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A Guide to Vim: Top Use Cases and Pro Tips

Text editor software programs like Vim are crucial to the efficiency of the text editing process. According to Stack Overflow Insights from 2021, 24 percent of survey respondents chose Vim as their go-to integrated development environment (IDE). If you want to learn Vim, this article will teach you how to use Vim.

Although Vim may seem like a complicated text editor to learn, there are ways to make it easier. To start, knowing the top use cases for Vim and the best, professional Vim tips will make the entire process simpler. Continue reading this guide to Vim to learn everything you need to know. 

What Is Vim?

Vim is a terminal text editor from Unix that is also included in Linux, macOS, and BSD. The text editor is efficient and fast and can easily run in terminals because of its graphical interface. Vim editor is also controlled with your keyboard without any need for a mouse or menu.

Why Do You Need Vim?

The main reason tech professionals need Vim is because it is excellent for navigating, changing specific lines of code, and repeating the entire process. The name for this process is text editing, and it allows for several editors to work in a single mode at once. This is one of the selling points of the text editor. 

Vim also differentiates modes. You can’t jump to a file, edit, or copy a file while it’s in the same mode. If you are a beginner interested in heavy editing or advanced editing techniques, you might want to check out the hundreds of tutorials available online. 

Vim Use Cases

  • Modal editing: Vim is used for modal editing. With a notepad, there is just one mode that allows you to input text. Vim offers multiple modes, such as insert mode for text editing, and normal mode for a variety of functions. 
  • Shell commands: Shell commands include being able to add, remove, or change permission on files to prevent programmers from breaking their pattern. This feature means programmers do not need to run Vim commands in a separate terminal or second window. 
  • Buffers: Vim is used to search for files and texts to review rather than trying to recall which file is open. This makes the search process quicker and more efficient than having to locate one of your many files manually.
  • Undo: Vim can be used to walk back changes made over a long period of time. Vim is known for its long version history and you can undo changes to fix any issues with the code that may have cropped up somewhere in the process. The undo command can also take care of quick mistakes in just a few clicks. 

Key Terms You Need to Know to Use Vim

Command Mode

Command mode is usually the default mode for Vim. To go back to command mode from any other mode on Vim, hit the “escape key” on your keyboard. In command mode, you can use last-line commands that start with a colon. You will want to learn some simple commands right away as you get started using Vim. 


The word Yank is quite common among programmers who use Vim. It is used in place of copy and paste. This term comes from the word for copying on Vim, “yw”. It translates to “yank word” and the pasting command is “p” which means “put”. These are basic commands that will become like muscle memory as you use Vim. 

Insert Mode

To insert something in Vim, you need to choose the insert mode. This process is simple and requires pressing the “i” key. In this mode, programmers can write anything they want in the file. After inserting, they can exit the mode by pressing the “escape key” on the keyboard. This will take you back to the command line mode.

Visual Mode

The visual mode is used to identify chunks of text that the programmer wants to manipulate. It comes in handy while editing text Vim. This visual mode has three main versions which include block, character, and line. To enter each mode, the key combinations are “Block mode: Ctrl+v; Character mode: v (lower-case); and Line mode: V (upper-case)”.

Replace Mode

The replace mode is another popular term that lets programmers replace existing text when they type over it directly. However, you need to enter normal mode before entering replace mode. You may also need to place your cursor on the first character to be replaced. 

Next, press “r” and enter replace mode. When this happens, the cursor position will move to the next character as it does in insert mode. The difference, however, is that each character the programmer types will replace the previous one.

Equipment You’ll Need for Vim

  • Autosave: The autosave plugin is an essential addition to Vim as well as any other text editor. It helps ensure that everything you have added saves automatically. For it to work, you need to set up the packpath or runtimepath manager called Pathogen.
  • vim-airline: vim-airline is another useful and lightweight Vim plugin. It makes integration with other popular plugins easier.
  • vim-syntastic/syntastic: This syntax checking plugin was created by Martin Grenfell and it works on Vim. The plugin runs files using external syntax checkers to find errors in the code. It can work automatically or on-demand depending on the settings. 
  • vim-textobj-user: vim-textobj-user allows programmers to create text objects seamlessly. The plugin removes the stress that comes with creating text objects. It provides a simple way to define text objects and hides other details.
  • jparise/vim-graphql: The plugin jparise/vim-graphql offers syntax highlighting, GraphQL file detection, and indentation. As a bonus, it works with the latest updates of GraphQL, as well.

How to Set Up and Start Using Vim

Step 1: Install Vim

Vim can work in all operating system (OS) environments, from Windows to iOS. You can use it on any system you are programming with. For those who have a Mac computer, the Vim text editor is already preinstalled. However, Windows users may be required to download Vim from the official Vim website.

Step 2: Open Vim

After installing Vim, you need to test if it works and has been installed correctly, or if troubleshooting needs to be done. To check if it’s working correctly, simply type in the basic command, vim -v,  from the command line.

Step 3: Edit With Vim

After opening Vim, try your first edit and test out the functions. From the terminal, try to navigate to a file. Next, edit the file using Vim by typing the following command: vim whatever.txt. It is also possible to create a new file with the same command in Vim. The command should look like this: vim mynewfile.txt.

Step 4: Save Edit

After editing, save .vimrc and .bashrc from your terminal to the home directory. When you are done, run the source ~/.vimrc and ~/.bashrc. The current file would be updated following your preferences. Simply close the terminal or open it to view the new changes.

Step 5: Choose Mode 

Vim is usually in command mode, but you can change modes. One Vim mode you will often use is the insert mode. To enter insert mode, type “I” and when you are done, you can save the file. However, you may need to exit the mode first and enter command mode again by clicking the “escape key”.

The Importance of Vim for Business

Vim is important for computer programmers‘ daily work because it offers features that many other text editors do not. It has an eye-catching interface and helps ensure that programmers reach peak productivity. It may have a tough learning curve when trying to figure the software out, but it is worth it in the long run. There are advanced tutorial videos available if you need further guidance. 

Top Vim Tips: Use Vim Like a Pro

  • Resize windows automatically: To see the effects, open three windows in the Vim tab and then resize each one. Each one has to be the same size to allow the space to be evenly distributed.
  • Working with tabs: You need to be in command mode to work with tabs. To do this, press the “colon key” on your keyboard and proceed with your text. 
  • How to go back to old files: When programmers edit a file with a code, they can open another file in the same window. This can make it easier to visit the one they just worked on. Vim allows you to list buffers and then navigate to the old file.
  • Change lowercase to uppercase: You can change the text case from uppercase to lowercase and vice versa. Use “gUw” to change from lowercase to uppercase, and use “guw” to change words from uppercase to lowercase.
  • Working with multiple files: You don’t need to open several files in Vim shell tabs. simply open multiple files in one tab by passing each filename as arguments to the command.

Vim for Different Professions

Profession Applications
System Administrator For daily system administration tasks
Web Developer Programming tasks
Software Engineer Heavy test editing
Software Developer Faster text editing
Data Scientist Code customization
Machine Learning Edit CSV files

Should You Use Vim?

Yes, you should use Vim if you want to be proficient in one of the best text editors for developers. Most IDEs offer support and integration for Vim emulation mode. These IDEs accomplish this via plugins or by doing it natively. Another benefit of learning and using Vim is that other IDEs will be easier to learn and use. 

However, it is important that you choose the right integrated development environment for you. There is a debate between Vim vs Emacs to decide which is the better IDE, but it is ultimately up to the user’s discretion. 

How to Use Vim FAQ

Should beginners use Vim?

Yes, beginners should use Vim. Although Vim may be tough for complete beginners to learn, learning the basics can help bring you up to speed on other IDEs, then you can select the best IDE for you. Once you understand the fundamentals, everything else becomes easier.

Is Vim hard to learn?

Yes, Vim can be challenging to learn. Vim is a text object-oriented editor that applies its commands on the object, which can make it difficult to learn. A challenge many users face is exiting Vim through the terminal. Thankfully, once you learn those premises, the rest is fairly simple. After learning the basics, Vim is easy to use and offers many shortcuts to ease the learning process. 

Is Vim better than VScode?

Vim is not inherently better than VScode. Both Vim and VScode have their unique uses. Vim is highly configurable. It is built for developers and mostly advanced developers will appreciate its features. VScode is more suited to beginners.

What language does Vim use?

Vim is written in Vimscript and C programming language. It is not great for programming languages like Java because there are a lot of files for each class. However, it offers static analysis tools for the programming language.

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