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19.3 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; altering the variable affects only the current buffer, but there is a default value which you can change as well. See Locals.

There are also commands to convert tabs to spaces or vice versa, always preserving the columns of all non-blank text. M-x tabify scans the region for sequences of spaces, and converts sequences of at least three spaces to tabs if that is possible without changing indentation. M-x untabify changes all tabs in the region to corresponding numbers of spaces.