vi/vim editor

vi/Vim Editor

A brief history of vi

The vi editor is one of the most common text editors on Unix. It was developed starting around 1976 by Bill Joy at UCB, who was tired of the ed editor. But since he used ed as a code base, access to the original sources has required a commercial Unix Source Code License for more than twenty years. In January 2002, Caldera was so kind to remove usage restrictions to the Ancient Unix Code by a BSD-style license and thus vi is now finally free.

What is vim?

Vim is a highly configurable text editor built to enable efficient text editing. It is an improved version of the vi editor distributed with most UNIX systems.

Vim is often called a “programmer’s editor,” and so useful for programming that many consider it an entire IDE. It’s not just for programmers, though. Vim is perfect for all kinds of text editing, from composing an email to editing configuration files.


The following table lists out the basic commands how to use the vi/vim editor

Command Description
 vi filename or vim filename Creates a new file if it already does not exist, otherwise, opens an existing file.
vi -R filename or

vim -R filename

Opens an existing file in the read-only mode.
view filename Opens an existing file in the read-only mode.

Following is an example to create a new file “testfile” if it already does not exist in the current working directory −

$vi testfile or vim testfile

The above command will generate the following output −

"testfile" [New File]    

You will notice a tilde (~) on each line following the cursor. A tilde represents an unused line. If a line does not begin with a tilde and appears to be blank, there is a space, tab, newline, or some other non-viewable character present.

You now have one open file to start working on. Before proceeding further, let us understand a few important concepts.

Operation Modes

While working with the vi/vim editor, we usually come across the following two modes −

  • Command mode − This mode enables you to perform administrative tasks such as saving the files, executing the commands, moving the cursor, cutting (yanking) and pasting the lines or words, as well as finding and replacing. In this mode, whatever you type is interpreted as a command.
  • Insert mode − This mode enables you to insert text into the file. Everything that’s typed in this mode is interpreted as input and placed in the file.

vi always starts in the command mode. To enter text, you must be in the insert mode for which simply type “i”. To come out of the insert mode, press the “Esc” key, which will take you back to the command mode.

Hint − If you are not sure which mode you are in, press the “Esc key” twice; this will take you to the command mode. You open a file using the vi/vim editor. Start by typing some characters and then come to the command mode to understand the difference.

Getting Out of vi/vim

The command to quit out of vi/vim is “:q”. Once in the command mode, type colon”:”, and ‘q’, followed by return. If your file has been modified in any way, the editor will warn you of this, and not let you quit. To ignore this message, the command to quit out of vi/vim without saving is “:q!”. This lets you exit vi/vim without saving any of the changes.

The command to save the contents of the editor is “:w”. You can combine the above command with the quit command, or use “:wq” and return.

The easiest way to save your changes and exit vi/vim is with the “ZZ” command. When you are in the command mode, type “ZZ”. The “ZZ” command works the same way as the “:wq” command.

If you want to specify/state any particular name for the file, you can do so by specifying it after the “:w”. For example, if you wanted to save the file you were working on as another filename called “filename2″, you would type “:w filename2″ and return.

Moving within a File

To move around within a file without affecting your text, you must be in the command mode (press Esc twice). The following table lists out a few commands you can use to move around one character at a time −

Command Description
k Moves the cursor up one line
j Moves the cursor down one line
h Moves the cursor to the left one character position
l Moves the cursor to the right one character position

The following points need to be considered to move within a file −

  • vi/vim is case-sensitive. You need to pay attention to capitalization when using the commands.
  • Most commands in vi/vim can be prefaced by the number of times you want the action to occur. For example, “2j” moves the cursor two lines down the cursor location.

There are many other ways to move within a file in vi. Remember that you must be in the command mode (press Esc twice). The following table lists out a few commands to move around the file −

Control Commands

The following commands can be used with the Control Key to performs functions as given in the table below −

Editing Files

To edit the file, you need to be in the insert mode. There are many ways to enter the insert mode from the command mode −

Command Description
i Inserts text before the current cursor location
I Inserts text at the beginning of the current line
a Inserts text after the current cursor location
A Inserts text at the end of the current line
o Creates a new line for text entry below the cursor location
O Creates a new line for text entry above the cursor location

Deleting Characters

Here is a list of important commands, which can be used to delete characters and lines in an open file −

S.No. Command & Description
x Deletes the character under the cursor location
X Deletes the character before the cursor location
dw Deletes from the current cursor location to the next word
d^ Deletes from the current cursor position to the beginning of the line
d$ Deletes from the current cursor position to the end of the line
D Deletes from the cursor position to the end of the current line
dd Deletes the line the cursor is on

As mentioned above, most commands in vi/vim can be prefaced by the number of times you want the action to occur. For example, “2x” deletes two characters under the cursor location and “2dd” deletes two lines the cursor is on.

It is recommended that the commands are practice before we proceed further.

Change Commands

You also have the capability to change characters, words, or lines in vi/vim without deleting them. Here are the relevant commands −

Command Description
cc Removes the contents of the line, leaving you in insert mode.
cw Changes the word the cursor is on from the cursor to the lowercase w end of the word.
r Replaces the character under the cursor. vi returns to the command mode after the replacement is entered.
R Overwrites multiple characters beginning with the character currently under the cursor. You must use Esc to stop the overwriting.
s Replaces the current character with the character you type. Afterward, you are left in the insert mode.
S Deletes the line the cursor is on and replaces it with the new text. After the new text is entered, vi remains in the insert mode.

Copy and Paste Commands

You can copy lines or words from one place and then you can paste them at another place using the following commands −

Command Description
yy Copies the current line.
yw Copies the current word from the character the lowercase w cursor is on, until the end of the word.
p Puts the copied text after the cursor.
P Puts the yanked text before the cursor.

Advanced Commands

There are some advanced commands that simplify day-to-day editing and allow for more efficient use of vi/vim

Word and Character Searching

The vi/vim editor has two kinds of searches: string and character. For a string search, the “/” and “?” commands are used. When you start these commands, the command just typed will be shown on the last line of the screen, where you type the particular string to look for.

These two commands differ only in the direction where the search takes place −

  • The “/” command searches forwards (downwards) in the file.
  • The “?” command searches backwards (upwards) in the file.

The “n” and “N” commands repeat the previous search command in the same or the opposite direction, respectively. Some characters have special meanings. These characters must be preceded by a backslash (\) to be included as part of the search expression.

Character Description
^ Searches at the beginning of the line (Use at the beginning of a search expression).
. Matches a single character.
* Matches zero or more of the previous character.
$ End of the line (Use at the end of the search expression).
[ Starts a set of matching or non-matching expressions.
< This is put in an expression escaped with the backslash to find the ending or the beginning of a word.
> This helps see the ‘<‘ character description above.

The character search searches within one line to find a character entered after the command. The “f” and “F” command search for a character on the current line only. “f” searches forwards and “F” searches backwards and the cursor moves to the position of the found character.

The “t” and “T” command search for a character on the current line only, but for “t”, the cursor moves to the position before the character, and “T” searches the line backwards to the position after the character.

Set Commands

You can change the look and feel of your vi/vim screen using the following “:set” commands. Once you are in the command mode, type :set followed by any of the following commands.

Command Description
:set ic Ignores the case when searching
:set ai Sets autoindent
:set noai Unsets autoindent
:set nu Displays lines with line numbers on the left side
:set sw Sets the width of a software tabstop. For example, you would set a shift width of 4 with this command :set sw = 4
:set ws If wrapscan is set, and the word is not found at the bottom of the file, it will try searching for it at the beginning
:set wm If this option has a value greater than zero, the editor will automatically “word wrap”. For example, to set the wrap margin to two characters, you would type this: :set wm = 2
:set ro Changes file type to “read only”
:set term Prints terminal type
:set bf Discards control characters from input

Running Commands

The vi/vim has the capability to run commands from within the editor. To run a command, you only need to go to the command mode and type “:!” command.

For example, if you want to check whether a file exists before you try to save your file with that filename, you can type “:! ls” and you will see the output of “ls” on the screen, eg: try “:! pwd” to check which is your working directory.

You can press any key (or the command’s escape sequence) to return to your vi/vim session.

Replacing Text

The substitution command (:s/) enables you to quickly replace words or groups of words within your files. Following is the syntax to replace text −


The “g” stands for globally. The result of this command is that all occurrences on the cursor’s line are changed.

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Thanks article is very helpful