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Getting Started with Vim Text Editor

Vim is a lightweight and powerful text editor popular on Linux systems. I use Vim mainly for fast editing of small files, such as a configuration file or a script file but it can of course be used for any text editing. This is a beginners guide just scratching the surface of Vim.

Start Vim

Start Vim and create the file newfile.txt, or edit it if it already exists.

$ vim newfile.txt
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Tips: vim newfile.txt +3 will open the file and put the cursor to line 3 directly.

The insert mode and normal mode

One thing making Vim a bit different from many other editors is the modes. I will only mention normal mode and insert mode in this article but there are more modes.

When you start Vim you will enter normal mode automatically.

To enter text you need to be in insert mode. Simply press the i key or insert button to enter insert mode. Now enter some lines in the editor.

Tips: Did you forget if you are in normal mode or insert mode? Check for the ==INSERT== message at the left bottom of your window.

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To enter the normal mode again, press the esc key.

Navigate the text in normal mode

You navigate your cursor with your arrow keys or alternatively with the h , j, k and l keys:

  • h - move left
  • j - move down
  • k - move up
  • l - move right

It is totally fine to use the arrow keys, but the hjkl alternative is recommended for fast navigation since normally the arrow keys are located far away from the alphabetical keys and thus require more time to reach. However, using the hjkl instead of arrows requires some time to get used to. Give it a try!

Some more navigation options:

  • G - Go to the last line of the document
  • gg - Go to the beginning of the document
  • 3G - Go to line 3
  • 20l - Go to column 20 use 20l.

Note: 20l simply means repeat the l-command 20 times.

Search for a Word

To search for the word "Friend" from the normal mode, enter /Friend and press enter. It the word Friend is present in the document, the cursor will go to its first location. If you are familiar with the less program, you will be able to searach a document in Vim in a similar manner.

Note: The search is case sensitive by default.

Save and Exit Vim

To save the current file and exit you enter :wq from normal mode. (If you are not in normal mode enter esc and then :wq).

More Learning Resources

  • In the terminal enter vimtutor for a beginner friendly introduction to Vim, including much more than this article. Alt Text
  • Vim adventure is a fun game for learning Vim commands. The first level is free, give it a try! If you buy the full game you will become an expert Vim user.

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