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vim is a popular command-line text editor

vim cheat sheet

Keep this handy as you experiment with vim:

Here is another guide that covers the commands incrementally:

why vim?

  • edit files on a remote server over ssh
  • works without a graphical desktop environment
  • many programming-specific features
  • really fast editing

why vim - remote editing

When you log in over ssh to administer a server, all you've got is a command-line interface.

If you are comfortable with vim, you can work on the remote system with the same ease and familiarity as your local environment.

why vim - graphics not required

Not all systems have graphical environments!

What do you do if the graphical environment on your computer stops working?

What if you want to configure a device that doesn't have a graphics card?

why vim - programming-specific features

vim is very carefully tuned to be effective for programming.

  • easily change the indentation on blocks of text
  • syntax highlighting for many programming languages
  • fluid interface with the system shell

why vim - really fast editing

vim is designed from the ground-up to be very fast to use once you've learned its terse commands

Many of the commands are designed to keep your fingers on the home row of the keyboard so that you can drift seemlessly between editing and typing.


Here are some other command-line text editors:

  • nano
  • emacs
  • vi

nano is much easier to learn than vim because it doesn't have many features.

emacs has a huge number of features and is very configurable

vi is a precursor to vim from 1983. vi's features are a subset of vim, and vi tends to already be installed on many systems.


Unlike many command-line programs, vim is interactive.

vim uses ANSI codes to control a cursor and position blocks of text on the screen.

ansi codes

ANSI codes are special instructions that your terminal interprets and renders.

ANSI codes can:

  • move the text cursor around
  • change colors
  • set modes

ansi codes - colors!

Try this command:

$ echo -e '\x1b[38;5;44mwow'

also try changing "44" to some other values.

Try stacking multiple color codes:

$ echo -e '\x1b[38;5;44mso \x1b[38;5;33mcool'

brighter version:

$ echo -e '\x1b[1m\x1b[38;5;44mso\x1b[38;5;1mcool'

Play around! Here is a list of some codes:

ansi codes

Applications like vim make heavy use of ansi codes.

and now: let's learn vim!

First: type vim

If that doesn't work, install vim.

On a debian or ubuntu system do:

sudo apt-get install vim vim-common

to get vim plus extras like syntax hilighting.

now we're in vim!

Type i to go into insert mode.

Now you can type normally.

saving and quitting

Hit esc to get out of insert mode.

Now type:

:w foo.txt

to save your file as foo.txt.

You can go back into insert mode by typing i again or you can quit by typing:


Once you've quit, you can open your file back up again by running:

$ vim foo.txt

or you can do just vim and then from command mode do:

:o foo.txt

If you've opened a file already, you can just type :w to save the file, you don't need to type its name every time.


Time to recap what just happened!

The first thing you'll notice is how we used 2 modes: command mode and insert mode.

If you're in command mode, press i to go into insert mode.

If you're in insert mode, press esc to go into command mode.

If it says -- INSERT -- at the bottom left of your terminal, you're in insert mode!

Otherwise you're in command mode.

vim is a language

Next, let's combine some commands.

Try :wq to save and then quit.

Try :q! to quit without saving.

moving around - hjkl

In insert mode, the arrow keys do work, but you should practice not using them!

Instead, in command mode:

  • h - moves left one character
  • j - moves down one line
  • k - moves up one line
  • l - moves right one character

hjkl elsewhere...

  • the less command uses j and k for up and down
  • - j and k
  • many tiling window managers such as xmonad

moving around - even more!

You can move all kinds of places quickly in command mode:

  • ^ or 0 - move to the start of the current line
  • $ - move to the end of the current line
  • gg - jump to the beginning of the file
  • G - jump to the end of the file


There are so many ways to delete!

  • x - delete the character under the cursor
  • dd - delete the current line
  • d$ or D - delete from the cursor to the end of the current line
  • d0 or d^ - delete from the cursor to the start of the current line

You'll notice that we've already seen 0 and $ before! You can repurpose each of the moving around commands to delete text. These all work:

  • dG - delete from the current position to the end of the file
  • dgg - delete from the current position to the start of the file
  • dj - delete the current line and the line below
  • dk - delete the current line and the line above
  • 2dd, 3dd etc - delete the next N lines

Even dl and dh work!

Remember that vim is a language!


You can search for text using regular expressions.

  • /PATTERN - search forward for PATTERN
  • ?PATTERN - search backward for PATTERN


  • n - jump to the next match
  • N - jump to the previous match

PATTERN is a regular expression, but you can just treat it as an ordinary text match for the most part.

You can combine searching with deleting too:

  • d/PATTERN - delete to the next match of PATTERN
  • d?PATTERN - delete to the previous match of PATTERN
  • dn - delete to the next already matched pattern
  • dN - delete to the previous already matched pattern


You can also skip ahead to individual characters in a simple way on the current line:

  • f + CHAR - search forward on the current line to CHAR
  • t + CHAR - search forward on the current line to the character before CHAR
  • F + CHAR - search backward on the current line to CHAR
  • T + CHAR - search backward on the current line to the character after CHAR

These are very useful in combination with the delete operators! They combine as you might expect:

  • df + CHAR - delete forward on the current line to CHAR
  • dt + CHAR - delete forward on the current line to the character before CHAR
  • dF + CHAR - delete backward on the current line to CHAR
  • dT + CHAR - delete backward on the current line to the character after CHAR

search and replace


Try these on a line with the string cats:


replace everything


Replaces "cat" with dog everywhere in the entire file, case insensitively.

regex flags

  • i - case insensitive
  • g - global replace (per line)

visual select

Press v to go into visual select mode. Move the cursor around to select text.

Once you've selected a block, you can press:

  • y - "yank" the text into the paste buffer
  • x or d - delete the selected text
  • >> - indent the text right by shiftwidth
  • << - indent the text left by shiftwidth


Once you've populated the paste buffer by yanking or deleting, press p to paste.

visual modes

  • v - select by characters
  • V - select by lines
  • ctrl-v - select in a block

more insert modes

There are more ways to insert mode than just i:

  • o - go into insert mode, inserting a new line below the current line
  • O - go into insert mode, inserting a new line
  • above the current line
  • a - go into insert mode at one character to the right
  • A - go into insert mode at the end of the current line

fancy odds and ends

  • J - move the next line to the end of the current line
  • (backtick)+. - jump to the last edit

insert a file

You can insert a file at the cursor position with:

:r otherfile.txt

insert with a command in place

You can insert the output of a command at the cursor position with :r!.

For example, to insert the output of the pwd command:



  • autoindento
  • expandtab
  • tabstop
  • shiftwidth (sw)

my vimrc:

set -o vi

You can use vi shorthand in bash too!

Just do:

$ set -o vi

now press esc and hjkl your way around!

escape is too far away!

It's common for vim users to remap their keyboards.

One common thing to do is swap the caps lock key with the escape key because escape is such a common key in vim.

xmodmap for escape

In linux you can use xmodmap to remap your keys.

Save this text to a file called .xmodmap in your home directory:

remove Lock = Caps_Lock
keysym Escape = Caps_Lock
keysym Caps_Lock = Escape
add Lock = Caps_Lock

now run xmodmap ~/.xmodmap to enable your swapped keys.

Add this command to your login scripts so that each time you log in you won't need to remember to run the command every time you log in.

built-in escape alternative

You can also use ctrl+] to get out of insert mode.