anton niklasson

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Introduction to Vim

I worked with Vim from time-to-time for the last four years. I am still a complete noob, but I can definitely get stuff done. My first impression of vim was that it was horrible, ugly and useless. Since then I’ve gotten used to some of the concepts behind it and also spent some time configuring it. Today I would say vim is my main editor, however it’s probably not perfect for all situations. I write a lot of web right now. Something like Java or C# might require a more robust IDE.

These are some tips that I would have appreciated when first starting out.


The majority of my time in a file I navigate. I move from one place to another. That is NORMAL mode in Vim. When you’ve found the correct spot you press

i to enter INSERT mode. This is where you input characters and probably why vim is confusing at first. Go back to normal mode with Esc. Or if you prefer; Ctrl C. From Normal mode you can go to Visual mode via v. This mode is for selecting/deleting/moving text. Go back to Normal just like in Insert.

Tip: Enter Insert with i, Visual with v. Exit back to Normal with Esc or Ctrl + C.

Forget the Arrows

It might be a bit confusing how to move around at first. Most beginners, including myself, keep on using the arrow keys as in any other normal editor. However, I would suggest that you forget the arrows completely and start doing it the vim way instead. Use h, j, k and l to move left, down, up and right instead. You might realize it’s possible to move around in Insert with the arrows. That’s not really meant to work, that’s cheating. Insert is strictly for inserting. Instead you should navigate to the exact spot, insert what you want and then exit Insert to navigate again. It will feel awkward, but as soon as you learn a couple of motions it will be worth it.

Tip: you can combine motions with numbers: 10j moves down 10 lines etc.

Delete in Normal Mode

Say you want to delete a line. One way would be to hold backspace for like 30 seconds. It works, but it’s not the easiest way. d will delete in vim, and dd will delete the current line. The delete verb can be combined with motions and numbers to create an action. To delete three lines you can do either 3dd or d3j. It probably feels weird at first, but give it a chance.

Another way of deleting is to use vim’s “in”, or “inside”, specifier. Delete the word your cursor is currently in with diw which means delete in word. Delete everything within parentheses with di(. You can even delete a whole paragraph with dip.

Tip: Delete a three lines with 3dd or d3j. Delete the current word with diw.


The vimrc file is where you put all your settings and keyboard mappings. This file is empty when you first get started, but it will probably grow as you evolve. Start out by putting something like this in there:

syntax on set numbers

That will at least get you started. My vimrc includes my own keyboard commands, different plugins to extend vim and settings like number of spaces in a tab.

Many people share their vimrc online in different ways. Also, make sure to improve things you don’t like in vim. Look things up and store the solution in your vimrc. You will probably spend quite a lot of time in that file when starting out.


The last tip, and probably the most important: go through vimtutor. Open up your terminal and launch vimtutor. It’s vim’s own beginner’s guide which teaches you the fundamentals in a very practical way. Just do it.

Then what?

I’ve got my vimrc online. You might find something useful. Also plugins might be of interest to you. I use Vundle to handle my plugins.

Finally there’s huge amounts of material on vim available on youtube. Check it out.