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You rather write something like this (from Emacswiki) operating on strings?

        (defun kill-whitespace ()
          "Kill the whitespace between two non-whitespace characters"
          (interactive "*")
                  (re-search-backward "[^ \t\r\n]" nil t)
                  (re-search-forward "[ \t\r\n]+" nil t)
                  (replace-match "" nil nil))))))

it depends on the context... but maybe replace-regexp-in-string would be the right function to use for strings in this context.

Of course, a lot of the time buffers are really powerful tools to replace strings. I just don't think your original assertion of "almost never" is right. Buffers are handy but I use them to replace strings less than 50% of the time.

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