the value of <PREFIX> agree with step 1.


Global with universal-ctags and pygments plugins can support dozens of programming languages. For example, to enable ggtags-mode for C/C++/Java modes:

(add-hook 'c-mode-common-hook
          (lambda ()
            (when (derived-mode-p 'c-mode 'c++-mode 'java-mode)
              (ggtags-mode 1))))

Also see for more examples.


Open any file in a project and type M-x ggtags-mode. Use M-. (ggtags-find-tag-dwim) to find the tag at point. If the project has not been indexed (i.e. no GTAGS file exists), ggtags will ask for the project root directory and index it recursively. Alternatively one can invoke ggtags-create-tags to index a directory. The mode line will display the directory name next to the buffer name. If point is at a valid definition tag, it is underlined.

ggtags is similar to the standard etags package. For example these keys M-., M-, and C-M-. should work as expected in ggtags-mode.

The following search commands are available:


Find a tag by context.

If point is at a definition tag, find references, and vice versa. If point is at a line that matches ggtags-include-pattern, find the include file instead.

To force finding a definition tag, call it with a prefix (C-u).


Like ggtags-find-tag-dwim but suitable for binding to mouse events.


Find definition tags. With C-u ask for the tag name with completion.


Find reference tags. With C-u ask for the tag name with completion.


Find tags that have no definitions. With C-u ask for the tag name with completion.


Find definition tags matching a regexp. By default it lists all matching tags in the project. With C-u restrict the lists to a directory of choice.


Use idutils to find matches.


Grep for lines matching a regexp. This is usually the slowest.


Find a file from all the files indexed by gtags.


Do a query replace in all files found in a search.

Handling multiple matches

When a search finds multiple matches, a buffer named *ggtags-global* is popped up and ggtags-navigation-mode is turned on to facilitate locating the right match. ggtags-navigation-mode makes a few commands in the *ggtags-global* buffer globally accessible:


Move to the next match.


Move to the previous match.


Move to next file.


Move to previous file.


Move to the file where navigation session starts.


Move to the first match.


Move to the last match.

C-M-s or M-s s

Use isearch to find the match.


Found the right match so exit navigation mode. Resumable by M-x tags-loop-continue.

M-, (M-* if Emacs < 25)

Abort and go back to the location where the search was started.

Miscellaneous commands

Commands are available from the Ggtags menu in ggtags-mode.


Move to the previously (older) visited location. Unlike M-, (M-* if Emacs < 25) this doesn't delete the location from the tag ring.


Move to the next (newer) visited location.


Pop to a buffer listing all visited locations from newest to oldest. The buffer is a next error buffer and works with standard commands next-error and previous-error. In addition TAB and S-TAB move to next/prev entry, and RET visits the location. M-n and M-p move to and display the next/previous entry.


View or re-run past searches as kept in ggtags-global-search-history.


Kill all file-visiting buffers of current project.


Toggle opening files in read-only mode. Handy if the main purpose of source navigation is to read code.


Open the project root directory in dired.


Delete the GTAGS, GRTAGS, GPATH and ID files of current project.


Explain how each file is indexed in current project.


Use htags to generate HTML of the source tree. This allows browsing the project in a browser with cross-references.

Integration with other packages

  • eldoc

    Eldoc support is set up by default on emacs 24.4+. For older versions set, for example, in the desired major mode:

    (setq-local eldoc-documentation-function #'ggtags-eldoc-function)
  • imenu

    Emacs major modes usually have excellent support for imenu so this is not enabled by default. To use:

    (setq-local imenu-create-index-function #'ggtags-build-imenu-index)
  • hippie-exp

    (setq-local hippie-expand-try-functions-list
                (cons 'ggtags-try-complete-tag hippie-expand-try-functions-list))
  • company

    company can use ggtags as completion source via company-capf which is enabled by default.

  • helm

    If helm-mode is enabled ggtags will use it for completion if ggtags-completing-read-function is nil.



  1. Drop support for Emacs < 25.
  2. Integration with xref.el.
  3. Make ggtags-sort-by-nearness actually work.

[2018-07-25 Wed] 0.8.13

  1. Don't choke on tag names start with - (#156).
  2. ggtags-show-definition supports ggtags-sort-by-nearness.
  3. New variable ggtags-extra-args.
  4. Unbreak ggtags-sort-by-nearness.

[2016-10-02 Sun] 0.8.12

  1. Work with Emacs 25.
  2. ggtags-navigation-mode is more discreet in displaying lighter when ggtags-enable-navigation-keys is set to nil.
  3. ggtags-make-project tries harder to find TAG files respecting GTAGSDBPATH.
  4. Fix error "Selecting deleted buffer" (#89).

[2015-12-15 Tue] 0.8.11

  1. ggtags-highlight-tag-delay is renamed to ggtags-highlight-tag.
  2. Tag highlighting can be disabled by setting ggtags-highlight-tag to nil.

[2015-06-12 Fri] 0.8.10

  1. Tags update on save is configurable by ggtags-update-on-save.
  2. New command ggtags-explain-tags to explain how each file is indexed in current project. Global 6.4+ required.
  3. New user option ggtags-sort-by-nearness that sorts matched tags by nearness to current directory.

[2015-01-16 Fri] 0.8.9

  1. ggtags-visit-project-root can visit past projects.
  2. eldoc support enabled for emacs 24.4+.

[2014-12-03 Wed] 0.8.8

  1. Command ggtags-update-tags now runs in the background for large projects (per ggtags-oversize-limit) without blocking emacs.

[2014-11-10 Mon] 0.8.7

  1. New navigation command ggtags-navigation-start-file.
  2. New variable ggtags-use-sqlite3 to enable sqlite3 storage.

[2014-09-12 Fri] 0.8.6

  1. ggtags-show-definition shows definition with font locking.

[2014-06-22 Sun] 0.8.5

  1. New command ggtags-find-tag-mouse for mouse support.
  2. New command ggtags-find-definition.
  3. Variable ggtags-completing-read-function restored.
  4. ggtags-navigation-isearch-forward can also be invoked using M-s s.
  5. Command ggtags-global-rerun-search renamed to ggtags-view-search-history.
  6. The output buffer from ggtags-view-search-history looks cleaner.
  7. Search history items can be re-arranged with C-k and C-y.

[2014-05-06 Tue] 0.8.4

  1. M-. (ggtags-find-tag-dwim) is smarter on new files.
  2. Always update tags for current file on save.
  3. Can continue search GTAGSLIBPATH if search turns up 0 matches. Customisable via ggtags-global-search-libpath-for-reference.

[2014-04-12 Sat] 0.8.3

  1. Tweak mode-line lighter in ggtags-navigation-mode.

[2014-04-05 Sat] 0.8.2

  1. Default ggtags-auto-jump-to-match to history.
  2. Add eldoc support; see ggtags-eldoc-function.
  3. Improved support for tramp.

[2014-03-30 Sun] 0.8.1

  1. Improve ggtags-view-tag-history and tag history navigation.
  2. New customsable variable ggtags-global-use-color.
  3. Automatically jump to match from location stored in search history. See ggtags-auto-jump-to-match.
  4. Rename ggtags-supress-navigation-keys to ggtags-enable-navigation-keys with a better way to suppress navigation key bindings in some buffers including *ggtags-global* buffer.

[2014-03-24 Mon] 0.8.0

  1. Record search history and re-run past searches.
  2. Bookmark or save search to register.
  3. New command ggtags-show-definition.
  4. Project name on mode line.
  5. Automatically use .globalrc or gtags.conf file at project root.
  6. Better completion based on tag types.
  7. Use colored output to get column number for jumping to tag.
  8. Improve detection of stale GTAGS file based on file modification time.
  9. New customisable variables ggtags-executable-directory, ggtags-global-always-update, ggtags-mode-sticky and ggtags-supress-navigation-keys.
  10. Other bug fixes.



Emacs frontend to GNU Global source code tagging system.




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