Ultimate Vim Cheat Sheet: Learn to Use Vim Like a Pro

Since the 1970s, Vi and Vim are popular amongst developers and are present on most UNIX-based servers.

These free and open source modal text editors can be a bit hard to use at first, but they are extremely powerful.

Here is our ultimate Vim Cheat Sheet, featuring over 150 commands to supercharge your coding with Vi/Vim.

A Quick Intro to Vim

Vi is a modal text editor first released in 1976 for Unix systems. Vim, (Vi Improved) Vi’s successor, was first released in 1991. Despite its very old age, Vim is extremely popular among web developers and system administrators, as it is installed by default on all Unix-based systems (Mac OS and Linux distros).Unlike classic text editors, Vim features different modes used for different operations. Vim has a total of 12 modes, although you will mostly use the following:
  • Insert Mode: This mode is used to insert text by typing, like you would do on any other text editor. To enter insert mode, type i while in command mode.
  • Command Mode: Also named Normal Mode, this mode is used to type Vim commands such as those you’ll find in our Vim Cheat Sheet. To exit insert mode and enter command mode, hit the Esc key of your keyboard.
  • Visual Mode: Similar to command mode, but used to highlight areas of text. Normal commands are run on the highlighted area, which, for instance, can be used to move or edit a selection. Press the v key to start visual mode. To exit visual mode, press the Esc key.

Basics

Let’s start with basic commands that will allow you to write, save and quit files. Remember that these Vim commands need to be typed while in command or visual mode. Exit insert mode by hitting the Esc key, then type the command of your choice.
:e filenameOpen filename for edition
:wSave file
:qExit Vim
:q!Quit without saving current file
:xWrite/Save file (if changes has been made) and exit
:sav filenameSave current file as filename
.Repeat the last change made in normal mode
5.Repeat 5 times the last change made in normal mode

Moving In The File

Vim features powerful commands that allow you to easily move the cursor position to any desired location within the current file, making it quick and easy to insert text.
k or Up Arrowmove cursor up one line
j or Down Arrowmove cursor down one line
emove cursor to the end of the word
bmove the cursor to the beginning of the word
0move the cursor to the first non-blank character of the line
Gmove the cursor to the end of the file
ggmove the cursor position to the beginning of the file
Lmove the cursor to the bottom of the screen
:59move cursor to line 59. Replace 59 by the desired line number.
%Move cursor to matching parenthesis
[[Jump to function start
[{Jump to block start

Cut, Copy & Paste

Vim features powerful functions to cut, copy, and paste. This section of our Vim Cheat Sheet will show you how to easily perform those operations. Please note that y stands for yank in Vim, which in other editors is usually called copy.
yYank/Copy the selected text to clipboard
pPaste clipboard contents
ddCut current line
ywYank/Copy word
yyYank/Copy current line
y$Yank/Copy to end of line
DCut to end of line

Search

Searching a string within a huge file or multiple files can be tricky. Thanks to Vim, using a few commands you can easily find whatever you’re looking for.
/wordSearch word from top to bottom
?wordSearch word from bottom to top
*Search the word under cursor
/\cstringSearch STRING or string, case insensitive
/jo[ha]nSearch john or joan
/\< theSearch the, theatre or then
/the\>Search the or breathe
/\< the\>Search the
/\< ¦.\>Search all words consisting of 4 letters
/\/Search fred but not alfred or frederick
/fred\|joeSearch fred or joe
/\<\d\d\d\d\>Search exactly 4 digits
/^\n\{3}Find 3 empty lines
:bufdo /searchstr/Search in multiple files
bufdo %s/something/somethingelse/gSearch something in all the open buffers and replace it with somethingelse

Replace

Similar to Search, Vim features powerful commands to replace any given text. This part of our cheat sheet contains Vim commands for replacing any portion of text with another.
:%s/old/new/gReplace all occurences of old with new in file
:%s/onward/forward/giReplace onward with forward, case insensitive
:%s/old/new/gcReplace all occurences with confirmation
:2,35s/old/new/gReplace all occurences between lines 2 and 35
:5,$s/old/new/gReplace all occurences from line 5 to EOF
:%s/^/hello/gReplace the beginning of each line by hello
:%s/$/Harry/gReplace the end of each line by Harry
:%s/onward/forward/giReplace onward with forward, case insensitive
xDelete character
:%s/ *$//gDelete all white spaces and keep any non-blank character
:g/string/dDelete all lines containing string
:v/string/dDelete all lines not containing string
:s/Bill/Steve/Replace the first occurrence of Bill with Steve in current line
:s/Bill/Steve/gReplace Bill with Steve in current line
:%s/Bill/Steve/gReplace Bill with Steve in all of the file
:%s/^M//gDelete DOS carriage returns (^M)
:%s/\r/\r/gTransform DOS carriage returns in returns
:%s#<[^>]\+>##gDelete HTML tags but keep text
:%s/^\(.*\)\n\1$/\1/Delete lines that appear twice
Ctrl+aIncrement number under the cursor
Ctrl+xDecrement number under cursor
ggVGg?Change text to Rot13

Case

Vim provides very interesting commands to deal with case. Let’s continue to explore our Vim Cheat Sheet with super useful case-related commands.
VuLowercase line
VUUppercase line
g~~Invert case
vEUSwitch word to uppercase
vE~Modify word case
ggguGSet all text to lowercase
gggUGSet all text to uppercase
:set ignorecaseIgnore case in searches
:set smartcaseIgnore case in searches except if an uppercase letter is used
:%s/\<./\u&/gSets the first letter of each word to uppercase
:%s/\<./\l&/gSets the first non-blank character of each word to lowercase
:%s/.*/\u&Sets the first character of the line to uppercase
:%s/.*/\l&Sets the first character of the line to lowercase

Read and Write Files

Vim allows easy manipulation of files. Listed below are a few examples of file manipulation with Vim.
:1,10 w outfileSave lines 1 to 10 in outfile
:1,10 w >> outfileAppend lines 1 to 10 to outfile
:r infileInsert the content of infile
:23r infileInsert the content of infile under line 23

File Explorer

Vim features a built-in file explorer that allows its users to quickly visualize and open files in the editor.
:e .Open integrated file explorer
:SexSplit window and open integrated file explorer
:Sex!Same as :Sex but splits window vertically
:browse eGraphical file explorer
:lsList buffers
:cd ..Move to parent directory
:argsList files
:args *.phpOpen file list
:grep expression *.phpReturn a list of .php files contening expression
gfOpen file name under cursor

Interacting With Unix

As Vi and Vim were initially built for Unix systems, the text editor can interact with the OS.
:!pwdExecute the pwd Unix command, then return to Vi
!!pwdExecute the pwd unix command and insert output in file
:shTemporary return to Unix
$exitReturn to Vi

Alignment

Using Vim, it’s possible to automatically align lines using a few simple commands. Here are the main important ones:
:%!fmtAlign all lines
!}fmtAlign all lines at the current position
5!!fmtAlign the next 5 lines

Tabs and Windows

Vim can use various tabs and windows, which is very useful for working with many files at once.
:tabnewCreate/Open a new tab
gtShow next tab
:tabfirstShow first tab
:tablastShow last tab
:tabm n(position)Rearrange tabs
:tabdo %s/foo/bar/gExecute a command in all tabs
:tab ballPuts all open files in tabs (Each in a new tab)
:new abc.txtEdit abc.txt in new window

Window Spliting

As a web developer, I always like to split my Vim editor in two parts, one for my HTML and one for my CSS stylesheet. This part of our Vim Cheat Sheet describes how to split the main editor window.
:e filenameEdit filename in current window
:split filenameSplit the window and open filename
ctrl-w up arrowPut cursor in top window
ctrl-w ctrl-wPut cursor in next window
ctrl-w_Maximize current window vertically
ctrl-w|Maximize current window horizontally
ctrl-w=Gives the same size to all windows
10 ctrl-w+Add 10 lines to current window
:vsplit fileSplit window vertically
:sview fileSame as :split in Read Only Mode
:hideClose current window
:­nlyClose all windows, except current
:b 2Open #2 in this window

Auto Completion

Like much more modern editors, Vim can auto-complete your code and use dictionaries.
Ctrl+N Ctrl+P (in insert mode)Complete word
Ctrl+x Ctrl+lComplete line
:set dictionary=dictDefine dict as a dictionary
Ctrl+x Ctrl+kComplete with dictionary

Markers

Vim allows its users to set marks at a position of their choice, so they can easily jump back to that predefined position. A must when working with large files.
m {a-z}Marks current position as {a-z}
‘ {a-z}Move to position {a-z}
Move to previous position

Abbreviations

Another handy Vim function is the possibility to define abbreviations.
:ab mail mail@provider.orgDefine mail as abbreviation of mail@provider.org

Text Indent

Indentation is the key to readable and easy-to-maintain code. Vim possesses a few commands that will come in handy for indenting any file.
:set autoindentTurn on auto-indent
:set smartindentTurn on intelligent auto-indent
:set shiftwidth=4Define 4 spaces as indent size
ctrl-t, ctrl-dIndent/un-indent in insert mode
>>Indent
<<Un-indent
=%Indent the code between parenthesis
1GVG=Indent the whole file

Syntax Highlighting

Syntax highlighting is often very useful for preventing coding mistakes and typos. Vim can work with many different syntax highlighting modes, depending on which programming language you are coding with.
:syntax onTurn on syntax highlighting
:syntax offTurn off syntax highlighting
:set syntax=perlForce syntax highlighting

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