Emergency vi

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page is a basic tutorial for vi or vim.

vi is one of unix's fsckup. Sometimes in a emergency situation you are forced to deal with vi, and fscking unix admins refuse to install emacs. Here's your help.

vi man
vi man

To insert text, move cursor to the right place, then press i, then type your text. After you are done, type Esc to exit the insertion mode.

To delete text, move cursor to the right place and press x. (if x is inserted, that means you forgot to exit the insert mode. Type Esc to exit insertion mode. Type u to undo.)

When something doesn't work, or if you accidentally typed something and have no idea what is going on, try press Esc, then type u for undo. If a cat jumped onto your keyboard and you cannot exit vi, type the shell suspend command 【Ctrl+z】, which should get you back on the unix command prompt, then you can kill. (by first find out the pid by ps auwwx | grep vi, then kill -9 pid).

Congratulation! You've learned emergency vi.

It may be confusing, but with the above you can edit any text files with vi.

Installing vim

By default, the vi in Ubuntu 12.04 (as of ) is “vim.tiny”, a very basic vi-like vim. You should install full vim.

For how to install and other detail, see: Ubuntu Linux: vim Location and Versions.

What's the difference between vi and vim?

“vi” was the original editor from 1976. “vim” is “Vi IMproved”, a enhanced version started in 1991.

Basic vi Commands

Remember, in vi, it has modes. At any one time, you are either in command mode or text insertion mode. To go to the command mode, just press Esc. To go into editing mode, press i.

Goto Insertion Mode

【i】go to insert mode. (position before cursor)
【a】go to insert mode. (position after cursor)
【o】go to insert mode and insert a line. (position after current line)

Undo and Redo


Cursor Movement

【w】next word
【b】prev word
【0】beginning of line
【$】end of line
【:8】line 8
【:$】end of file
Ctrl+fpage down
Ctrl+bpage up

Deleting Text

【x】delete char
【8x】delete 8 chars
【dw】delete word
【8dw】delete 8 words
【D】delete from cursor to end of line
【dd】delete current line

Copy and Paste

How to copy?

press 【v】 at the beginning of copy/cut position, then move cursor, then press 【d】 to cut, 【y】 to copy.

【yy】copy current line
【3yy】copy 3 lines
【p】paste after the cursor.
【P】paste before the cursor.

Note that when you delete a word or many words, the word is automatically put into the clipboard.


【/aa】search forward for text “aa”
【n】next occurrence
【N】previous occurrence
【*】find next occurrence of current word

Find Replace

【:s/aa/bb/g】find and replace ALL “aa” by “bb” in CURRENT LINE. “g” (global) means do it for all occurrences.
【:%s/aa/bb/gc】find and replace ALL “aa” by “bb” in whole file. “c” means ask for confirmation before each replacement.
【:20,30s/aa/bb/gc】find and replace “aa” by “bb” in line 20 to 30.

Comment/Uncomment Block

How to comment/uncomment a text block?

press 【Ctrl+v】 (called “visual block”), move cursor to select, then press 【I # Esc】 to insert # to all lines in the block.

To uncomment a block, do the same except just press 【x】 to kill a char.

Syntax Coloring

【:set syn=lang】the “lang” can be perl, c, cpp, html, php, JavaScript, python etc.
【:syntax on】Turn on syntax coloring
【:syntax off】Turn off syntax coloring

Line Numbers

【:set number】Turn on line numbers
【:set nonumber】Turn off line numbers

Advanced Topics

【gg】beginning of file
【G】end of file
【dG】delete from current line to end of file

Opening File

【:tab pathopening file
【gf】open path under cursor
vi clippy assistant

Vim Init Files

default vim init file path: ~/.vimrc

How to Remap the Escape Key?

Vim: How to Remap the Escape Key?

misc notes

How to refresh buffer?

Type 【:e】

Ctrl+s Freezes vi

Linux: Ctrl+s Freezes vi and Terminal Key History ⌨

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