What's your favorite Vim trick?

jkreeftmeijer profile image Jeff Kreeftmeijer Originally published at updates.jeffkreeftmeijer.com ・1 min read

What's that Vim trick that blew your mind the first time you learned about it? A feature that has a big (or small) impact on your workflow, or just a command you use a lot. Anything goes! 🤯

I'll start with my go-to trick: I usually only notice a match should be replaced after searching for it with / (/foo). After learning that substitutions with empty search patterns (%:s//bar/) replace the previously found matches, I've never had to re-type a pattern again.


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In NeoVim (not really Vim but humor me :P), I can create panes with terminals in it. So I don't need Tmux anymore. Also, I can use Vim bindings for scrolling through the terminal panes and copy stuff. That feature made my workflow way more fluid.


Don't worry, I’m a neovim user myself. ✊

I’m actually the other way around in regards to neovim’s :terminal, though. I am using tmux, and prefer splitting the tmux window instead of starting a terminal session in Vim.

I must say I’ve never taken the time to set :terminal up properly, as I’m still getting a couple of “command not found” errors when starting it.

Fun fact: I’ve actually tried using tmux splits instead of Vim’s built-in ones a while back, but that didn’t really work because I didn’t find a way to share sessions between Vim instances.

So, what does your workflow look like? Do you open up Vim and do everything from there, in one instance?


Yes, I do everything inside Nvim now. When I was using Vim+Tmux, I was using a plugin for moving between Vim and Tmux panes transparently. I also needed special config for getting access to the system's clipboard. That wasn't necessary when I got rid of Tmux. Are you using those plugins?

The only thing I had to do for getting my Nvim's terminal splits just the same as iTerm's was to source my .bashrc file inside .bash_profile. I also added some useful mappings like:

  " Maps ESC to exit terminal's insert mode
  if has('nvim')
    tnoremap <Esc> <C-\><C-n>

  " Maps ctrl-b + c to open a new tab window
  nnoremap <C-b>c :tabnew +terminal<CR>
  tnoremap <C-b>c <C-\><C-n>:tabnew +terminal<CR>

  " Maps ctrl-b + " to open a new horizontal split with a terminal
  nnoremap <C-b>" :new +terminal<CR>
  tnoremap <C-b>" <C-\><C-n>:new +terminal<CR>

  " Maps ctrl-b + % to open a new vertical split with a terminal
  nnoremap <C-b>% :vnew +terminal<CR>
  tnoremap <C-b>% <C-\><C-n>:vnew +terminal<cr>

also removed the number lines and got terminal buffers to automatically enter into insert mode with

  augroup neovim_terminal

    " Enter Terminal-mode (insert) automatically
    autocmd TermOpen * startinsert

    " Disables number lines on terminal buffers
    autocmd TermOpen * :set nonumber norelativenumber
  augroup END

I'm attaching a screenshot of my current setup. Also here's my dot file repo if you want to take a look 🤓 github.com/jesusabarca/.dotfiles

Current setup:
alt text

I use vim-tmux-navigator to switch between Vim and tmux splits, configure Vim to use the unnamed paste buffer, and use reattach-to-user-namespace to do the same in tmux (although that doesn’t seem to be required anymore).

I’ll try the built-in terminal again sometime soon, though!


Terminal panes have been in Vim since 8.1 I think. This is still commonly touted as a reason to use neovim, but it's not really an issue nowadays.


Cool, I didn't know that. I went from Vim 7.x directly to Nvim.


I personally prefer just using iTerm panes.

|         | Webpack |
|   vim   |---------|
|         | Backend |

Here are a number of tricks in core Vim I've found useful over the years:

  • CTRL-p completion - it just completes identifiers in the current file (well, you can enable it to complete more things via the complete option), but often that's good enough!
  • Speaking of completion, there are all of the various completions hanging off of CTRL-x - I use CTRL-x CTRL-f to complete filenames all the time, and I use CTRL-x CTRL-l to complete lines way more often than I probably should =)
  • Using :normal to run Vim commands across an entire file or a selection is really nice - it provides a nice alternative to macros (which are also quite handy)
  • I use :%!command all the time for arbitrary text processing - especially :%!perl.
  • Special registers, especially used in combination with CTRL-r, which inserts a register in insert mode:
    • +/* - clipboard registers
    • " - last yanked text (useful if you want to type some text, paste what you yanked, and then type a little more)
    • . - last inserted text (useful if you want to replace different motions with the same text)
    • = - expression register (useful for things like inserting the current directory with CTRL-r =getcwd())
    • CTRL-w - current word under the cursor (I use this with :Pydoc CTRL-w to look up the documentation for the word under my cursor)
    • / - current search (I will often do a search, and then do /\C<C-r>/ to enable case sensitivity for the current search, or wrap the current search via /\C\<<C-r>\> to search for only the target word and not words containing the search as a substring)
  • CTRL-f in the command line to open a command line editor, which allows you to fix previous command lines using Vim commands
  • g-/g+/:earlier/:later to traverse history by time, rather than undo order
  • Running vim filename +line_num to seek to line_num from the start, and vim filename +/pattern to start searching for pattern from the get-go
  • >'] to indent the last paste (the [ and ] registers contain the start and end locations of the last changed or yanked text)

And it's not technically a Vim trick, per se, but I like running my shell in Vi mode!


My favorite so far is setting macros in command-line mode.

This post basically blew my mind. I don't actually use macros that often and when I do I always get stage fright whenever I start recording. But as the article says, macros are just registers that you can set and edit.

If I wanted to convert this.

const test = require('tape')

into this.

import test from 'tape'

I would start typing a command.

:let @i=''

Inside the quotes I'll write the keys that the macro would execute. The cool thing about this is that if you get something wrong you can undo, go back in the commands history, edit the macro and try again.

The final result would be this.

:let @i='^cwimport ^[f=cwfrom^[wdwds(j'

There is just no way I would get that right on the first try.

You'll have to be careful with special characters like "Escape". The way you get then in the command is by pressing ctrl+v first. For the escape character you would press ctrl+v first and then the escape key.


Macros have been near the top of the list I’ve been planning to properly figure out for years now, I just never get around to it. I always have a hard time blindly recording macros with q<letter><commands>q.

I love the idea of writing macros in command mode, and having them available in the command history. That article looks great, too. Great suggestion!


Brace yourself... you can still use your q...q command to record them as you go. Then, find a blank line somewhere and "qp and boom - your macro is right there. Tweak it, then highlight it and "qy and now @q will replay your new one.

Blew my mind when I figured out there was nothing special about qq.. it's just putting things into a buffer to replay.


Using double quotes you can use a better notation to indicate keystrokes, something like:

let @a="\<esc>0yyp\<c-a>ww150\<c-a>"

In order to test the above macro paste this on the firest line and run

on this line I have 1 and more 150

NeoVim has a "preview" functionality when you're doing substitutions.

First: set inccommand=split
Then, enjoy incremental highlighting of the text that will be impacted by any substitutions until you hit [ENTER]: :%s/foo/bar/g


There are a couple of tricks in Vim that I love.

  1. When renaming variables, I use ciw and rename the variable, at the next instance just press . to repeat
  2. zz to bring the current line the cursor is at in the middle of the screen (very useful) P.S. Not a trick but a highly recommend feature is relative line numbers. Helps me a lot

about your 1. there's another more awesome trick:

when renaming variables, you can search for it using / or * (reverse with ? or #) and use cgn (reverse cgN) to modify it, using . to change the next match.

The -gn movement is working on the next match. So you can spare one key (n or N) when bulk renaming variables.

tl;dr : Instead of


you can do:


cheers 🍻


The operations you can do with the built-in file explorer (aka netrw):

  • Create a new directory: d
  • Create a new file: %
  • Delete file(s)/directory(ies): D
  • Execute file: X (upper-case)
  • For more: :help netrw-quickhelp

I have many tricks on at my "init.vim"

"Make search faster
:nnoremap <space> /

"Alternate "nonumber | number | relativenumber"
:nnoremap <C-n> :let [&nu, &rnu] = [!&rnu, &nu+&rnu==1]<cr>

" allows me to use a smarter cgn
nnoremap c* *<c-o>cgn
nnoremap c# #<C-o>cgn

" allows to type gf to "go to file"
set path+=.,**

I also like "Ctrl-6" to jump to alternate buffer ":%y+" to copy the entire buffer to the clipboard. "gx" to open links. "gv" to reselect. "gi" to start insert at the last inserting point.

" Use whole "words" when opening URLs.
" This avoids cutting off parameters (after '?') and anchors (after '#'). 
" See http://vi.stackexchange.com/q/2801/1631
let g:netrw_gx="<cWORD>"    

" copy the last command to clipboard
:let @+=@:

" avoid clipboard hacking security issue
" http://thejh.net/misc/website-terminal-copy-paste
inoremap <C-R>+ <C-R><C-R>+

On my ~/.zshrc and ~/.bashrc I have

" lvim opens the last edited file on vim
alias lvim='vim -c "normal '\''0"'

# Edit clipboard on a vim scratch buffer
alias vimscratch="vim -c 'setlocal buftype=nofile bufhidden=wipe nobuflisted noswapfile'"
alias pbpaste='xclip -i -selection clipboard -o'
alias pbcopy='xclip -selection clipboard'
alias vcb="pbpaste | vimscratch -"

# Open files very quicly using fzy
alias nfu='nvim $(find ~/.dotfiles -type f | fzy)'

Column selection and insertion in multiple rows. Ctrl + V to select vertically and then I to insert in multiple rows.


To me one of the most usefull features I have discovered is how to manipulate varoius registers type like:

 " Export the last command to the clipboard
 :let @+=@:

 " Copy the buffer to the clipboard

Load a function from the clipboard:


On insert mode, paste any register with Ctrl-r + Register, for example insert last search

Ctrl-r /

I don't know. I used mostly ADT for Effectedkeyboard development, but I indeed edited config files and there splitting lines accidentally or jumping to a new line was a hustle(?) So J and B worked just fine


*. Find the next occurrence of whatever "word" is under the cursor.


:%!python -m json.tool

Auto pretty formats json files :)


Vim has a biult-in file explorer: :E

I use it to open existing files or just to explore the filesystem through the terminal


Macro! Definitely macro! (Although it is a feature not a trick)


I like to encrypt files sometimes.

vim -x /path/to/file/somefile.txt


Whenever I want to search for the current word, I just type:


and then n or N to navigate through the results.


My favorite Vim trick is Spacemacs 👀

Anywho, macros. I know it sounds a bit basic but boy are they powerful (and they turn heads, both in a technical and non technical setting).

nnoremap <space><space> <c-^>

then space space to switch between two files