Vim Useful Commands

title: Useful Commands

Useful Commands

Basic functionality

Most likely you’ll find yourself in “normal” mode, it allows you to enter commands by pressing the colon : key.
To get here from other modes you can type ctrl + c or escape.

To edit text and move around in a familiar way press i, for “insert” mode. Try to move around with the arrow keys in “insert” mode – see the “Navigation” section below for details.

To select text press v to switch to “visual” mode, then with shift + arrows select the desired text and press d to cut or y to yank (copy).

Depending on the configuration, you may enter a file browser by typing and entering the command :e . in “normal” mode. The ‘e’ stands for edit, and the period for the file or directory.


  • Cursor movement: you can use either the arrow keys or h, j, k, l (left, down, up, right)
  • gg brings you to the start of the file
  • G brings you to the end of the file
  • :(num) brings you to a specific line in your file (ex- :42 brings you to line 42)
  • (num)G also brings you to a specific line in your file (ex- 42G brings you to line 42)


  1. Press Escape to make sure you’re in normal mode;
  2. Type in :w (“w” stands for “write”);
  3. Press Enter.

Saving (to a new file)

  1. Press Escape to make sure you’re in normal mode.
  2. Type in :w newfilename (newfilename is the file name of the new file that you want to save to).
  3. Press Enter.

Exiting Vi, Vim, Nvim, Gvim

  1. Press escape to get you into “normal” mode
  2. :q will soft quit vim
  3. :q! will force quit vim
  4. :qa this will close all files open
  5. :qa! closes all files while abandoning changes
  6. :q saves and closes current file

(NOTE: The command :q! will force Vim to exit without saving. Make sure you save first by typing the command :w if you do not want to lose any changes you’ve made.)


  • Type ZZ (save and quit)
  • Type :wq/:x (save and quit but using with the commonly used “w” and “q” commands)

Cut, Copy, and Paste

  • dd deletes (cuts) a single line
  • yy yanks (copies) a single line
  • you can use yy and dd preceded by a number to cut or copy multiple lines (ex- 13dd will cut 13 lines)
  • p pastes everything from paste buffer

Pasting blocks of code

Very often you will find yourself looking for solutions to problems, and finding someone has written a block of code that does exactly what you want.
If you try to copy and paste the code directly into Vim you might find that the code is weirdly formatted or hasn’t been pasted correctly.
This is due to the fact that Vim reads each character that you paste one after the other, meaning any key-combinations that activates a Vim shortcut will be executed and Vim will try (and fail) to automatically indent the pasted code.

To overcome this you can use Vim’s Paste mode which you can activate by entering normal mode (press escape or crtl + c) and type :set paste, then press ENTER.
You are now in paste mode.
You can then enter insert mode with i and paste the block of text/code without any issues!
To return to regular Vim without paste mode you can enter normal mode (escape or crtl + c) and type :set nopaste, and press ENTER.

Setting line numbers

  1. Press escape to get you into “normal” mode
  2. Type :set number, press enter

To set line numbers on by default:

  1. Open/create the vim configuration file with vim ~/.vimrc
  2. Add the line set number, press enter

Opening a file within VIM

In VIM you can open a file within the same window by setting your cursor on a path and typing gf. This will tell VIM that the current text that the cursor resides is a file that you want to open. The file will open up within the VIM terminal so if you want to return to the previous window just type ctrl+o. This will tell VIM to go to the previous screen.

How to split windows

You can split vim windows and edit 2 or more files at the same time.

  • :split -> split window (horizontal)
  • :vsplit -> split window (vertical)
  • :vertical new -> open a new file in a new window

To move between windows you can use the following commands:

  • CTRL-W h – move to the window on the left
  • CTRL-W j – move to the window below
  • CTRL-W k – move to the window above
  • CTRL-W l – move to the window on the right
  • CTRL-W t – move to the top window
  • CTRL-W b – move to the bottom window


These actions should be performed in Normal Mode.

Undo: Press u or type in :undo and press Enter.

Redo: Press U (Shift + u) or type in :redo and press Enter.

Repeat last change

To repeat the last change made to a file, press . in Normal Mode.

Opening a file in a specific line

  • vi filename +n, where n is the line number

Opening a file searching for word/term

  • vi filename +/word, where word is what you are looking for. The cursor will be positioned on the first occurrence of the word.

Searching a file in Vim

When in normal mode (press the escape key to make sure), you can search for any term in the document by typing /, followed by the term you’re looking for, and then pressing enter. For example, type /hello and press enter to search for the word “hello” in the current file.

You can skip to the next occurrence of your search term by pressing n, or the previous occurrence by pressing N. * searches for the word underneath the cursor.

If you want to highlight all the search matches type :set hlsearch or use the abbreviated command :set hls. Use :set noh to turn off highlighting until the next search.

Compiling a Project

Vim has very tight integration with the make build automation tool. If your project uses a Makefile, you can type :make at the Vim command line in order to run your system’s make tool. Vim will print the output of make on the screen and bring you to the first error, if any, when the make command completes. You can then jump through the compilation errors and warnings in your project’s code by using the :cn and :cp commands, for next and previous issues respectively.

Find and Replace

  1. Press Escape to make sure your are in normal mode;
  2. Type in : (You will switch to command mode);
  3. Type %s,word_to_be_replaced,new_word,g;
  4. Press ENTER.

Important: if you want to replace the first occurrence of the word, remove the g at the end.

The .vimrc file

The .vimrc file is used to save your custom configurations so that you don’t have to reconfigure your editor every time you run vim. To open/create your vimrc, file just open your cli and type in vim ~/.vimrc then add the commands you would normally type into your editor.

I Want to Learn Vim!

For total beginners, Vim comes with a built in tutorial! You can access it by running vimtutor from your terminal and this will launch an interactive tutorial on how to get started with Vim (takes around 15 minutes to work through).

If you are not as confident in English, you can launch vimtutor in your language of choice. For example vimtutor fr will launch the tutorial in french!

Other Useful Commands

  • gg=G fixes the indentation of the entire file
  • If you want to learn more about a specific command, type :help followed by the command name (ex- :help :w)

Read the rest of our Vim Guides to get a better understanding of this powerful editor.

Other Resources

  • Vim Golf – A good way to learn from doing vim challenges to get the lowest amount of keystrokes. You can see solutions submitted by others if you can’t figure the challenge out.
  • Vim Adventures – A fun and gamified approach to learn Vim where you lern the different key strokes with every new level in the game.
  • Open Vim – An interactive vim tutorial that teaches basic commands

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