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Olivier Pons

I've heard a lot about Vim, both pros and cons. It really seems you should be (as a developer) faster with Vim than with any other editor. I'm using Vim to do some basic stuff and I'm at best 10 times less productive with Vim.

The only two things you should care about when you talk about speed (you may not care enough about them, but you should) are:

  1. Using alternatively left and right hands is the fastest way to use the keyboard.
  2. Never touching the mouse is the second way to be as fast as possible. It takes ages for you to move your hand, grab the mouse, move it, and bring it back to the keyboard (and you often have to look at the keyboard to be sure you returned your hand properly to the right place)

Here are two examples demonstrating why I'm far less productive with Vim.

Copy/Cut & paste. I do it all the time. With all the contemporary editors you press Shift with the left hand, and you move the cursor with your right hand to select text. Then Ctrl+C copies, you move the cursor and Ctrl+V pastes.

With Vim it's horrible:

  • yy to copy one line (you almost never want the whole line!)
  • [number xx]yy to copy xx lines into the buffer. But you never know exactly if you've selected what you wanted. I often have to do [number xx]dd then u to undo!

Another example? Search & replace.

  • In PSPad: Ctrl+f then type what you want you search for, then press Enter.
  • In Vim: /, then type what you want to search for, then if there are some special characters put \ before each special character, then press Enter.

And everything with Vim is like that: it seems I don't know how to handle it the right way.

NB : I've already read the Vim cheat sheet :)

My question is:

What is the way you use Vim that makes you more productive than with a contemporary editor?

Answered By: Jim Dennis ( 2870)

Your problem with Vim is that you don't grok vi.

You mention cutting with yy and complain that you almost never want to cut whole lines. In fact programmers, editing source code, very often want to work on whole lines, ranges of lines and blocks of code. However, yy is only one of many way to yank text into the anonymous copy buffer (or "register" as it's called in vi).

The "Zen" of vi is that you're speaking a language. The initial y is a verb. The statement yy is a synonym for y_. The y is doubled up to make it easier to type, since it is such a common operation.

This can also be expressed as dd P (delete the current line and paste a copy back into place; leaving a copy in the anonymous register as a side effect). The y and d "verbs" take any movement as their "subject." Thus yW is "yank from here (the cursor) to the end of the current/next (big) word" and y'a is "yank from here to the line containing the mark named 'a'."

If you only understand basic up, down, left, and right cursor movements then vi will be no more productive than a copy of "notepad" for you. (Okay, you'll still have syntax highlighting and the ability to handle files larger than a piddling ~45KB or so; but work with me here).

vi has 26 "marks" and 26 "registers." A mark is set to any cursor location using the m command. Each mark is designated by a single lower case letter. Thus ma sets the 'a' mark to the current location, and mz sets the 'z' mark. You can move to the line containing a mark using the ' (single quote) command. Thus 'a moves to the beginning of the line containing the 'a' mark. You can move to the precise location of any mark using the ` (backquote) command. Thus `z will move directly to the exact location of the 'z' mark.

Because these are "movements" they can also be used as subjects for other "statements."

So, one way to cut an arbitrary selection of text would be to drop a mark (I usually use 'a' as my "first" mark, 'z' as my next mark, 'b' as another, and 'e' as yet another (I don't recall ever having interactively used more than four marks in 15 years of using vi; one creates one's own conventions regarding how marks and registers are used by macros that don't disturb one's interactive context). Then we go to the other end of our desired text; we can start at either end, it doesn't matter. Then we can simply use d`a to cut or y`a to copy. Thus the whole process has a 5 keystrokes overhead (six if we started in "insert" mode and needed to Esc out command mode). Once we've cut or copied then pasting in a copy is a single keystroke: p.

I say that this is one way to cut or copy text. However, it is only one of many. Frequently we can more succinctly describe the range of text without moving our cursor around and dropping a mark. For example if I'm in a paragraph of text I can use { and } movements to the beginning or end of the paragraph respectively. So, to move a paragraph of text I cut it using { d} (3 keystrokes). (If I happen to already be on the first or last line of the paragraph I can then simply use d} or d{ respectively.

The notion of "paragraph" defaults to something which is usually intuitively reasonable. Thus it often works for code as well as prose.

Frequently we know some pattern (regular expression) that marks one end or the other of the text in which we're interested. Searching forwards or backwards are movements in vi. Thus they can also be used as "subjects" in our "statements." So I can use d/foo to cut from the current line to the next line containing the string "foo" and y?bar to copy from the current line to the most recent (previous) line containing "bar." If I don't want whole lines I can still use the search movements (as statements of their own), drop my mark(s) and use the `x commands as described previously.

In addition to "verbs" and "subjects" vi also has "objects" (in the grammatical sense of the term). So far I've only described the use of the anonymous register. However, I can use any of the 26 "named" registers by prefixing the "object" reference with " (the double quote modifier). Thus if I use "add I'm cutting the current line into the 'a' register and if I use "by/foo then I'm yanking a copy of the text from here to the next line containing "foo" into the 'b' register. To paste from a register I simply prefix the paste with the same modifier sequence: "ap pastes a copy of the 'a' register's contents into the text after the cursor and "bP pastes a copy from 'b' to before the current line.

This notion of "prefixes" also adds the analogs of grammatical "adjectives" and "adverbs' to our text manipulation "language." Most commands (verbs) and movement (verbs or objects, depending on context) can also take numeric prefixes. Thus 3J means "join the next three lines" and d5} means "delete from the current line through the end of the fifth paragraph down from here."

This is all intermediate level vi. None of it is Vim specific and there are far more advanced tricks in vi if you're ready to learn them. If you were to master just these intermediate concepts then you'd probably find that you rarely need to write any macros because the text manipulation language is sufficiently concise and expressive to do most things easily enough using the editor's "native" language.

A sampling of more advanced tricks:

There are a number of : commands, most notably the :% s/foo/bar/g global substitution technique. (That's not advanced but other : commands can be). The whole : set of commands was historically inherited by vi's previous incarnations as the ed (line editor) and later the ex (extended line editor) utilities. In fact vi is so named because it's the visual interface to ex.

: commands normally operate over lines of text. ed and ex were written in an era when terminal screens were uncommon and many terminals were "teletype" (TTY) devices. So it was common to work from printed copies of the text, using commands through an extremely terse interface (common connection speeds were 110 baud, or, roughly, 11 characters per second -- which is slower than a fast typist; lags were common on multi-user interactive sessions; additionally there was often some motivation to conserve paper).

So the syntax of most : commands includes an address or range of addresses (line number) followed by a command. Naturally one could use literal line numbers: :127,215 s/foo/bar to change the first occurrence of "foo" into "bar" on each line between 127 and 215. One could also use some abbreviations such as . or $ for current and last lines respectively. One could also use relative prefixes + and - to refer to offsets after or before the curent line, respectively. Thus: :.,$j meaning "from the current line to the last line, join them all into one line". :% is synonymous with :1,$ (all the lines).

The :... g and :... v commands bear some explanation as they are incredibly powerful. :... g is a prefix for "globally" applying a subsequent command to all lines which match a pattern (regular expression) while :... v applies such a command to all lines which do NOT match the given pattern ("v" from "conVerse"). As with other ex commands these can be prefixed by addressing/range references. Thus :.,+21g/foo/d means "delete any lines containing the string "foo" from the current one through the next 21 lines" while :.,$v/bar/d means "from here to the end of the file, delete any lines which DON'T contain the string "bar."

It's interesting that the common Unix command grep was actually inspired by this ex command (and is named after the way in which it was documented). The ex command :g/re/p (grep) was the way they documented how to "globally" "print" lines containing a "regular expression" (re). When ed and ex were used, the :p command was one of the first that anyone learned and often the first one used when editing any file. It was how you printed the current contents (usually just one page full at a time using :.,+25p or some such).

Note that :% g/.../d or (its reVerse/conVerse counterpart: :% v/.../d are the most common usage patterns. However there are couple of other ex commands which are worth remembering:

We can use m to move lines around, and j to join lines. For example if you have a list and you want to separate all the stuff matching (or conversely NOT matching some pattern) without deleting them, then you can use something like: :% g/foo/m$ ... and all the "foo" lines will have been moved to the end of the file. (Note the other tip about using the end of your file as a scratch space). This will have preserved the relative order of all the "foo" lines while having extracted them from the rest of the list. (This would be equivalent to doing something like: 1G!GGmap!Ggrep foo<ENTER>1G:1,'a g/foo'/d (copy the file to its own tail, filter the tail through grep, and delete all the stuff from the head).

To join lines usually I can find a pattern for all the lines which need to be joined to their predecessor (all the lines which start with "^ " rather than "^ * " in some bullet list, for example). For that case I'd use: :% g/^ /-1j (for every matching line, go up one line and join them). (BTW: for bullet lists trying to search for the bullet lines and join to the next doesn't work for a couple reasons ... it can join one bullet line to another, and it won't join any bullet line to all of its continuations; it'll only work pairwise on the matches).

Almost needless to mention you can use our old friend s (substitute) with the g and v (global/converse-global) commands. Usually you don't need to do so. However, consider some case where you want to perform a substitution only on lines matching some other pattern. Often you can use a complicated pattern with captures and use back references to preserve the portions of the lines that you DON'T want to change. However, it will often be easier to separate the match from the substitution: :% g/foo/s/bar/zzz/g -- for every line containing "foo" substitute all "bar" with "zzz." (Something like :% s/\(.*foo.*\)bar\(.*\)/\1zzz\2/g would only work for the cases those instances of "bar" which were PRECEDED by "foo" on the same line; it's ungainly enough already, and would have to be mangled further to catch all the cases where "bar" preceded "foo")

The point is that there are more than just p, s, and d lines in the ex command set.

The : addresses can also refer to marks. Thus you can use: :'a,'bg/foo/j to join any line containing the string foo to its subsequent line, if it lies between the lines between the 'a' and 'b' marks. (Yes, all of the preceding ex command examples can be limited to subsets of the file's lines by prefixing with these sorts of addressing expressions).

That's pretty obscure (I've only used something like that a few times in the last 15 years). However, I'll freely admit that I've often done things iteratively and interactively that could probably have been done more efficiently if I'd taken the time to think out the correct incantation.

Another very useful vi or ex command is :r to read in the contents of another file. Thus: :r foo inserts the contents of the file named "foo" at the current line.

More powerful is the :r! command. This reads the results of a command. It's the same as suspending the vi session, running a command, redirecting its output to a temporary file, resuming your vi session, and reading in the contents from the temp. file.

Even more powerful are the ! (bang) and :... ! (ex bang) commands. These also execute external commands and read the results into the current text. However, they also filter selections of our text through the command! This we can sort all the lines in our file using 1G!Gsort (G is the vi "goto" command; it defaults to going to the last line of the file, but can be prefixed by a line number, such as 1, the first line). This is equivalent to the ex variant :1,$!sort. Writers often use ! with the Unix fmt or fold utilities for reformating or "word wrapping" selections of text. A very common macro is {!}fmt (reformat the current paragraph). Programmers sometimes use it to run their code, or just portions of it, through indent or other code reformatting tools.

Using the :r! and ! commands means that any external utility or filter can be treated as an extension of our editor. I have occasionally used these with scripts that pulled data from a database, or with wget or lynx commands that pulled data off a website, or ssh commands that pulled data from remote systems.

Another useful ex command is :so (short for :source). This reads the contents of a file as a series of commands. When you start vi it normally, implicitly, performs a :source on ~/.exinitrc file (and Vim usually does this on ~/.vimrc, naturally enough). The use of this is that you can change your editor profile on the fly by simply sourcing in a new set of macros, abbreviations, and editor settings. If you're sneaky you can even use this as a trick for storing sequences of ex editing commands to apply to files on demand.

For example I have a seven line file (36 characters) which runs a file through wc, and inserts a C-style comment at the top of the file containing that word count data. I can apply that "macro" to a file by using a command like: vim +'so mymacro.ex' ./mytarget

(The + command line option to vi and Vim is normally used to start the editing session at a given line number. However it's a little known fact that one can follow the + by any valid ex command/expression, such as a "source" command as I've done here; for a simple example I have scripts which invoke: vi +'/foo/d|wq!' ~/.ssh/known_hosts to remove an entry from my SSH known hosts file non-interactively while I'm re-imaging a set of servers).

Usually it's far easier to write such "macros" using Perl, AWK, sed (which is, in fact, like grep a utility inspired by the ed command).

The @ command is probably the most obscure vi command. In occasionally teaching advanced systems administration courses for close to a decade I've met very few people who've ever used it. @ executes the contents of a register as if it were a vi or ex command.
Example: I often use: :r!locate ... to find some file on my system and read its name into my document. From there I delete any extraneous hits, leaving only the full path to the file I'm interested in. Rather than laboriously Tab-ing through each component of the path (or worse, if I happen to be stuck on a machine without Tab completion support in its copy of vi) I just use:

  1. 0i:r (to turn the current line into a valid :r command),
  2. "cdd (to delete the line into the "c" register) and
  3. @c execute that command.

That's only 10 keystrokes (and the expression "cdd @c is effectively a finger macro for me, so I can type it almost as quickly as any common six letter word).

A sobering thought

I've only scratched to surface of vi's power and none of what I've described here is even part of the "improvements" for which vim is named! All of what I've described here should work on any old copy of vi from 20 or 30 years ago.

There are people who have used considerably more of vi's power than I ever will.

What is your favorite Visual Studio keyboard shortcut? I'm always up for leaving my hands on the keyboard and away from the mouse!

One per answer please.

Answered By: Glennular ( 181)

Ctrl + - and the opposite Ctrl + Shift + -.

Move cursor back (or forwards) to the last place it was. No more scrolling back or PgUp/PgDown to find out where you were.

This switches open windows in Visual Studio:

Ctrl + tab


I go through phases where I spend far too much time stressing out over the best way to program something instead of just programming the darn thing - a trait I don't think is uncommon among programmers. So, does anyone have techniques for psyching oneself out so one can relax and let oneself code something which, while not 100% perfect code, is good enough?

I know the reasons why (believe me!)... I'd like to know ways of overcoming this mental block.

Answered By: dwc ( 66)

Tell yourself you are going to do some exploring in code and get hacking. Worrying that you're designing everything perfectly is stopping you from finding the solution. Don't even worry if you're going to code something to throw away the first time.

Vi and Vim allow for really awesome customization, typically stored inside a .vimrc file. Typical features for a programmer would be syntax highlighting, smart indenting and so on.

What other tricks for productive programming have you got, hidden in your .vimrc?

I am mostly interested in refactorings, auto classes and similar productivity macros, especially for C#.

Answered By: Frew ( 104)

You asked for it :-)

"{{{Auto Commands

" Automatically cd into the directory that the file is in
autocmd BufEnter * execute "chdir ".escape(expand("%:p:h"), ' ')

" Remove any trailing whitespace that is in the file
autocmd BufRead,BufWrite * if ! &bin | silent! %s/\s\+$//ge | endif

" Restore cursor position to where it was before
augroup JumpCursorOnEdit
   autocmd BufReadPost *
            \ if expand("<afile>:p:h") !=? $TEMP |
            \   if line("'\"") > 1 && line("'\"") <= line("$") |
            \     let JumpCursorOnEdit_foo = line("'\"") |
            \     let b:doopenfold = 1 |
            \     if (foldlevel(JumpCursorOnEdit_foo) > foldlevel(JumpCursorOnEdit_foo - 1)) |
            \        let JumpCursorOnEdit_foo = JumpCursorOnEdit_foo - 1 |
            \        let b:doopenfold = 2 |
            \     endif |
            \     exe JumpCursorOnEdit_foo |
            \   endif |
            \ endif
   " Need to postpone using "zv" until after reading the modelines.
   autocmd BufWinEnter *
            \ if exists("b:doopenfold") |
            \   exe "normal zv" |
            \   if(b:doopenfold > 1) |
            \       exe  "+".1 |
            \   endif |
            \   unlet b:doopenfold |
            \ endif
augroup END


"{{{Misc Settings

" Necesary  for lots of cool vim things
set nocompatible

" This shows what you are typing as a command.  I love this!
set showcmd

" Folding Stuffs
set foldmethod=marker

" Needed for Syntax Highlighting and stuff
filetype on
filetype plugin on
syntax enable
set grepprg=grep\ -nH\ $*

" Who doesn't like autoindent?
set autoindent

" Spaces are better than a tab character
set expandtab
set smarttab

" Who wants an 8 character tab?  Not me!
set shiftwidth=3
set softtabstop=3

" Use english for spellchecking, but don't spellcheck by default
if version >= 700
   set spl=en spell
   set nospell

" Real men use gcc
"compiler gcc

" Cool tab completion stuff
set wildmenu
set wildmode=list:longest,full

" Enable mouse support in console
set mouse=a

" Got backspace?
set backspace=2

" Line Numbers PWN!
set number

" Ignoring case is a fun trick
set ignorecase

" And so is Artificial Intellegence!
set smartcase

" This is totally awesome - remap jj to escape in insert mode.  You'll never type jj anyway, so it's great!
inoremap jj <Esc>

nnoremap JJJJ <Nop>

" Incremental searching is sexy
set incsearch

" Highlight things that we find with the search
set hlsearch

" Since I use linux, I want this
let g:clipbrdDefaultReg = '+'

" When I close a tab, remove the buffer
set nohidden

" Set off the other paren
highlight MatchParen ctermbg=4
" }}}

"{{{Look and Feel

" Favorite Color Scheme
if has("gui_running")
   colorscheme inkpot
   " Remove Toolbar
   set guioptions-=T
   "Terminus is AWESOME
   set guifont=Terminus\ 9
   colorscheme metacosm

"Status line gnarliness
set laststatus=2
set statusline=%F%m%r%h%w\ (%{&ff}){%Y}\ [%l,%v][%p%%]

" }}}

"{{{ Functions

"{{{ Open URL in browser

function! Browser ()
   let line = getline (".")
   let line = matchstr (line, "http[^   ]*")
   exec "!konqueror ".line


"{{{Theme Rotating
let themeindex=0
function! RotateColorTheme()
   let y = -1
   while y == -1
      let colorstring = "inkpot#ron#blue#elflord#evening#koehler#murphy#pablo#desert#torte#"
      let x = match( colorstring, "#", g:themeindex )
      let y = match( colorstring, "#", x + 1 )
      let g:themeindex = x + 1
      if y == -1
         let g:themeindex = 0
         let themestring = strpart(colorstring, x + 1, y - x - 1)
         return ":colorscheme ".themestring
" }}}

"{{{ Paste Toggle
let paste_mode = 0 " 0 = normal, 1 = paste

func! Paste_on_off()
   if g:paste_mode == 0
      set paste
      let g:paste_mode = 1
      set nopaste
      let g:paste_mode = 0

"{{{ Todo List Mode

function! TodoListMode()
   e ~/.todo.otl
   wincmd l
   set foldlevel=1
   tabnew ~/.notes.txt
   " or 'norm! zMzr'



"{{{ Mappings

" Open Url on this line with the browser \w
map <Leader>w :call Browser ()<CR>

" Open the Project Plugin <F2>
nnoremap <silent> <F2> :Project<CR>

" Open the Project Plugin
nnoremap <silent> <Leader>pal  :Project .vimproject<CR>

" TODO Mode
nnoremap <silent> <Leader>todo :execute TodoListMode()<CR>

" Open the TagList Plugin <F3>
nnoremap <silent> <F3> :Tlist<CR>

" Next Tab
nnoremap <silent> <C-Right> :tabnext<CR>

" Previous Tab
nnoremap <silent> <C-Left> :tabprevious<CR>

" New Tab
nnoremap <silent> <C-t> :tabnew<CR>

" Rotate Color Scheme <F8>
nnoremap <silent> <F8> :execute RotateColorTheme()<CR>

" DOS is for fools.
nnoremap <silent> <F9> :%s/$//g<CR>:%s// /g<CR>

" Paste Mode!  Dang! <F10>
nnoremap <silent> <F10> :call Paste_on_off()<CR>
set pastetoggle=<F10>

" Edit vimrc \ev
nnoremap <silent> <Leader>ev :tabnew<CR>:e ~/.vimrc<CR>

" Edit gvimrc \gv
nnoremap <silent> <Leader>gv :tabnew<CR>:e ~/.gvimrc<CR>

" Up and down are more logical with g..
nnoremap <silent> k gk
nnoremap <silent> j gj
inoremap <silent> <Up> <Esc>gka
inoremap <silent> <Down> <Esc>gja

" Good call Benjie (r for i)
nnoremap <silent> <Home> i <Esc>r
nnoremap <silent> <End> a <Esc>r

" Create Blank Newlines and stay in Normal mode
nnoremap <silent> zj o<Esc>
nnoremap <silent> zk O<Esc>

" Space will toggle folds!
nnoremap <space> za

" Search mappings: These will make it so that going to the next one in a
" search will center on the line it's found in.
map N Nzz
map n nzz

" Testing
set completeopt=longest,menuone,preview

inoremap <expr> <cr> pumvisible() ? "\<c-y>" : "\<c-g>u\<cr>"
inoremap <expr> <c-n> pumvisible() ? "\<lt>c-n>" : "\<lt>c-n>\<lt>c-r>=pumvisible() ? \"\\<lt>down>\" : \"\"\<lt>cr>"
inoremap <expr> <m-;> pumvisible() ? "\<lt>c-n>" : "\<lt>c-x>\<lt>c-o>\<lt>c-n>\<lt>c-p>\<lt>c-r>=pumvisible() ? \"\\<lt>down>\" : \"\"\<lt>cr>"

" Swap ; and :  Convenient.
nnoremap ; :
nnoremap : ;

" Fix email paragraphs
nnoremap <leader>par :%s/^>$//<CR>

"ly$O#{{{ "lpjjj_%A#}}}jjzajj


"{{{Taglist configuration
let Tlist_Use_Right_Window = 1
let Tlist_Enable_Fold_Column = 0
let Tlist_Exit_OnlyWindow = 1
let Tlist_Use_SingleClick = 1
let Tlist_Inc_Winwidth = 0

let g:rct_completion_use_fri = 1
"let g:Tex_DefaultTargetFormat = "pdf"
let g:Tex_ViewRule_pdf = "kpdf"

filetype plugin indent on
syntax on

As a programmer I spend a lot of hours at the keyboard and I've been doing it for the last 12 years more or less. If there's something I've never gotten used to during all this time is these annoying and almost unconscious constant micro-interruptions I experience while coding, due to some of the most common code editing tasks. Things like a simple copy & paste from a different line (or even the same line), or moving 1 or 2 lines up or down from the current position requires too much typing or involves the use of the arrow keys, and it gets worse when I want to move further, I end up using the mouse. Now imagine this same scenario but on a laptop.

I've always considered to learn VIM but the amount of time needed to master it has always made me to step back.

I'd like to hear from people who has learned it and if it ends up being one of those things you cannot live without.


At work I use VS2008, C# and R#, which together make editing code a lot faster and easier than ever, but even so I think I could enjoy not having to use the mouse at all.


And not even the arrow keys.

Answered By: Greg Hewgill ( 108)

I've been using vi and vim also for some 20 years, and I'm still learning new things.

David Rayner's Best of Vim Tips site is an excellent list, though it's probably more useful once you have some familiarity with vim.

I also want to mention the ViEmu site which has some great info on vi/vim tips and especially the article Why, oh WHY, do those nutheads use vi?.