Auto Fill mode is a minor mode in which lines are broken automatically when they become too wide. Breaking happens only when you type a SPC or RET.
M-x auto-fill-mode turns Auto Fill mode on if it was off, or off if it was on. With a positive numeric argument it always turns Auto Fill mode on, and with a negative argument always turns it off. You can see when Auto Fill mode is in effect by the presence of the word `Fill' in the mode line, inside the parentheses. Auto Fill mode is a minor mode which is enabled or disabled for each buffer individually. See section Minor Modes.
In Auto Fill mode, lines are broken automatically at spaces when they get longer than the desired width. Line breaking and rearrangement takes place only when you type SPC or RET. If you wish to insert a space or newline without permitting line-breaking, type C-q SPC or C-q LFD (recall that a newline is really a linefeed). Also, C-o inserts a newline without line breaking.
Auto Fill mode works well with Lisp mode, because when it makes a new
line in Lisp mode it indents that line with TAB. If a line ending in
a comment gets too long, the text of the comment is split into two
comment lines. Optionally new comment delimiters are inserted at the end of
the first line and the beginning of the second so that each line is
a separate comment; the variable
comment-multi-line controls the
choice (see section Manipulating Comments).
Auto Fill mode does not refill entire paragraphs; it can break lines but cannot merge lines. So editing in the middle of a paragraph can result in a paragraph that is not correctly filled. The easiest way to make the paragraph properly filled again is usually with the explicit fill commands.
Many users like Auto Fill mode and want to use it in all text files. The section on init files says how to arrange this permanently for yourself. See section The Init File, `~/.emacs'.