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"My First Two Weeks Using VIM"

Vince Campanale
Originally published at Updated on ・6 min read

I have been putting this off for a while. I have always admired people that use Vim. I view them as sort of "super devs". If they use Dvorak, I have to pull out my shades to keep from being blinded by their genius. In this article, I will document the beginning of my journey to become as bright as the sun and faster than lightning. Here goes.

Days 1 & 2

My first day was actually yesterday, but I started the journal today so let's catch up. I started out doing what any good developer would do and googled 'Learn VIM'. Lo and behold, I received millions of results in split seconds. Hail the almighty Google.

I found a course by a company called Upcase that basically said: go do vimtutor. This means going to the terminal (with Vim installed) and typing vimtutor. That's it. I started with it and spent a lot of time experimenting. I have to say, it's a little unnatural. I get a little sweaty using Vim because I'm resisting my natural tendencies. Don't judge me, I sweat a lot. That said, I can already see the benefits of having millions of combinations of commands literally at your fingertips. Here's a couple things I learned from the first day:

Tip 1

Do not use arrow keys. Ever. This is an anti-pattern in VIM. The hjkl method of moving the cursor allows you to keep your hand on the home row of the keyboard, which is crucial for efficiency.
Here's a nice little diagram from vimtutor.

 ** To move the cursor, press the h,j,k,l keys as indicated. **
             k              Hint:  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.
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Tip 2

By the same token, avoid using DEL to delete characters as much as possible. Just navigate to the character you want to delete and press x. Using the delete key is similar to using the arrow keys. It defeats the entire purpose of Vim.

Tip 3

Enable Vim shortcuts in your favorite editor. This will allow you to keep the familiar environment with colors and icons and whatnot. I found this much more enjoyable than just looking at my naked terminal. There are plugins and stuff that can add colors and handy tools to your terminal, but the resources I've looked at so far warn against installing a shit load of plugins right off the bat, and I shall take their word for it.

Tip 4

Don't be too hard on yourself. I just pressed the delete key to delete something, right before I used CTRL + Z to undo. This is a frustrating and difficult time, the first two weeks of Vim. I'm only on Day 2 and I'm feeling the burn already. But we will prevail. If I can do this, so can you.

Day 3

Alrighty - new day, new tips. Many thanks to those of you who commented with tips and tricks that you've learned from your own experience with Vim. I actually really like how this post is evolving and would love to see some more tips in the comments if you have any, no matter how small or insignicant they may seem. I promise it will help someone (me).

I ended up writing down some of the key navigation shortcuts for Vim on some post-it notes and sticking them to my monitor -- here's a brief rundown of the shortcuts I have found to be essential (for a complete newbie). I've found it's useful to think of the keys as actions, which can be divided into different categories. The two categories I've identified this far are "edit" and "move". There may be more formal ways to refer to these categories -- post a comment if you know of a better way to refer to them.

Move commands: 

hjkl - move around (see Days 1 & 2)

w - beginning of next word
e - end of next word

b - beginning of previous word

$ - end of current line
0 - beginning of current line

Edit commands:

i (insert) - insert before the character the cursor is on
a (append) - insert after the character the cursor is on
SHIFT + A (super append) - insert after the current line

x (delete) - delete the character that the cursor is on
d (delete*) - delete ... 
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Tip 5

I put a * on the delete command because it's a little special. By itself it does nothing. Combine it with a move command and you can delete all the things.

Let's say I want to delete two words that are next to each other.

1) Navigate to the beginning of the first word using your move commands.
2) Type d2w.
3) Press enter.
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So what's happening here? d tells Vim I want to delete something. It then patiently waits for me to tell it what to delete (so polite). I say to Vim, 2w (read: two words) and poof, they're gone. That move there shows the power of Vim. Each of these keys does something on its own and lets you run with Vim. Combine them, and you can fly.

Tip 6

Yesterday, I called it VIM. I called it that in the title too. I won't change it for the sake of preserving my growth as a Vimmer. TIL, it's supposed to be "Vim", like "Jim".
From :help pronounce:

Vim is pronounced as one word, like Jim, not vi-ai-em.  It's written with a
capital, since it's a name, again like Jim.
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Now I know.

Tip 7

This tip comes from Jean Bernard - thanks Jean!
Quoting him here:

Pro-tip: I use "jj" as a shortcut to the ESC key. That way when you want to switch back to normal mode you don't have to go all the way to the ESC key.
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Love it.

I want to add a "Comfort-o-meter" to this post. I'd say I've risen from a 1 to a 2. I no longer sweat when I use Vim, so that's progress. Still have a tendency to reach for comfortable shortcuts for selecting text and moving lines, copy-pasting, etc. However, the momentum is building on itself and I'm having fun.


After Week 1

It's been a week now since I started making an effort to learn Vim. I haven't been using it at work since I find it too distracting to really learn and practice the shortcuts while thinking about writing clean code and building a maintainable application. That being said, I think I'm nearing the point where enough basic movements and commands are automatic enough to warrant making the switch full time. I'm in no hurry.

Tip 8

The basic shortcuts will take you far. The ones I outlined earlier in the post have been basically the only ones I've used up to this point. You can accomplish most things with the d (motion) command when it comes to deleting / cutting text. Similarly y (motion) for copying lines or words. I've found it's worthwhile to start thinking of sections of text in these terms rather than thinking about the space around them for selecting.

Tip 9

Get good with :help. Vim's help system is very searchable and useful if you know what your doing.

Tip 10

This one comes from Alan Campora:
"Edit and move are modes, not actions. Actions are something different. For example, if you want to replace a word, put your cursor on it and press c(change) i(inner) w(word). That's a great level up :D"

This turned out to be a crucial tip for me. This subtle paradigm shift made me understand that d is not so much a verb to delete something, rather just a button to put me in delete mode. This is obvious in retrospect, but Alan's tip was what I needed to fully understand -- hopefully it helps someone else, too.

Treating the comfort-o-meter as similar to the Richter scale for Earthquakes, this is pretty sizable progress. The few basic (mode) (motion) combos make editing with Vim pretty breezy. It's growing on me and I'm glad I pushed through the first day of discomfort. That really is the worst part.

Post in progress...follow me on twitter, github, or for updates :)

Discussion (20)

alancampora profile image
Alan Campora

Edit and move are modes, not actions. Actions are something different. For example, if you want to replace a word, put your cursor on it and press c(change) i(inner) w(word). That's a great level up :D

vincecampanale profile image
Vince Campanale Author

Thanks Alan! I included this in the update for the end of week 1 because it was very helpful

alancampora profile image
Alan Campora

Cool man! It's great to see the process of learning vim in other person, because more or less I went through the same things =)

legolord208 profile image

That's it, I'm going to say it. Why does everybody like the hjkl keys? For me it makes typing less usual than normal, puts me futher away from my enter key, makes my hands nearly touch which is very uncomfortable. Plus it also makes me unable to move in insert mode, and especially in command mode.

alancampora profile image
Alan Campora

Enter key is almost next to the l. Once you get used to hjkl you'll realize that your hands won't never change their position.

legolord208 profile image

What does hjkl offer over the arrow let's though?

_ni3t profile image
Nick Bell

The key to VIM is thinking in "actions" instead of "movements" -- example the key combo "diw" in normal mode typed in sequence translates to "Delete In Word" -- yiw "Yank (copy) In Word" -- "50j" does 50 "j"s (jump 50 lines down) etc

etcwilde profile image
Evan Wilde

I've used Vim for about 3 years now. The next step, plugins. A bare vim is just usable, but the plugins make it a home. I use the Vundle package manager, which plugs into vim pretty nicely, but there are a few others too. I remember trying to learn vim though, the hardest part for me was definitely learning the hjkl. It took about a month of being completely useless before I was able to move around reliably and start getting work done. I've really only used vim on the terminal. I love the terminal, it is what changes the OS into your full IDE, which is not something that vim is intended to be. With regard to escape key, definitely recommend remapping escape and caps lock (unless you use Fortran or something). Escape is way more useful, and caps lock is a waste of prime real estate.

I would also recommend trying Emacs as well while you are trying out different editors. The plugins for emacs tend to be slightly more polished, and at least for my purposes, Org-mode makes it almost vital to normal functioning. Vim was not intended to be an end-all program for doing everything in development, so while the plugins can make it appear to be a full IDE, it will get slow. I mean, really slow. This seems to be especially true in vim + LaTeX + tmux, where with all the syntax highlighting and fancy plugins, it would take roughly 10 seconds to move the cursor one character. Emacs, on the other hand, is very smooth. Under normal circumstances, vim is great. Good luck with your adventures.

jeanbernard profile image
Jean Bernard

Keep at it! Learning VIM is well worth it. You'll be super fast in no time. I forced myself to learn VIM and now I don't even use the mouse.

Pro-tip: I use "jj" as a shortcut to the ESC key. That way when you want to switch back to normal mode you don't have to go all the way to the ESC key.

vincecampanale profile image
Vince Campanale Author

Love that tip -- thanks Jean! I'll have to add it to the tip log tomorrow.

strredwolf profile image

There's one thing to remember about using vi (and by extension, vim):

It's designed for brain-damaged terminals.

Seriously. There's three types of terminals:

  • Normal, where you can use Emacs or even something lighter like joe or nano. See: DEC's VT-52, VT-100, xterm, linux console, ANSI in Windows, etc...
  • Brain-damaged, where there's always some quirk and it's just barely capable if you work around it. See: Wyse 50.
  • Brain-dead, where you might as well be typing into a typewriter. See: "dumb" terminal emulation, any line printer, etc...

I classify the Wyse 50 as brain damaged, because you do not have a non-destructive way of moving left or right. You got backspace and space. Nothing else to move left or right on a line. That's something you need for Emacs, joe, nano... most every text editor out there for the console...

...except vi, which has separate command/text entry modes for this type of damage, and ed, which is a straight line editor (which is a different type of hell shared by MS-DOS's EDLIN).

The funny thing about it, vi is always available on every Unix distro...

niorad profile image
Antonio Radovcic

A big breakthrough for me with Vim was to understand the difference between Buffers and Tabs. Tabs are just layouts. Buffers are the actual representation of a file in Vim. I had then set my tab-bar to display buffers and barely used real tabs anymore.
This article helped me with this:

eljayadobe profile image
Eljay-Adobe • Edited

I use Vim all the time, for about the last 20 years. I've set my OS on all my computers to treat one of the keys that I otherwise never ever ever use as the ESC key.

I map Caps Lock to ESC.

Q. Why are hjkl used as arrows?

A. Because vi was developed on an ADM-3A, and that's where the arrow keys are.

Q. What is a good keyboard for Vim enthusiasts?

A. That's very preference driven. I love the IBM model M keyboard (still being made by Unicomp), and the Razer Blackwidow Tournament Edition Chroma. Some Vim people I know like the Happy Hacking keyboard. Your mileage may vary.

Q. Is there a good Vim cheat sheet?

A. There are quite a few! I like Graphical cheat sheet which also has a tutorial, and Beautiful.

blakebarnes00 profile image
Blake Barnes

Vim i ssomething that I really love using, but I only use it when I am on Linux because you can't simply replace a whole IDE for things like C++, although people still attempt it. Good luck though! Vim is a wonderful program and very fun to use.

jrock2004 profile image
John Costanzo

Yes you can. Take a look at YouCompleteMe and SuperTab

damcosset profile image
Damien Cosset

I used VIM for a few weeks. It is a challenging editor to learn, but by using it, I can understand why some developers love it. I don't use it anymore but had fun with it. Good luck!

contactsunny profile image
Sunny Srinidhi

I use it only when I SSH into a server instance and change stuff there. I think I'll try the CLI tutorial you mentioned. Seems to be fun.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Hell yeah. As someone casually considering VIM I'm looking forward to keeping up with your updates as you progress.

peterfication profile image
Peter Gundel

I've made the same journey some months ago, go for it :) Here is my post from back then:

cdw9 profile image
Chrissy Wainwright is also a fun way to learn