Vim: The Most Efficient Editor

Ryan Brown: Sysadmin, Programmer, Vim user


Vim logo


Hi, I'm Ryan. I make things for computers, and I use Vim for making most of those. (Even these slides)

If you have questions, ask.

But please hold "What if blarg foo's the honk?" type questions until the end.

What is Vim?

  • Keystroke driven modal editor
  • Vim is efficient because it is geared towards mutation of text.
  • Learn Vim » Edit faster » Code faster » Finish sooner » Have more free time (» Profit?)

Vim logo


Getting into Vim

Mac/Linux/UNIX: vim

Windows: There's an icon or something

Vim is scary

Press Escape, then type :q

Esc :q

This will fail if the file hasn't been saved. Fix that one of two ways.

  1. Esc :q! force quit, tells vim to ignore all warnings/errors/dragons
  2. Esc :wq save and quit

We Like to Move It

      ^                     The k key moves up
      k                     The h key is at the left and moves left.
< h       l >               The l key is at the right and moves right.
      j                     The j key looks like a down arrow.

Get Editing

Grammar Lessons

You can think of any Normal mode command as a sentence.

Copy (yank) the line your cursor is on


Yank three lines


Commands can also accept arguments like movement commands. Yank accepts movement commands.


Pro Tips

Old-school vi users use Ctrl + [ instead of escape because Esc used to sometimes send different key sequences. Use whichever you want to, they both do the same thing

All these key sequences are intended so you never have to leave the home row. hjkl was chosen because it's on the home row.

Less time moving hands = more time working = done faster

Text Objects

:help text-objects

w : word


s : sentence defined as a block ending with '.', '!', '?', newline, or tab

p : paragraph is any block of text after an empty line

B : Block

t : tag is the contents of a <aa> and </aa>

Any matching character '(', '[', etc.

Chained Commands are Powerful

Forgot semicolon?


Swap this line with the next?


Swapped-letter typo?


Change the contents of a set of quotes?


Delete an HTML tag and its contents?


Selecting Text

Most common way to select text: Visual Mode


Next most common: Visual Block Mode


After selecting text, you can then act on these blocks with commands, try these for starters:


Multiple Windows

Sure Vim is a command-line program, but it's got windows. You can even move them around and such.

Just typing :help brings up a new window and you can close it with :q (:qa closes all of your open windows) or switch focus with ^W^W.

Open a new window horizontally split. (For vertical split use v instead of s)


To cycle through all windows you can use:


Or use motion hot keys to move in a direction (hjkl, not arrow keys). This, for example, goes one window to the left:


Windows are useful when you have a big screen, or just a bunch of files you want to see at once. For more info: :help window

Token Completion

Complete first match searching backwards


Complete first match searching forwards


Complete a filename


Complete a token in any included files


For example, to complete the token longvariablename:

print lon^N

Language Help

Not sure what a builtin does? No problem.


Not helpful for Java and some other languages, but for Perl, C, Python, and a bunch of others it's a real lifesaver.

External Commands

Run an external command without leaving Vim:


For instance, ls


Now let's rot13 our file:

:%!tr a-z n-za-m

Syntax Check Yourself


:!perl -c %


:!javac %


:!xmllint %

The % just expands to the name of your current file

Configuring vim

Vim is highly configurable and has a builtin language (vimscript) if you want to write plugins (of which there are many). For basic configuration, you need to know about:



:set lets you enable, disable, and configure a lot of options

:set option

Enable an option if it is a boolean

:set nooption

Disable an option if it is a boolean

:set invoption

Invert an option if it is a boolean

:set option=value

Set an option to value

:set autoindent

Autoindent will maintain a level of indentation for a new line. It's about as simple as it gets.


:set smartindent

First, disable autoindent. Smartindent tries to recognize code that "should" be indented. It's right most of the time.

Try enabling smartindent and typing a Java function header:

public int myfunc(x, y){

After you press enter your cursor should be where the | character is.

Type some more, then close the brace. That should reduce the indentation level.

Useful Options

:set number

Show line numbers. (:NUM takes you to that line in a file)

:set list (see help :listchars)

Show whitespace, configure using listchars

:set nocompatible

Disable "vi compatibility" because Vim has better defaults

:set incsearch

Search while typing

:set hlsearch

Highlight search results in the file

:set shiftwidth=NUM

Set shift to NUM spaces for >> command when inserting.

Useful Options Continued

:set expandtab

Use tabs instead of spaces when inserting. The number of spaces is dependent on the tabstop option.

:set tabstop=NUM

Set how many spaces to display tabs with

:set backpace=indent,eol

Enable sane backspace defaults

:set textwidth=NUM

Enable text wrapping after NUM characters

:set showcmd

Show unfinished command-mode commands

:set ruler

Put useful info at the bottom of your window


:map <C-s> :w<CR>

Maps Ctrl+s to :w+Enter. <CR> makes Vim act as if you pressed enter, and <C-s> is the notation for Ctrl+s.

The best way to make hotkeys more logical is to change them to what makes sense to you.


An autocmd is a command that executes only under a specific set of circumstances.

autocmd FileType java syntax on

Turn on syntax highlighting on the detected filetype is Java.

Auto commands are really useful, and are great for making Vim do exactly what you want.


vim has builtin syntax highlighting for perl, python, java, c, c++, ruby, bash, html, xml, and many, many others.

:set background=[dark|light]

tell vim about your background color so it can make good color choices.

:filetype on

turn on automatic filetype detection

:syntax on

turn on syntax highlighting


Vim has its own scripting language, and IBM has made an awesome Scripting the Vim editor tutorial if you want to see the insides.

More useful, though, is knowing that there are plugins for Vim that people have already written and put up on where you can search for and download them.

Plugin Management

So just one plugin doesn't seem hard to deal with, but when you have a lot of plugins that .vim directory can get pretty cluttered.

Guess what?

There's a plugin for that!

Fortunately, there's a path to Sane Vim Plugin Management through the Vundle plugin.

First, make sure there's nothing in your .vim directory, then clone the Vundle repo with:

git clone ~/.vim/vundle.git

Plugin Management Continued

set nocompatible
filetype off  " required!
set rtp+=~/.vim/vundle.git/
call vundle#rc()

" Your bundles here

filetype plugin indent on     " required!"

And where it says " Your bundles here you can put in a list of plugins you want, just like this:

Bundle 'nerdcommenter.vim'
Bundle 'tslime.vim'

Then when you run :BundleInstall Vundle goes and finds those plugins and installs them.

Files and References



The End

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