This is the official manual for the latest Org-mode release.

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3.2 Column width and alignment

The width of columns is automatically determined by the table editor. And also the alignment of a column is determined automatically from the fraction of number-like versus non-number fields in the column.

Sometimes a single field or a few fields need to carry more text, leading to inconveniently wide columns. Or maybe you want to make a table with several columns having a fixed width, regardless of content. To set1 the width of a column, one field anywhere in the column may contain just the string ‘<N>’ where ‘N’ is an integer specifying the width of the column in characters. The next re-align will then set the width of this column to this value.

     |---+------------------------------|               |---+--------|
     |   |                              |               |   | <6>    |
     | 1 | one                          |               | 1 | one    |
     | 2 | two                          |     ----\     | 2 | two    |
     | 3 | This is a long chunk of text |     ----/     | 3 | This=> |
     | 4 | four                         |               | 4 | four   |
     |---+------------------------------|               |---+--------|

Fields that are wider become clipped and end in the string ‘=>’. Note that the full text is still in the buffer but is hidden. To see the full text, hold the mouse over the field—a tool-tip window will show the full content. To edit such a field, use the command C-c ` (that is C-c followed by the backquote). This will open a new window with the full field. Edit it and finish with C-c C-c.

When visiting a file containing a table with narrowed columns, the necessary character hiding has not yet happened, and the table needs to be aligned before it looks nice. Setting the option org-startup-align-all-tables will realign all tables in a file upon visiting, but also slow down startup. You can also set this option on a per-file basis with:

     #+STARTUP: align
     #+STARTUP: noalign

If you would like to overrule the automatic alignment of number-rich columns to the right and of string-rich column to the left, you can use ‘<r>’, ‘<c>2 or ‘<l>’ in a similar fashion. You may also combine alignment and field width like this: ‘<r10>’.

Lines which only contain these formatting cookies will be removed automatically when exporting the document.


Footnotes

[1] This feature does not work on XEmacs.

[2] Centering does not work inside Emacs, but it does have an effect when exporting to HTML.