Vi Command Reference

VI Reference


Modes of Operation (Command mode, Insert mode & Last line mode)

Entering and Leaving vi Files

Basic Cursor Movement

Inserting Text

Deleting, Retrieving, and Undoing

Changing, Replacing,and Copying Text

Moving Around in a File

File Manipulation

Searching For Text

Setting Options

Common Option Settings

Modes of Operation

vi, the Unix visual editor, has two modes of operation:


Command mode–This is vi’s initial and normal state. In this mode, most commands you type are not displayed. Only commands preceded by :, /, or ! are displayed on the status line, which also gives feedback about input, output, and large changes. Execute these commands with <Return> or <Esc>. Use <Esc> to change from text input mode to command mode (when in doubt, press <Esc>).

Text input (Insert) mode–This mode is entered by pressing a, A, i, I, o, or O. Press <Esc> to end text input mode and return to command mode.

For more information about using vi, see the online help note (on Uniform Access Unix computers, enter help vi).


The following notations are used in this document (variables appear in italics):


     x     represents a single character

     <Control> x      control character: while holding down the <Control> key, press x

     text     one or more characters

     n     represents a number

     pat     text and pattern matching characters

     <Return>     Return key on your terminal

     <Esc>     Escape key on your terminal


Entering and Leaving vi Files

     vi filename(s)     edit a file or files

     vi -r filename     retrieve saved version of file after system or editor crash

     vi -x filename     edit encrypted file

     vi -wn filename      set default window size to n (useful for dial-ups)

     :wq     save (write) file and exit to system prompt

     ZZ     save file and exit to system prompt

     :q!     discard all changes and exit to system prompt


Basic Cursor Movement

Use h, j, k, and l to move the cursor–using arrow keys may result in undesirable consequences

     h     move cursor left one character

     j     move cursor down one line

     k     move cursor up one line

     l     move cursor right one character

(Any of the above commands preceded by n will move the cursor n spaces or lines in the indicated direction.)


Inserting Text

(If n precedes an insert character, n copies of inserted text are added upon escape from insertion mode.)

     a     begin insert at right of cursor

     A     begin insert at end of line

     i     begin insert at left of cursor

     I     insert at beginning of line

     o     open line below, ready for insertion

     O     open line above, ready for insertion

     S     replace text with blank line; begin insertion at beginning of that line

     <Control>i     insert tab

     <Control>v     insert non-printing character

     <Backspace>     erase character (invisible until over-typed or insert mode escaped)

     <Esc>     terminate insert mode; also terminates unwanted commands


Deleting, Retrieving, and Undoing

     dw     delete word

     dd     delete line

     yw     yank word into buffer

     yy     yank line into buffer

     x     delete character

     D     delete characters from cursor to end of line

     ndw     delete n words into buffer

    ndd     delete n lines into buffer

    nyw     yank n words into buffer

    nyy     yank n lines into buffer

    nx     delete n characters into buffer

     p     put buffer contents after cursor

     P     put buffer contents before cursor

     u     undo last single change

     U     restore current line


Changing, Replacing, and Copying Text

     .     repeat last change

    n.     repeat last change n times

     cwtext     mark end of a word with $ and change to text (press <Esc> to end)

     rx     replace character under cursor with character x

    nrx     replace n characters with character x

    Rtext     write over existing text, (<Esc> to end)

     J     join succeeding line to current cursor line

    :s/pat1/pat2     on the current line, substitute the first occurence of pattern 1 with pattern 2

    :s/pat1/pat2/g     on the current line, substitute all occurences of pattern 1 with pattern 2

     :&     ;repeat the last :s request

    :%s/pat1/pat2/g     substitute all occurences of pattern 1 with pattern 2 throughout the file

    :.,$s/pat1/pat2/g     substitute all occurences of pattern 1 with pattern 2 from cursor to end of file


Moving Around in a File

     <Control>g     ascertain line number of current line

     G     go to end of file

    nG     go to line n

    <Return> or +     move cursor to beginning of next line

     –     move to beginning of previous line

    w or nw     move one word or n words to the right

    b or nb     move one word or n words to the left

     )     move to next sentence

     (     move to previous sentence

     }     move to next paragraph

     {     move to previous paragraph

     <Control>d     scroll down one-half screen

     <Control>u     scroll up one-half screen

     <Control>l     clear and redraw the screen

    mx     mark cursor position with character x

    `x     move to position marked with x

    d`x     delete text from marked x to cursor

    y`x     yank text from marked x to cursor

Note: If you precede the mark letter with ‘ (apostrophe) instead of ` (grave accent), the action will apply to the entire line the mark is in, not the exact marked location.


File Manipulation

    :rfile     read in a file beginning on the line below the current line

     :w     save and remain in current file

     :wq     save file and quit

     :q     quit (leave unedited file)

     :q!     quit and do not save changes

    :!command     run single Unix command while editing (press <Return> to return to file)

     :sh     obtain temporary shell (<Control>D to return to file being edited)

    :n,mml     move lines numbered n through m after line l

    :n,mtl     make a copy of lines numbered n through m and put after line l

    :n,mwfile     write lines numbered n through m to file

    :n,mw>>file     append lines numbered n through m to end of file

    :’a,’bwfile     write block, marked with a and b, to file


Searching For Text

    /pat     go to pattern pat (forward in file from current cursor position)

    ?pat     go to pattern pat (backward in file from current cursor position)

     n     repeat last search, looking in direction of initial search

     N     repeat last search, looking in reverse direction of initial search

     %     find matching ( ) or { } or [ ] (can be used in combination with /,?,n, or N to search for matching brackets throughout file)


Setting Options

Options are either toggled on and off, or given values. When editing, set options for a file with the set command. If you want options to be permanent in a particular directory, create a .exrc file in that directory and set options in that file: set option option option=n. (For example, set ai sm sw=4.) If you want certain option settings to apply throughout your Unix environment, edit your .login file by entering setenv EXINIT’set option option option=n’ (for example, setenv EXINIT’set ai sw wm=10′).

The values in a .exrc file for a directory will override the values of EXINIT in the .login file. If no .exrc file exists, any option values set in the .login are used. If some option values are set in the .exrc file and others are set in the .login file, values from both files are used.

     :set all     displays all option settings on your terminal

     :set     displays settings set by EXINIT, the .exrc file, and any current changes

    :set option     sets option

    :set option=n     sets option and assigns it the value of n

    :set nooption     unsets option

    :set number     Turns line numbers on

    :set syntax on     Turns on syntax highlighting

    :set option?     displays setting of option on screen status line


Common Option Selections

(To see a complete list of options, enter :set all.)

     Option Name     Default     What Option Does

    autoindent (ai)     noai     provides automatic indentation during text entry

    autowrite (aw)     noaw     automatically saves file (write) before searches, control codes, escapes to shell

    ignorecase (ic)     noic     ignore case during searchs

     lisp     nolisp     modify )( }{ ][ to be compatible with lisp

     list     nolist     show tabs (^I) and ends of lines ($)

     magic     magic     allows metacharacters; with nomagic, these only include <Control> and $

    number (nu)     nonu     show line numbers

    readonly (ro)     noro     make file status read only

    redraw (re)     nore     simulate smart terminal on dumb

     shell     sh=/bin/sh      pathname of new shell for ! and :sh (default from $SHELL if present)

    showmatch (sm)     nosm     show matching ( or { when ) or } is entered

     term     $TERM     name of terminal being used; set by Unix $TERM

     terse     noterse     provide shorter error diagnostics

    wrapmargin (wm)      wm=0     cause lines to be broken at least n spaces from right edge of screen

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