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Quick Reference: vi

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Modes of Operation

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

  1. 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>).
  2. 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.

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,mm l move lines numbered n through m after line l
:n,mt l make a copy of lines numbered n through m and put after line l
:n,mw file 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 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