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Getting started with vi editor on Linux (Cheat sheet) November 7, 2010

Posted by Tournas Dimitrios in Linux.

The default editor that comes with the *NIX operating system is called vi (visual editor). [Alternate editors for *NIX  environments include pico and emacs, a product of GNU.] The *NIX vi editor is a full screen editor and has three modes of operation:

  1. Command mode : commands which cause action to be taken on the file (copy ,cut , paste , move , remove , replace ,change and search on text , in addition to performing navigational tasks .
  2. Insert mode in which entered text is inserted into the file and
  3. Last Line Mode : While in the command mode , you may carry out advanced editing tasks on text by pressing the ( :  ) character , which places the cursor at the beginning of the last line of the screen

In the command mode, every character typed is a command that does something to the text file being edited; a character typed in the command mode may even cause the vi editor to enter the insert mode. In the insert mode, every character typed is added to the text in the file; pressing the <Esc> (Escape) key turns off the Insert mode. While there are a number of vi commands, just a handful of these is usually sufficient for beginning vi users. To assist such users, this Web page contains a sampling of basic vi commands. The most basic and useful commands are marked with an asterisk (* or star) in the tables below. With practice, these commands should become automatic.

A handy way for learning the vim editor is through the terminal : Invoke the ” vimtutor ” command from the terminal ,  the interactive mode will step you through a 30 min tutorial

Both UNIX and vi are case-sensitive. Be sure not to use a capital letter in place of a lowercase letter; the results will not be what you expect.


To Get Into and Out Of vi
To Start vi
To use vi on a file, type in vi filename. If the file named filename exists, then the first page (or screen) of the file will be displayed; if the file does not exist, then an empty file and screen are created into which you may enter text.

* vi filename edit filename starting at line 1
vi -r filename recover filename that was being edited when system crashed

To Exit vi
Usually the new or modified file is saved when you leave vi. However, it is also possible to quit vi without saving the file. Note: The cursor moves to bottom of screen whenever a colon (:) is typed. This type of command is completed by hitting the <Return> (or <Enter>) key.

* : x<Return> quit vi, writing out modified file to file named in original invocation
:wq<Return> quit vi, writing out modified file to file named in original invocation
:q<Return> quit (or exit) vi
* :q!<Return> quit vi even though latest changes have not been saved for this vi call


Moving the Cursor
Unlike many of the PC and MacIntosh editors, the mouse does not move the cursor within the vi editor screen (or window). You must use the the key commands listed below. On some UNIX platforms, the arrow keys may be used as well; however, since vi was designed with the Qwerty keyboard (containing no arrow keys) in mind, the arrow keys sometimes produce strange effects in vi and should be avoided.If you go back and forth between a PC environment and a UNIX environment, you may find that this dissimilarity in methods for cursor movement is the most frustrating difference between the two.

In the table below, the symbol ^ before a letter means that the <Ctrl> key should be held down while the letter key is pressed.

* j or <Return>
[or down-arrow]
move cursor down one line
* k [or up-arrow] move cursor up one line
* h or <Backspace>
[or left-arrow]
move cursor left one character
* l or <Space>
[or right-arrow]
move cursor right one character
* 0 (zero) move cursor to start of current line (the one with the cursor)
* $ move cursor to end of current line
w move cursor to beginning of next word
b move cursor back to beginning of preceding word
:0<Return> or 1G move cursor to first line in file
:n<Return> or nG move cursor to line n
:$<Return> or G move cursor to last line in file


Screen Manipulation
The following commands allow the vi editor screen (or window) to move up or down several lines and to be refreshed.

^f move forward one screen
^b move backward one screen
^d move down (forward) one half screen
^u move up (back) one half screen
^l redraws the screen
^r redraws the screen, removing deleted lines


Adding, Changing, and Deleting Text
Unlike PC editors, you cannot replace or delete text by highlighting it with the mouse. Instead use the commands in the following tables. Perhaps the most important command is the one that allows you to back up and undo your last action. Unfortunately, this command acts like a toggle, undoing and redoing your most recent action. You cannot go back more than one step.

* u UNDO WHATEVER YOU JUST DID; a simple toggle

The main purpose of an editor is to create, add, or modify text for a file.
Inserting or Adding Text
The following commands allow you to insert and add text. Each of these commands puts the vi editor into insert mode; thus, the <Esc> key must be pressed to terminate the entry of text and to put the vi editor back into command mode.

* i insert text before cursor, until <Esc> hit
I insert text at beginning of current line, until <Esc> hit
* a append text after cursor, until <Esc> hit
A append text to end of current line, until <Esc> hit
* o open and put text in a new line below current line, until <Esc> hit
* O open and put text in a new line above current line, until <Esc> hit

Changing Text
The following commands allow you to modify text.

* r replace single character under cursor (no <Esc> needed)
R replace characters, starting with current cursor position, until <Esc> hit
cw change the current word with new text,
starting with the character under cursor, until <Esc> hit
cNw change N words beginning with character under cursor, until <Esc> hit;
e.g., c5w changes 5 words
C change (replace) the characters in the current line, until <Esc> hit
cc change (replace) the entire current line, stopping when <Esc> is hit
Ncc or cNc change (replace) the next N lines, starting with the current line,
stopping when <Esc> is hit

Deleting Text
The following commands allow you to delete text.

* x delete single character under cursor
Nx delete N characters, starting with character under cursor
dw delete the single word beginning with character under cursor
dNw delete N words beginning with character under cursor;
e.g., d5w deletes 5 words
D delete the remainder of the line, starting with current cursor position
* dd delete entire current line
Ndd or dNd delete N lines, beginning with the current line;
e.g., 5dd deletes 5 lines

Cutting and Pasting Text
The following commands allow you to copy and paste text.

yy copy (yank, cut) the current line into the buffer
Nyy or yNy copy (yank, cut) the next N lines, including the current line, into the buffer
p put (paste) the line(s) in the buffer into the text after the current line


Other Commands
Searching Text
A common occurrence in text editing is to replace one word or phase by another. To locate instances of particular sets of characters (or strings), use the following commands.
/string search forward for occurrence of string in text
?string search backward for occurrence of string in text
n move to next occurrence of search string
N move to next occurrence of search string in opposite direction

Determining Line Numbers
Being able to determine the line number of the current line or the total number of lines in the file being edited is sometimes useful.

:.= returns line number of current line at bottom of screen
:= returns the total number of lines at bottom of screen
^g provides the current line number, along with the total number of lines,
in the file at the bottom of the screen


Saving and Reading Files
These commands permit you to input and output files other than the named file with which you are currently working.
:r filename<Return> read file named filename and insert after current line
(the line with cursor)
:w<Return> write current contents to file named in original vi call
:w newfile<Return> write current contents to a new file named newfile
:12,35w smallfile<Return> write the contents of the lines numbered 12 through 35 to a new file named smallfile
:w! prevfile<Return> write current contents over a pre-existing file named prevfile

Cheat sheet :


: x Exit, saving changes
:q Exit as long as there have been no changes
ZZ Exit and save changes if any have been made
:q! Exit and ignore any changes

Inserting Text

i Insert before cursor
I Insert before line
a Append after cursor
A Append after line
o Open a new line after current line
O Open a new line before current line
r Replace one character
R Replace many characters


h Move left
j Move down
k Move up
l Move right
w Move to next word
W Move to next blank delimited word
b Move to the beginning of the word
B Move to the beginning of blank delimted word
e Move to the end of the word
E Move to the end of Blank delimited word
( Move a sentence back
) Move a sentence forward
{ Move a paragraph back
} Move a paragraph forward
0 Move to the begining of the line
$ Move to the end of the line
1G Move to the first line of the file
G Move to the last line of the file
nG Move to nth line of the file
:n Move to nth line of the file
fc Move forward to c
Fc Move back to c
H Move to top of screen
M Move to middle of screen
L Move to botton of screen
% Move to associated ( ), { }, [ ]

Deleting Text

Almost all deletion commands are performed by typing d followed by a motion. For example, dw deletes a word. A few other deletes are:

x Delete character to the right of cursor
X Delete character to the left of cursor
D Delete to the end of the line
dd Delete current line
:d Delete current line

Yanking Text

Like deletion, almost all yank commands are performed by typing y followed by a motion. For example, y$ yanks to the end of the line. Two other yank commands are:

yy Yank the current line
:y Yank the current line

Changing text

The change command is a deletion command that leaves the editor in insert mode. It is performed by typing c followed by a motion. For wxample cw changes a word. A few other change commands are:

C Change to the end of the line
cc Change the whole line

Putting text

p Put after the position or after the line
P Put before the poition or before the line


Named buffers may be specified before any deletion, change, yank or put command. The general prefix has the form “c where c is any lowercase character. for example, “adw deletes a word into buffer a. It may thereafter be put back into text with an appropriate “ap.


Named markers may be set on any line in a file. Any lower case letter may be a marker name. Markers may also be used as limits for ranges.

mc Set marker c on this line
`c Go to beginning of marker c line.
c Go to first non-blank character of marker c line.

Search for strings

/string Search forward for string
?string Search back for string
n Search for next instance of string
N Search for previous instance of string


The search and replace function is accomplished with the :s command. It is commonly used in combination with ranges or the :g command (below).

:s/pattern/string/flags Replace pattern with string according to flags.
g Flag – Replace all occurences of pattern
c Flag – Confirm replaces.
& Repeat last :s command

Regular Expressions

. (dot) Any single character except newline
* zero or more occurances of any character
[…] Any single character specified in the set
[^…] Any single character not specified in the set
^ Anchor – beginning of the line
$ Anchor – end of line
\< Anchor – begining of word
\> Anchor – end of word
\(…\) Grouping – usually used to group conditions
\n Contents of nth grouping

[…] – Set Examples
[A-Z] The SET from Capital A to Capital Z
[a-z] The SET from lowercase a to lowercase z
[0-9] The SET from 0 to 9 (All numerals)
[./=+] The SET containing . (dot), / (slash), =, and +
[-A-F] The SET from Capital A to Capital F and the dash (dashes must be specified first)
[0-9 A-Z] The SET containing all capital letters and digits and a space
[A-Z][a-zA-Z] In the first position, the SET from Capital A to Capital Z
In the second character position, the SET containing all letters

Regular Expression Examples
/Hello/ Matches if the line contains the value Hello
/^TEST$/ Matches if the line contains TEST by itself
/^[a-zA-Z]/ Matches if the line starts with any letter
/^[a-z].*/ Matches if the first character of the line is a-z and there is at least one more of any character following it
/2134$/ Matches if line ends with 2134
/\(21|35\)/ Matches is the line contains 21 or 35
Note the use of ( ) with the pipe symbol to specify the ‘or’ condition
/[0-9]*/ Matches if there are zero or more numbers in the line
/^[^#]/ Matches if the first character is not a # in the line
1. Regular expressions are case sensitive
2. Regular expressions are to be used where pattern is specified


Nearly every command may be preceded by a number that specifies how many times it is to be performed. For example, 5dw will delete 5 words and 3fe will move the cursor forward to the 3rd occurence of the letter e. Even insertions may be repeated conveniently with thismethod, say to insert the same line 100 times.


Ranges may precede most “colon” commands and cause them to be executed on a line or lines. For example :3,7d would delete lines 3-7. Ranges are commonly combined with the :s command to perform a replacement on several lines, as with :.,$s/pattern/string/g to make a replacement from the current line to the end of the file.

:n,m Range – Lines nm
:. Range – Current line
:$ Range – Last line
:’c Range – Marker c
:% Range – All lines in file
:g/pattern/ Range – All lines that contain pattern


:w file Write to file
:r file Read file in after line
:n Go to next file
:p Go to previos file
:e file Edit file
!!program Replace line with output from program


~ Toggle upp and lower case
J Join lines
. Repeat last text-changing command
u Undo last change
U Undo all changes to line


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