– the ubiquitous text editor

Vim is a highly configurable text editor for efficiently creating and changing any kind of text. It is included as “vi” with most systems and with OS X.

Vim is rock stable and is continuously being developed to become even better. Among its features are:

  • persistent, multi-level undo tree
  • extensive plugin system
  • support for hundreds of programming languages and formats
  • powerful search and replace
  • integrates with many tools

vim {filename}
:e {filename} edit a file
:q quit
:q! quit without writing
:wa write all changed files (save all changes), and keep working
:xa exit all (save all changes and close Vim)
:qa quit all (close Vim, but not if there are unsaved changes)
:qa! quit all (close Vim without saving—discard any changes)
:wq write the current file and quit.
:x like “:wq”, but write only when changes have been made.
ZZ write current file, if modified, and quit (same as :x)
. repeat
u undo
CTRL+R redo
CTRL-N autocomplete next matching word
CTRL+P autocomplete previous matching word
g; goes back to the location of the last edit. This is “pick up where I left off before going somewhere else”. It keeps track of your edit history so that you can go back five edits ago.
g, moves you back forward in the edit history.
zR open all folds .
zM close all folds .
h move one character left
j move one row down
k move one row up
l move one character right
w move to beginning of next word
b move to beginning of previous word
e move to end of word
W move to beginning of next word after a whitespace
B move to beginning of previous word before a whitespace
E move to end of word before a whitespace
f move to the first…
t move until the first…

All the above movements can be preceded by a count; e.g. 4j will move down 4 lines.

0 move to beginning of line
$ move to end of line
^ move to first non-blank char of the line
_ same as above, but can take a count to go to a different line
g_ move to last non-blank char of the line (can also take a count as above)
gg move to first line
G move to last line
nG move to n’th line of file (where n is a number)
H move to top of screen
M move to middle of screen
L move to bottom of screen
) jump forward one sentence
( jump backward one sentence
} jump forward one paragraph
{ jump backward one paragraph
zz put the line with the cursor at the center
zt put the line with the cursor at the top
zb put the line with the cursor at the bottom of the screen
Ctrl-D move half-page down
Ctrl-U move half-page up
Ctrl-B page up
Ctrl-F page down
Ctrl-o jump to last cursor position
Ctrl-i jump to next cursor position
n next matching search pattern
N previous matching search pattern
* next word under cursor
# previous word under cursor
g* next matching search pattern under cursor
g# previous matching search pattern under cursor
% jump to matching bracket { } [ ] ( )
Go jump to end of the file with a new line appended
ma set mark a at current cursor location
'a jump to line of mark a (first non-blank character in line)
`a jump to position (line and column) of mark a
Shell commands
:! cmd execute cmd in the shell
:! cmd % execute cmd in the shell on the current file (%)
Ctrl-Z putting vim into the background
type fg in your shell to bring vim back to the foreground
:w !cmd write the current buffer to the stdin of an external command
:%!cmd write the current buffer to the stdin of an external command and then replaces the current buffer with the output of the command.
/ search for a pattern which will take you to the next occurrence.
? search for a pattern which will take you to the previous occurrence.
n for next match in forward
N for previous match in backward
Insert / Delete
I Insert at start
A Append at end
D Delete to end of line
; Clear current line, to insert mode: S
o Insert new line below
O Insert new line above
x Delete
X Backspace X
r Replace under cursor
d Delete word (like d2w for deleting 2 words)
Copy / Paste
yy Copy current line
p Paste copied text after cursor
CTRL+V (select lines) I# Comment
CTRL+V (select lines) X Uncomment
:tabedit {file} edit specified file in a new tab
:tabfind {file} open a new tab with filename given, searching the ‘path’ to find it
:tabclose close current tab
:tabclose {i} close i-th tab
:tabobly close all other tabs (show only the current tab)
:tab ball show each buffer in a tab (up to ‘tabpagemax’ tabs)
:tab help open a new help window in its own tab page
:tab drop {file} open {file} in a new tab, or jump to a window/tab containing the file if there is one
:tab split copy the current window to a new tab of its own
:tabs list all tabs including their displayed
:tabm 0 move current tab to first
:tabm move current tab to last
:tabm {i} move current tab to position i+1
:tabn go to next tab
:tabp go to previous tab
:tabfirst go to first tab
:tablast go to last tab
In normal mode, you can type:
gt go to next tab
gT go to previous tab
{i}gt go to tab in position i
:ls list of all listed buffers
:ls! list of all listed and unlisted buffers
:badd {filename} add a new buffer for a file without opening it
:b{i} open i-th buffer
:ball open all buffers in windows
:vertical ball open all buffers in vertical windows
:bn next buffer
:bp previous buffer
:b# alternate buffer
:bd delete a buffer
:sb split window and edit buffer
:vertical sb vertical split window and edit buffer
:vert sb N Open buffer N as a vertical split
:r {filename} read a file into the current buffer
:sp {filename} open a file in a horizontal split
:vsp {filename} open a file in a vertical split
CTRL-W = make all split screens have the same width
CTRL-W > resize the width of the current window by a single column
CTRL-W < resize the width of the current window by a single column
CTRL-W + resize the height of the current window by a single row
CTRL-W - resize the height of the current window by a single row
CTRL-W r rotate window
:help popupmenu-keys help about the popup menu keys
:help popupmenu-completion help about the popup menu state
CTRL-Y Yes: Accept the currently selected match and stop completion
CTRL-E End completion, go back to what was there before selecting a match
CTRL-P Select the previous match
CTRL-N Select the next match

Various Nifty commmands 😉

  • Pretty print JSON: :%! -m json.tool


All text cut and copy operations are saved into registers. If you have cut text and then cut something else, you haven’t lost the first cut – just type :reg (short for :registers) to see all of the registers. You can then type the name of the register and then p, such as "3p, to paste whatever you cut three or four operations prior.

It’s a good habit to use registers for longer-term copies and pastes. If there’s anything you want to save “in the clipboard” for a while, you cut or copy it to register a , such as with "ay (copy) or "ad (cut). That way, no matter how many operations later, you’re still able to paste what you wanted with "ap.


Hit qa to record keystrokes to register a, hit q when you’re finished, hit @a to play the macro in register a and @@ to repeat the last macro.


Search and replace


The power of g


If you already use Vim, but don’t use the following commands to their fullest, you’re not living right.

  • CTRL-] jumps to the location of the definition of the function under the cursor, and CTRL-t gets you back. Go as deep as you want — hitting CTRL-t until it doesn’t work anymore will get you back where you started. (You’ll need a tags file to make this work.) This is fully 1/2 of the value of an IDE like Eclipse for me, built in, with less screen clutter.
  • The other half of an IDE is tab-completion of long variable or function names. This is done in Vim with CTRL-n and CTRL-p to scroll up and down the possible list. If you are using a tags file, or if you have the file with the other definitions open in Vim, it will complete the name for you.
  • gg=G jumps to the top of the document (gg) and auto-indents it (=) until the end of the document (G). This makes all your open and close braces line up, and makes it very easy to spot the one that you forgot.
  • u undoes the last command. CTRL-r redoes. :earlier 2m reverts to the state that it was two minutes ago. If you end up undoing, editing, and then want to undo some previous changes, you can. g+ and g- will step up and down the undo tree. It gets complicated.
  • / and f, the search commands, are vital as a motion in a compound command. df, deletes everything up to the first comma. d/foo lets you delete until the first (interactive) match on “foo”. This can replace many other movements if you’re so inclined.
  • :r reads in a file. :! runs a command in the shell. :r! pastes the output of a command into your document. :r!ls whatever* is often faster than typing in a filename. I’m not going to get started on how UNIXy the ability to run your text through arbitrary shell is.
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