This is a work in progress - I'll add / edit as I can. If there's something else you want to see, file a bug report!

Intro to vim

vim is a text editor available from the command line and operated solely via the keyboard.

Most installations of vim come with a built-in tutorial. Execute vimtutor from your shell to access it!

To edit a file, execute vim <FILE_NAME> from your shell. vim should open and the file should be displayed.

Modes of Operation

vim has two main modes of operation: insert mode and command mode.

To enter insert mode, press i. This will allow you to add text to the file.

To enter command mode, press <ESC>. This will allow you to execute commands.

Most heavy vim users remap their <ESC> to their <CAPS_LOCK> key because they use it so much.

Movement within a File

The ability to move around and edit a file quickly is what makes vim so powerful. You'll find the way you navigate changes as you grow more accustomed to the "vim way". More efficient / faster movement comes with practice.

Movement happens in command mode.

Basic Movement

It's possible to move around via the arrow keys, but that's pretty slow.

It would be faster if our fingers didn't have to leave the home row. So k moves up, j moves down, h moves left, and l moves right.

It would be even faster if we didn't have to move one character at a time. So w moves one word to the right and b moves one word to the left. If we want to go the end of the word our cursor is on, type e.

More Advanced Movement

It would be even faster if we could navigate directly to the character within a line we're looking for. So f<character> searches forward and F<character> searches backward. If there are multiple appearances of the character in the line, ; moves you to the next one and , moves you to the previous.

t and T work the same as f and F, but place your cursor directly before the target character.

It would be even faster if we could search outside of single lines and specify more than a single character. So /<search string> searches for the appearance of the string from the cursor forward and ?<search string> searches from the cursor backword. If there are multiple appearances of the search string, n goes to the next one forward and N goes to the next one backward.

I've found that using search is one of the fastest ways to move through a document with precision.

Common Movement Shortcuts

Editing a File

There are more efficient ways to edit documents than just typing i and inserting at your current cursor position.

Say I want to insert after my cursor position, typing a (for append) will put me into insert mode after my cursor.

Say I want to insert text at the end of the current line, typing A will put me into insert mode at the end of the line.

Say I want to delete the character under my cursor, I'd press x - deleting the character while keeping me in command mode.

These commands illustrate vim users' obsession with eliminating keystrokes. We could accomplish these tasks using our movement commands and insert, but we want to be fast.

Composing Commands

The power of vim really comes to light in combining commands.

Take c (for change), for instance. On its own, it doesn't do anything. You have to combine it with movement commands for it to make sense. Say I want to rewrite a word I've written - typing cw will delete the word and put me in insert mode. It helps me to think cw = "change word". c can be combined with any of the other movement commands.

d (for delete) is similar. dw deletes the word at your cursor, but keeps you in command mode.

You can also specify repetition in vim. Say I wanted to delete the next 5 words - I could type 5dw to accomplish that.

Composition doesn't just work for edits - 5j would move down 5 lines and 5w would move 5 words.

Substitution (Find / Replace)

Substitution is easy and powerful in vim. Let's say I want to substitute foo with bar. Here are some common uses and their results:

Common Editing Shortcuts

Saving, Switching Files, and Quitting

In command mode:


Another powerful feature of vim is its configurability. It's possible to adjust almost every aspect of your environment to your liking.

Configurations are very portable - you can replicate your environment on a new computer by simply copying over a single file, your vimrc.

Caution: There's a temptation to spend a ton of time on your vimrc / plugins and "create the perfect environment". Resist this. Learning how to navigate and use vim effectively is a better use of your time. The important vimrc settings / plugins will find their way in eventually.


The vimrc is a file containing a list of commands specifying the configuration of your vim environment. It's typically saved as .vimrc in your home directory. To edit it in vim, type :e $MYVIMRC.

Here are some lines from my vimrc with comments:

syntax on               " turn on syntax highlightinp
set rnu                 " turn on relative line numbering
set cursorline          " show marker beneath current line

There's a lot more in there - research and go nuts.


vim can also be extended with plugins, providing all sorts of additional functionality.

I manage plugins with vundle: .

Some plugins I use:

If you find any others worth adding, let me know!

Managing Multiple Files


Viewing multiple files simultaneously is easy in vim.

You can split windows any number of times.

To navigate amongst multiple windows, use <CTRL>-w + direction key.


It's also possible to have multiple tabs within a vim session. Type :tabnew <FILENAME> to open a new tab.

To switch amongst tabs, use gt to go to the next tab right or gT to go to the next tab left.

Miscellaneous Stuff


Anytime you notice that you're doing the same action over and over, you're probably a macro away from saving yourself a ton of work.

A macro is a recording of a series of keystrokes that you want to repeat.

To begin recording a macro, type q<character>. The q indicates you want to begin recording a macro and the <character specifies the identifier of the macro. After you've completed all the keystrokes for your specified action, type q to end recording. To use the macro, type @<character> at the location you want to use it. The true power of macro comes in specifying repetition: typing 100@a runs the a macro 100 times!

Say I wanted to create a list of numbers 1-100 - the kind of repetitive task a macro is perfect for. I'd first enter insert mode and enter 1. Now, to record my macro - type qa. You should see recording text come up at the bottom left of your screen. Type yy, then p to copy and paste 1 to the second line. Then type <CTRL>-a to increment the number, then q to stop recording. Now, I can type 100@a to repeat the macro 100 times and create my list! Magic!


Most people cite tab-autocompletion as a reason for using an IDE over something like vim - but vim can do that too!

<CTRL>-n after typing the first few letters will show a list of potential completions. <CTRL>-n will cycle through the list in one direction, <CTRL>-p in the opposite.