A Brief Intro to vi

Part of the 22C:50 System Software support pages
by Douglas W. Jones
THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA Department of Computer Science


The vi editor and its clones elvis, vim, vile, nvi and several others are common on various versions of Unix and Linux; vi is routinely shipped with MacOS X and there are versions for Windows. The purpose of these pages is not to make you an expert, but rather, to get you started with a powerful but sometimes difficult to learn editor. There are many much longer tutorials that try to make you a vi expert; the vi lovers home page has a good index of these.

General Notes

Vi is designed with several interesting features that speed editing for experienced users but can be very frustrating for beginners:

Common Problems


Some Common vi Commands

Launching vi from the command line
to edit file.txt vi file.txt[CR]    ([CR] means return or enter)
to create file.txt vi file.txt[CR]    (file.text will be created by :w)
Cursor movement
      left h (may use arrow keys)
down j 
up k 
right l (or space)
to next (previous) word w (b) 
to start of next line [CR] 
to line 55 of the file :55[CR] 
to end of the file :$[CR] 
to next xxx in file /xxx[CR] 
to previous xxx in file ?xxx[CR] 
match xpx or xqx or xrx /x.x[CR] 
match xx or xyx or xyyyx /xy*x[CR] 
match only xax or xbx /x[ab]x[CR] 
undo last change u 
Save Changes and Exit
save changes :w[CR] 
save to temp.c :w temp.c[CR] 
save this line to temp.c :.w temp.c[CR] 
exit :q[CR] 
force exit without saving :q![CR] 
Yank (copy) text into cut-paste buffer
current word yw 
current line yy 
next 5 lines 5yy 
Delete text (cut into cut-paste buffer)
current character x 
current word dw 
to end of line D 
current line dd 
next 5 lines 5dd 
all lines containing xxx :1,$g/xxx/d[CR] 
Paste from cut-paste buffer
after this character or line p (lower case)
before this character or line P (upper case)
Insert text into file
append xxx after cursor axxx[ESC]    ([ESC] means the escape key)
append xxx at end of this line   Axxx[ESC] 
insert xxx before cursor ixxx[ESC] 
insert xxx at start of this line Ixxx[ESC] 
from temp.txt after this line :r temp.txt[CR] 
current character with x rx 
next few characters with xxx Rxxx[ESC] 
on this line, all xxx with yy :s/xxx/yy/g[CR] 
globally, all xxx with yy :1,$g/xxx/s//yy/g[CR]