Updated: 2018-02-15 10:24 EST

1 Overview of the VI/VIM text editorIndexup to index

Learning curves showing difficulty of vi

Learning curves showing difficulty of vi

It took about a month before I could do anything with any proficiency in vi and I still didn’t love it, but by then I’d realized that there was an insanely powerful editor hiding behind this bizarre facade. So I stuck with it, and eventually found out that once you know what you’re doing, it’s an incredibly fast editor. […] I never hated any editor as much as I hated vi, and now I’ve stuck with it for 17 years because I can no longer imagine a better editor. http://opensource.com/business/16/8/7-reasons-love-vim

2 Versions of VI/VIMIndexup to index

The stock Unix vi and the open-source vim (and various other clone editors such as neovim, nvi, elvis, and stevie) are all based on the original 1980’s Berkeley vi program written by Bill Joy (the same guy who wrote the C Shell).

Some systems (e.g. Ubuntu) install a “light” version of vim as a default; you have to ask to install the full version after installation. You may find that some of the features described in a textbook only work on a full installation of vim (e.g. the “Getting Help” commands).

I will refer to the editor using its traditional name vi – you should always interpret this to mean modern vim, not the old Unix vi editor.

Choose Your editor carefully

Choose Your editor carefully

3 Learning the VIM Text EditorIndexup to index

VIM is an easy-to-use but hard-to-learn text editor. It doesn’t need the X Windows GUI system to be running; you can use it over a serial line and a dial-up modem. Even your home router may have a small version of VIM built in (e.g. OpenWRT)!

3.1 Start HereIndexup to index

Start by printing the front side of this VIM Reference Card (Front) PDF and doing the online vimtutor tutorial:

3.2 Online VIM Tutorial – vimtutorIndexup to index

On most Linux/BSD machines, the VIM editor comes with a short online tutorial command vimtutor available in several languages.

Before you use vimtutor, set your terminal emulator window to 25 lines by 80 columns. (You can type resize to see the current window size.)

When the terminal window is 80x25, type vimtutor at a shell prompt.

You can sometimes get the tutorial in French by typing vimtutor fr and in Spanish by typing vimtutor es.

You might still be able to find the VIM tutorial even if the vimtutor command is not installed. Look around.

3.3 VI and VIM Reference CardsIndexup to index

You can find good “cheat sheets” on VI by searching on the Internet for “vi editor cheat sheet” or “vi editor summary pdf” or “vi reference card”.

I’ve edited the front side to make some of the text clearer and to add some missing “essential” commands such as ^R (redo). The back side is optional.

3.4 Other TutorialsIndexup to index

You may find these useful. URLs come and go; but, these were working at one point:

3.5 What to Learn FirstIndexup to index

The vimtutor tutorial teaches you the basics.

You can get by in VI with knowing how to read in a file, delete and append single characters and lines, and write the file back out. (See the list of “bare minimum” commands, below.)

The more you learn about VI, the faster you will edit files and the better your mark will be on tests and exams. VI skill is essential to you as a Unix programmer; it is now the universal Unix editor.

Almost every letter, upper and lower case, is a VI command. The more you learn, the faster you can edit. While you may begin by learning to delete a word slowly using ten x commands, eventually you should evolve into knowing how to use the single quick dw command.

See below for the location of the online VIM tutorial.

3.6 Arrow Keys slow you downIndexup to index

Stay out of insert mode!

Do not use the arrow keys to move the cursor – use the command-mode letters h,j,k,l instead. The letters don’t require you to move your hands from the home row on your keyboard, and they encourage you to remain in command mode where you can use all the VIM commands. Arrow keys will slow you down and make you look like an amateur.

4 Setting VIM Options – Getting HelpIndexup to index

VIM comes with hundreds of options that influence how it works. You can set the options at any time; but, to save them and have them used every time you start VIM, you need to put commands into a file named .vimrc in your HOME directory.

4.1 Essential optionsIndexup to index

The following are good options that you should set in your .vimrc file, if VIM does not already have them set for you:

$ cd                    # go to my HOME directory
$ cat .vimrc            # see what is in the file already, if anything
$ echo "set showcmd showmode confirm ruler" >>.vimrc
$ cat .vimrc
set showcmd showmode confirm ruler

The above shell command line appends the options to your .vimrc file. You only need to do this once; VIM will read the file on start-up. If you execute the above command more than once, you will put multiple copies of the options into the file. This isn’t an error; but, it isn’t necessary either. Edit the file and remove the duplicate lines.

4.2 Getting help (with options)Indexup to index

The full vim editor has help available by typing :help, e.g. you can type :help showcmd. This splits your terminal screen and opens up a help file inside vim. To close the help file, just do :q as you would do to close any open file.

Some people also like to have options set number and set spell in their .vimrc.

4.3 Options for dark screens (e.g. PuTTY)Indexup to index

If you use a terminal emulator with a dark background (e.g. PuTTY), you will find that VIM chooses poor colours for syntax highlighting. In particular, comment lines (starting with hashtag #) are shown as an unreadable dark blue colour on black.

You can tell VIM to use a different colour scheme for dark terminal backgrounds using either of these commands (which can be put in your .vimrc too). Pick one or the other:

:set background=dark
:colorscheme desert

Note the American spelling of color. You can get direct help on the colorscheme command inside VIM, and you can get help on the set command inside VIM and search for background in the set help page.

4.4 Enable your keypadIndexup to index

If you find that your keypad doesn’t work properly inside VI, try turning off “Application Keypad Mode” in your terminal program. In the PuTTY terminal program, you do that under Terminal, Features, Disable application keypad mode: screenshot

4.5 Avoid wrapping of long lines: 80 columns maxIndexup to index

When you edit a file containing a line of text longer than the width of your VIM window, the long line of text will usually “wrap around” to the beginning of the next line, and keep wrapping onto following lines if the line is really long. One long line will appear to be many lines.

A wrapped line of text is still one line in the file and in the editor; it simply displays as multiple lines on your screen. When you delete the one line, the entire line disappears, including all its wrapped parts.

(You can optionally tell VIM to only display the part of the line that fits in your terminal window, so that you have to scroll to the right to see the rest of the line.)

Because wrapped lines are messy to look at on your screen – it’s easier when every line on the screen is really one line in the file – avoid writing long lines of text. For historical reasons (the number of characters on a punch card!), a line length of no more than 80 characters is still fairly standard. Keep your lines shorter than 80 characters. (VIM can display a column number in it status line.)

5 Absolute bare minimum basic VI commandsIndexup to index

Look up the meaning of these VI/VIM commands on your reference sheet:

a i x dd
h j k l
:r file
:w file

The above commands will perform most any edit on any file you have. All the other things in VI simply make the editing faster and get you better marks (and a better job) in less time. Any job interview will ask you to edit a file and watch how proficient you are at making changes.

Some of the other VI commands make the editing much, much faster. Compare dd (delete a whole line) with typing 80 x commands, or :1,$s/idallen/alleni/g to replace every occurence of idallen with alleni in the whole file using a single global search and replace!

6 What to learn Next in VIIndexup to index

Use any of the online tutorials to learn more.

Other useful things to know in VI, in vague order of importance:

u ^R                     -- undo and redo
p P                      -- put (after yank or delete)
/search string           -- search for pattern in file
.                        -- repeat last change
r                        -- replace one character
o O                      -- start a new, empty input line
5dd 10x                  -- repeat counts on most commands
0 ^ $ H L M              -- position cursor on screen
A I                      -- insert text at end/start of line
U                        -- undo all changes on current line
cc s                     -- change current line, current char
f F                      -- move forward/backward to character
!!                       -- pipe text into any Unix command
:1,$s/pattern/new text/g -- global search and replace
:set showcmd             -- show partial commands in status line
:set showmode            -- show INPUT mode
:set confirm             -- ask before quitting modified buffer
:set ruler               -- show current file position
:set autoindent          -- auto-indent lines of code
:set wrapmargin=5        -- wrap input text at column 75
:set number              -- show buffer with line numbers
:syntax off              -- turn off syntax highlighting
:$r file                 -- read file in at end of buffer
:$r! program             -- read output of executing program

The VIM tutoral has details on many of these commands.

7 Appendix: Using VIM over a remote connectionIndexup to index

This section is only for people using VI/VIM over a remote connection. If you use VI/VIM in a Linux terminal window, things usually work fine.

Make sure your terminal is correctly configured before you enter VI remotely! The VI/VIM editors must know how to drive your terminal during an edit session; if you see anything about an “unknown” terminal type when you start up the editor, you must exit immediately and fix the terminal type to be one that VI/VIM recognizes.

Be careful when you resize a window containing a VI/VIM session. A remote session of VI on another machine may not pick up the new window size, and what you see on your screen may get garbled. (If this happens, quit VI, type “resize” at the shell prompt, and restart VI again.)

To be safe, do not change the size of a VI/VIM window when the editor is open in a remote window.

If you use telnet/PuTTY from under Windows to connect to a Unix machine, make sure you have NO SCROLL BARS VISIBLE in your telnet window! Set the correct number of lines and correct terminal type when you start telnet, and don’t change them. (This won’t be a problem for people working from a Unix machine, since Unix is good about passing the window size to VI.)

The “resize” command is useful to set the number of lines correctly after you use telnet or ssh to connect to the remote machine:

$ resize

8 Appendix: Finding a missing vimtutor VIM TutorialIndexup to index

If the command vimtutor doesn’t work, you will have to locate and copy the tutorial file yourself. On most Unix/Linux machines, you will find the tutorial somewhere under the directories /usr/share/vim* or /usr/local/share/vim*, e.g. possibly /usr/share/vim/tutor/tutor. Different Unix systems put the tutorial in different places; go look for the file named tutor under the above places.

The VIM tutorial is a file named tutor under directory /usr/share/vim/vim63/tutor/ on Fedora 12 and under /usr/share/vim/tutor/ on most Linux systems.

The vimtutor command startes up VIM on a fresh copy of the tutorial file. If you are not using vimtutor, you must copy the tutorial file into your own directory first:

$ cd
$ cp /usr/share/vim/tutor/tutor tutor     # use the actual pathname!
$ vim tutor

Use the actual pathname to the tutor file on your system. Follow the instructions in the tutorial.

The VIM tutorial was written to be used under various operating systems, including MS-DOS; so, it has one or two MS-DOS specific external commands in it (e.g. there is no DEL command in Unix – use rm instead!). Also, if you have set ruler turned on, the Ctrl-g command will not show your current line number; because, the ruler line already shows it for you.

VIM User

VIM User

Browserling – Trying to Exit VIM

Browserling – Trying to Exit VIM

Real Programmers Use VIM

Real Programmers Use VIM

| Ian! D. Allen, BA, MMath  -  idallen@idallen.ca  -  Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
| Home Page: http://idallen.com/   Contact Improv: http://contactimprov.ca/
| College professor (Free/Libre GNU+Linux) at: http://teaching.idallen.com/
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