I use vim.
Vim is a 20-year-old text editor, based on the 35-year-old “vi” editor
(pronounced vee-eye, not vie). vi and emacs are both part of an editor holy war
that has been going on for decades. I discovered this holy war years ago,
mentioned on some website or another, and started to research. I tried both
editors briefly, and then decided to take vim’s side of the holy war. At the
time, this pick was kind of arbitrary – I really didn’t know enough about the
two editors to make a truly educated decision. I think I saw vim as the
underdog in the war, and as the more interesting of the two editors, with it’s
strange idea of separate modes for text entry and for commands.
I’ve never looked back. When I first picked up vim, it was mainly so I’d have
bragging rights that I could program in a crazy-old terminal editor. However, a
few years later and I do everything I can to work in vim as exclusively as
possible, whether for school, work, or personal projects.
People often comment on my choice. Why am I not using the feature-rich IDEs
available for the language in which I’m coding? Why am I using such an old,
out-dated piece of software? (This question just shows ignorance – the latest
version of vim, 7.3, was released Aug 2010) What’s so great about vim?
That’s what this article is about. Just as John Beltran de Heredia did in his
article, I’m going to try to break some of the misconceptions surrounding
vi/vim, and show you why vim is king. For those who already are convinced and
are looking for some vim resources, jump to the resources section at the bottom.
Normal vs. Insert Modes
The first time you try vi/vim without any real introduction to it, the result is
almost always the same. First, there’s the disgust that you feel when you find
out that to even enter any text, you have to hit ‘i’ to enter insert mode. The
normal and insert modes of vim are probably its most misunderstood feature, and
what makes vim so powerful. But misunderstood, the result usually is that you
get into insert mode, use the arrow keys to navigate around, and do everything
you can to stay in insert mode. That’s how we’ve been trained – if we enter a
letter, that letter should appear on the screen. So you stay in insert mode,
dink around for a few minutes, then throw your arms in the air, yell “What’s the
point??? This is so stupid.”, and then never come back.
It turns out that this is not the way to use vim at all. The key thing to
remember with vim is that you stay in normal mode almost all the time, entering
insert mode for short bursts of typing text, only to return immediately to
normal mode. John Beltran hits the concept on the head in the article I linked
Thus, the remembering-the-mode problem just doesn’t exist: you don’t answer the
phone in insert mode to get back to vi and not remember where you were. If you
are typing text and the phone rings, you exit insert mode and then answer the
phone. Or you press ’’ when you come back. But you never think about insert
mode as a mode where you stay.
Let me explain the philosophy behind this.
Commands in vi/vim are meant to be combined - ‘d’ means delete, ‘e’ means ‘move
to end of word’, then ‘de’ is a complete command that deletes to the end of the
current word (something like Ctrl-Shift-Right, Left, Del in most regular
When you compare ‘de’ to the ‘Ctrl-Shift-Right, Left, Del’ in most regular
editors, you start to see the beauty of the system.
Interestingly enough, inserts are considered commands as well. If you type ‘i’
to begin inserting text before the current character, type a word or two, and
then hit ‘Esc’, that entire operation is a command. This is important to
remember because of another key piece of functionality: the ‘.’ key. When in
normal mode, the ‘.’ key will repeat the last complete, combined editing command
you executed. This could be the ‘de’ command we mentioned earlier, or it could
involve inserts. For example, if you typed ‘iHello’, then it would insert
the word “Hello” before the starting location. Then, if typed a ‘.’, it would
repeat that operation.
The interesting thing is that you can also add a number argument before almost
any command (whether movement command or editing command), and that command will
be repeated that many times. All these concepts can be combined to result in
incredibly flexible editing power. Jon Beltran does a good job of a more
in-depth exploration of the power of vim, so I’ll link you over to his
article again if you want to learn more.
Vim is generally known for it’s very steep learning curve. I won’t deny, the
learning curve is definitely there. However, I will say that if you can stick
with it, you’ll never regret it. Vim key bindings allow you to basically ditch
your mouse, as well as carpal-tunnel inducing crazy key bindings for basic
operations. Everything is at your fingertips, and it’s so powerful! You can
also find vim emulation plugins for many modern IDEs, such as Eclipse, Visual
Studio, etc. Another interesting fact is that the default shortcut keys in
Gmail are vim-inspired!
If you really want to try to learn vim, head over to Jon Beltran’s site and get
his vi/vim graphical cheat sheet. I found this invaluable as I learned
vim. You’ll also find many good books on vim. Just follow the reviews on
Amazon or a similar site, and you’ll find them.
Once you have the basics down, you can start exploring ways to extend and
customize vim. You’d be amazed to find out how truly customizable it is. In
fact, if you’re interested, check out my dotfiles! This is a collection
of my various configuration files, including my vim configuration files. I’ve
tried to comment everything thoroughly enough that you’ll be able to follow
what purpose each command serves, but feel free to use the issue tracker to ask
questions! You can even fork the repository (it’s on Github), and modify to
suit your needs! It’s designed to be cross-platform (it requires one small
change in the .vimrc to define the platform), so it should be pretty easy to
Why vim is the “Killerest”
vi/vim Graphical Cheat Sheet
I’d love to add to this list of resources, so if you have a good one, leave a