vi Reference

Warning: some vi versions don't support the more esoteric features
described in this document.  You can edit/redistribute this document,
as long as you don't make false claims on original authorship.

Author: Maarten Litmaath <>
Version: 8

vi Reference Table of Contents

  • Contributions
  • Legenda
  • Move commands
  • Searching
  • Undoing changes
  • Appending text
  • Deleting text
  • Changing text
  • Substitute replacement patterns
  • Remembering text (yanking)
  • Commands while in append|change mode
  • Writing, editing other files, and quitting vi
  • Display commands
  • Mapping and abbreviation
  • Switch and shell commands
  • vi startup
  • The most important options

  • contributions

    Rich Salz <>
    Eamonn McManus <>
    Diomidis Spinellis <>
    Blair P. Houghton <>
    Rusty Haddock <{uunet,att,rutgers}!!fe2o3!rusty>
    Panos Tsirigotis <>
    David J. MacKenzie <>
    Kevin Carothers <>
    Dan Mercer <mercer@ncrcce.StPaul.NCR.COM>
    Ze'ev Shtadler <>
    Paul Quare <>
    Dave Beyerl <att!ihlpl!db21>
    David C Johnson <>
    Lee Sailer <>
    David Gast <>


    default values          : 1
    <*>                     : `*' must not be taken literally
    [*]                     : `*' is optional
    ^X                      : <ctrl>X
    <sp>                    : space
    <cr>                    : carriage return
    <lf>                    : linefeed
    <ht>                    : horizontal tab
    <esc>                   : escape
    <erase>                 : your erase character
    <kill>                  : your kill character
    <intr>                  : your interrupt character
    <a-z>                   : an element in the range
    N                       : number (`*' = allowed, `-' = not appropriate)
    CHAR                    : char unequal to <ht>|<sp>
    WORD                    : word followed by <ht>|<sp>|<lf>

    move commands

     N | Command            | Meaning
     * | h | ^H | <erase>   | <*> chars to the left.
     * | j | <lf> | ^N      | <*> lines downward.
     * | l | <sp>           | <*> chars to the right.
     * | k | ^P             | <*> lines upward.
     * | $                  | To the end of line <*> from the cursor.
     - | ^                  | To the first CHAR of the line.
     * | _                  | To the first CHAR <*> - 1 lines lower.
     * | -                  | To the first CHAR <*> lines higher.
     * | + | <cr>           | To the first CHAR <*> lines lower.
     - | 0                  | To the first char of the line.
     * | |                  | To column <*> (<ht>: only to the endpoint).
     * | f<char>            | <*> <char>s to the right (find).
     * | t<char>            | Till before <*> <char>s to the right.
     * | F<char>            | <*> <char>s to the left.
     * | T<char>            | Till after <*> <char>s to the left.
     * | ;                  | Repeat latest `f'|`t'|`F'|`T' <*> times.
     * | ,                  | Idem in opposite direction.
     * | w                  | <*> words forward.
     * | W                  | <*> WORDS forward.
     * | b                  | <*> words backward.
     * | B                  | <*> WORDS backward.
     * | e                  | To the end of word <*> forward.
     * | E                  | To the end of WORD <*> forward.
     * | G                  | Go to line <*> (default EOF).
     * | H                  | To line <*> from top of the screen (home).
     * | L                  | To line <*> from bottom of the screen (last).
     - | M                  | To the middle line of the screen.
     * | )                  | <*> sentences forward.
     * | (                  | <*> sentences backward.
     * | }                  | <*> paragraphs forward.
     * | {                  | <*> paragraphs backward.
     - | ]]                 | To the next section (default EOF).
     - | [[                 | To the previous section (default begin of file).
     - | `<a-z>             | To the mark.
     - | '<a-z>             | To the first CHAR of the line with the mark.
     - | ``                 | To the cursor position before the latest absolute
                            |   jump (of which are examples `/' and `G').
     - | ''                 | To the first CHAR of the line on which the cursor
                            |   was placed before the latest absolute jump.
     - | /<string>          | To the next occurrence of <string>.
     - | ?<string>          | To the previous occurrence of <string>.
     - | n                  | Repeat latest `/'|`?' (next).
     - | N                  | Idem in opposite direction.
     - | %                  | Find the next bracket and go to its match
                            |   (also with `{'|`}' and `['|`]').

    searching (see above)

    :ta <name>              | Search in the tags file[s] where <name> is
                            |   defined (file, line), and go to it.
    ^]                      | Use the name under the cursor in a `:ta' command.
    ^T                      | Pop the previous tag off the tagstack and return
                            |   to its position.
    :[x,y]g/<string>/<cmd>  | Search globally [from line x to y] for <string>
                            |   and execute the `ex' <cmd> on each occurrence.
    :[x,y]v/<string>/<cmd>  | Execute <cmd> on the lines that don't match.

    undoing changes

    u                       | Undo the latest change.
    U                       | Undo all changes on a line, while not having
                            |   moved off it (unfortunately).
    :q!                     | Quit vi without writing.
    :e!                     | Re-edit a messed-up file.

    appending text (end with <esc>)

     * | a                  | <*> times after the cursor.
     * | A                  | <*> times at the end of line.
     * | i                  | <*> times before the cursor (insert).
     * | I                  | <*> times before the first CHAR of the line
     * | o                  | On a new line below the current (open).
                            |   The count is only useful on a slow terminal.
     * | O                  | On a new line above the current.
                            |   The count is only useful on a slow terminal.
     * | ><move>            | Shift the lines described by <*><move> one
                            |   shiftwidth to the right.
     * | >>                 | Shift <*> lines one shiftwidth to the right.
     * | ["<a-zA-Z1-9>]p    | Put the contents of the (default undo) buffer
                            |   <*> times after the cursor.
                            |   A buffer containing lines is put only once,
                            |   below the current line.
     * | ["<a-zA-Z1-9>]P    | Put the contents of the (default undo) buffer
                            |   <*> times before the cursor.
                            |   A buffer containing lines is put only once,
                            |   above the current line.
     * | .                  | Repeat previous command <*> times.  If the last
                            |   command before a `.' command references a
                            |   numbered buffer, the buffer number is
                            |   incremented first (and the count is ignored):
                            |   "1pu.u.u.u.u      - `walk through' buffers 1
                            |                       through 5
                            |   "1P....           - restore them

    deleting text

    Everything deleted can be stored into a buffer. This is achieved by
    putting a `"' and a letter <a-z> before the delete command. The
    deleted text will be in the buffer with the used letter. If <A-Z>
    is used as buffer name, the conjugate buffer <a-z> will be augmented
    instead of overwritten with the text. The undo buffer always
    contains the latest change. Buffers <1-9> contain the latest 9
    LINE deletions (`"1' is most recent).
     * | x                  | Delete <*> chars under and after the cursor.
     * | X                  | <*> chars before the cursor.
     * | d<move>            | From begin to endpoint of <*><move>.
     * | dd                 | <*> lines.
     - | D                  | The rest of the line.
     * | <<move>            | Shift the lines described by <*><move> one
                            |   shiftwidth to the left.
     * | <<                 | Shift <*> lines one shiftwidth to the left.
     * | .                  | Repeat latest command <*> times.

    changing text (end with <esc>)

     * | r<char>            | Replace <*> chars by <char> - no <esc>.
     * | R                  | Overwrite the rest of the line,
                            |   appending change <*> - 1 times.
     * | s                  | Substitute <*> chars.
     * | S                  | <*> lines.
     * | c<move>            | Change from begin to endpoint of <*><move>.
     * | cc                 | <*> lines.
     * | C                  | The rest of the line and <*> - 1 next lines.
     * | =<move>            | If the option `lisp' is set, this command
                            |   will realign the lines described by <*><move>
                            |   as though they had been typed with the option
                            |   `ai' set too.
     - | ~                  | Switch lower and upper cases
                            |   (should be an operator, like `c').
     * | J                  | Join <*> lines (default 2).
     * | .                  | Repeat latest command <*> times (`J' only once).
     - | &                  | Repeat latest `ex' substitute command, e.g.
                            |   `:s/wrong/good'.
     - | :[x,y]s/<p>/<r>/<f>| Substitute (on lines x through y) the pattern <p>
                            |   (default the last pattern) with <r>.  Useful
                            |   flags <f> are `g' for `global' (i.e. change
                            |   every non-overlapping occurrence of <p>) and
                            |   `c' for `confirm' (type `y' to confirm a
                            |   particular substitution, else <cr>).  Instead
                            |   of `/' any punctuation CHAR unequal to <lf>
                            |   can be used as delimiter.

    substitute replacement patterns

    The basic meta-characters for the replacement pattern are `&' and `~';
    these are given as `\&' and `\~' when nomagic is set.  Each instance
    of `&' is replaced by the characters which the regular expression
    matched.  The meta-character `~' stands, in the replacement
    pattern, for the defining text of the previous replacement
    pattern.  Other meta-sequences possible in the replacement pattern
    are always introduced by the escaping character `\'.  The sequence
    `\n' (with `n' in [1-9]) is replaced by the text matched by the
    n-th regular subexpression enclosed between `\(' and `\)'.  The
    sequences `\u' and `\l' cause the immediately following character
    in the replacement to be converted to upper- or lower-case
    respectively if this character is a letter.  The sequences `\U' and
    `\L' turn such conversion on, either until `\E' or `\e' is
    encountered, or until the end of the replacement pattern.

    remembering text (yanking)

    With yank commands you can put `"<a-zA-Z>' before the command, just as
    with delete commands.  Otherwise you only copy to the undo buffer.
    The use of buffers <a-z> is THE way of copying text to another file;
    see the `:e <file>' command.
    * | y<move>            | Yank from begin to endpoint of <*><move>.
     * | yy                 | <*> lines.
     * | Y                  | Idem (should be equivalent to `y$' though).
     - | m<a-z>             | Mark the cursor position with a letter.

    commands while in append|change mode

    ^@                      | If typed as the first character of the
                            |   insertion, it is replaced with the previous
                            |   text inserted (max. 128 chars), after which
                            |   the insertion is terminated.
    ^V                      | Deprive the next char of its special meaning
                            |   (e.g. <esc>).
    ^D                      | One shiftwidth to the left, but only if
                            |   nothing else has been typed on the line.
    0^D                     | Remove all indentation on the current line
                            |   (there must be no other chars on the line).
    ^^D                     | Idem, but it is restored on the next line.
    ^T                      | One shiftwidth to the right, but only if
                            |   nothing else has been typed on the line.
    ^H | <erase>            | One char back.
    ^W                      | One word back.
    <kill>                  | Back to the begin of the change on the
                            |   current line.
    <intr>                  | Like <esc> (but you get a beep as well). 

    writing, editing other files, and quitting vi

    In `:' `ex' commands - if not the first CHAR on the line - `%' denotes
    the current file, `#' is a synonym for the alternate file (which
    normally is the previous file).  As first CHAR on the line `%' is a
    shorthand for `1,$'.  Marks can be used for line numbers too: '<a-z>.
    In the `:w'|`:f'|`:cd'|`:e'|`:n' commands shell meta-characters can be
    :q                      | Quit vi, unless the buffer has been changed.
    :q!                     | Quit vi without writing.
    ^Z                      | Suspend vi.
    :w                      | Write the file.
    :w <name>               | Write to the file <name>.
    :w >> <name>            | Append the buffer to the file <name>.
    :w! <name>              | Overwrite the file <name>.
    :x,y w <name>           | Write lines x through y to the file <name>.
    :wq                     | Write the file and quit vi; some versions quit
                            |   even if the write was unsuccessful!
                            |   Use `ZZ' instead.
    ZZ                      | Write if the buffer has been changed, and
                            |   quit vi.  If you have invoked vi with the `-r'
                            |   option, you'd better write the file
                            |   explicitly (`w' or `w!'), or quit the
                            |   editor explicitly (`q!') if you don't want
                            |   to overwrite the file - some versions of vi
                            |   don't handle the `recover' option very well.
    :x [<file>]             | Idem [but write to <file>].
    :x! [<file>]            | `:w![<file>]' and `:q'.
    :pre                    | Preserve the file - the buffer is saved as if
                            |   the system had just crashed; for emergencies,
                            |   when a `:w' command has failed and you don't
                            |   know how to save your work (see vi -r).
    :f <name>               | Set the current filename to <name>.
    :cd [<dir>]             | Set the working directory to <dir>
                            |   (default home directory).
    :cd! [<dir>]            | Idem, but don't save changes.
    :e [+<cmd>] <file>      | Edit another file without quitting vi - the
                            |   buffers are not changed (except the undo
                            |   buffer), so text can be copied from one file to
                            |   another this way.  [Execute the `ex' command
                            |   <cmd> (default `$') when the new file has been
                            |   read into the buffer.]  <cmd> must contain no
                            |   <sp> or <ht>.  See vi startup.
    :e! [+<cmd>] <file>     | Idem, without writing the current buffer.
    ^^                      | Edit the alternate (normally the previous) file.
    :rew                    | Rewind the argument list, edit the first file.
    :rew!                   | Idem, without writing the current buffer.
    :n [+<cmd>] [<files>]   | Edit next file or specify a new argument list.
    :n! [+<cmd>] [<files>]  | Idem, without writing the current buffer.
    :args                   | Give the argument list, with the current file
                            |   between `[' and `]'.

    display commands

    ^G                      | Give file name, status, current line number
                            |   and relative position.
    ^L                      | Refresh the screen (sometimes `^P' or `^R').
    ^R                      | Sometimes vi replaces a deleted line by a `@',
                            |   to be deleted by `^R' (see option redraw).
    [*]^E                   | Expose <*> more lines at bottom, cursor
                            |   stays put (if possible).
    [*]^Y                   | Expose <*> more lines at top, cursor
                            |   stays put (if possible).
    [*]^D                   | Scroll <*> lines downward
                            |   (default the number of the previous scroll;
                            |   initialization: half a page).
    [*]^U                   | Scroll <*> lines upward
                            |   (default the number of the previous scroll;
                            |   initialization: half a page).
    [*]^F                   | <*> pages forward.
    [*]^B                   | <*> pages backward (in older versions `^B' only
                            |   works without count).
    If in the next commands the field <wi> is present, the windowsize
    will change to <wi>. The window will always be displayed at the
    bottom of the screen.
    [*]z[wi]<cr>            | Put line <*> at the top of the window
                            |   (default the current line).
    [*]z[wi]+               | Put line <*> at the top of the window
                            |   (default the first line of the next page).
    [*]z[wi]-               | Put line <*> at the bottom of the window
                            |   (default the current line).
    [*]z[wi]^               | Put line <*> at the bottom of the window
                            |   (default the last line of the previous page).
    [*]z[wi].               | Put line <*> in the centre of the window
                            |   (default the current line).

    mapping and abbreviation

    When mapping take a look at the options `to' and `remap' (below).
    :map <string> <seq>     | <string> is interpreted as <seq>, e.g.
                            |   `:map ^C :!cc %^V<cr>' to invoke `cc' (the C
                            |   compiler) from within the editor
                            |   (vi replaces `%' with the current file name).
    :map                    | Show all mappings.
    :unmap <string>         | Deprive <string> of its mapping.  When vi
                            |   complains about non-mapped macros (whereas no
                            |   typos have been made), first do something like
                            |   `:map <string> Z', followed by
                            |   `:unmap <string>' (`Z' must not be a macro
                            |   itself), or switch to `ex' mode first with `Q'.
    :map! <string> <seq>    | Mapping in append mode, e.g.
                            |   `:map! \be begin^V<cr>end;^V<esc>O<ht>'.
                            |   When in append mode <string> is preceded by
                            |   `^V', no mapping is done.
    :map!                   | Show all append mode mappings.
    :unmap! <string>        | Deprive <string> of its mapping (see `:unmap').
    :ab <string> <seq>      | Whenever in append mode <string> is preceded and
                            |   followed by a breakpoint (e.g. <sp> or `,'), it
                            |   is interpreted as <seq>, e.g.
                            |   `:ab ^P procedure'.  A `^V' immediately
                            |   following <string> inhibits expansion.
    :ab                     | Show all abbreviations.
    :unab <string>          | Do not consider <string> an abbreviation
                            |   anymore (see `:unmap').
    @<a-z>                  | Consider the contents of the named register a
                            |   command, e.g.:
                            |       o0^D:s/wrong/good/<esc>"zdd
                            |   Explanation:
                            |       o              - open a new line
                            |       0^D            - remove indentation
                            |       :s/wrong/good/ - this input text is an
                            |                        `ex' substitute command
                            |       <esc>          - finish the input
                            |       "zdd           - delete the line just
                            |                        created into register `z'
                            |   Now you can type `@z' to replace `wrong'
                            |   with `good' on the current line.
    @@                      | Repeat last register command.

    switch and shell commands

    Q | ^\ | <intr><intr>   | Switch from vi to `ex'.
    :                       | An `ex' command can be given.
    :vi                     | Switch from `ex' to vi.
    :sh                     | Execute a subshell, back to vi by `^D'.
    :[x,y]!<cmd>            | Execute a shell <cmd> [on lines x through y;
                            |   these lines will serve as input for <cmd> and
                            |   will be replaced by its standard output].
    :[x,y]!! [<args>]       | Repeat last shell command [and append <args>].
    :[x,y]!<cmd> ! [<args>] | Use the previous command (the second `!') in a
                            |   new command.
    [*]!<move><cmd>         | The shell executes <cmd>, with as standard
                            |   input the lines described by <*><move>,
                            |   next the standard output replaces those lines
                            |   (think of `cb', `sort', `nroff', etc.).
    [*]!<move>!<args>       | Append <args> to the last <cmd> and execute it,
                            |   using the lines described by the current
                            |   <*><move>.
    [*]!!<cmd>              | Give <*> lines as standard input to the
                            |   shell <cmd>, next let the standard output
                            |   replace those lines.
    [*]!!! [<args>]         | Use the previous <cmd> [and append <args> to it].
    :x,y w !<cmd>           | Let lines x to y be standard input for <cmd>
                            |   (notice the <sp> between the `w' and the `!').
    :r!<cmd>                | Put the output of <cmd> onto a new line.
    :r <name>               | Read the file <name> into the buffer.

    vi startup

    vi [<files>]            | Edit the files, start with the first page of
                            |   the first file.
    The editor can be initialized by the shell variable `EXINIT', which
    looks like:
            <cmd>: set options
                   map ...
                   ab ...
            export EXINIT (in the Bourne shell)
    However, the list of initializations can also be put into a file.
    If this file is located in your home directory, and is named `.exrc'
    AND the variable `EXINIT' is NOT set, the list will be executed
    automatically at startup time. However, vi will always execute the
    contents of a `.exrc' in the current directory, if you own the file.
    Else you have to give the execute (`source') command yourself:
            :so file
    In a `.exrc' file a comment is introduced with a double quote character:
    the rest of the line is ignored.  Exception: if the last command on the
    line is a `map[!]' or `ab' command or a shell escape, a trailing comment
    is not recognized, but considered part of the command.
    On-line initializations can be given with `vi +<cmd> file', e.g.:
    vi +x file              | The cursor will immediately jump to line x
                            |   (default last line).
    vi +/<string> file      | Jump to the first occurrence of <string>.
    You can start at a particular tag with:
    vi -t <tag>             | Start in the right file in the right place.
    Sometimes (e.g. if the system crashed while you were editing) it is
    possible to recover files lost in the editor by `vi -r file'.  A plain
    `vi -r' command shows the files you can recover.
    If you just want to view a file by using vi, and you want to avoid any
    change, instead of vi you can use the `view' or `vi -R' command:
    the option `readonly' will be set automatically (with `:w!' you can
    override this option).

    the most important options

    ai                      | autoindent - In append mode after a <cr> the
                            |   cursor will move directly below the first
                            |   CHAR on the previous line.  However, if the
                            |   option `lisp' is set, the cursor will align
                            |   at the first argument to the last open list.
    aw                      | autowrite - Write at every shell escape
                            |   (useful when compiling from within vi).
    dir=<string>            | directory - The directory for vi to make
                            |   temporary files (default `/tmp').
    eb                      | errorbells - Beeps when you goof
                            |   (not on every terminal).
    ic                      | ignorecase - No distinction between upper and
                            |   lower cases when searching.
    lisp                    | Redefine the following commands:
                            |   `(', `)'   - move backward (forward) over
                            |                S-expressions
                            |   `{', `}'   - idem, but don't stop at atoms
                            |   `[[', `]]' - go to previous (next) line
                            |                beginning with a `('
                            |   See option `ai'.
    list                    | <lf> is shown as `$', <ht> as `^I'.
    magic                   | If this option is set (default), the chars `.',
                            |   `[' and `*' have special meanings within search
                            |   and `ex' substitute commands.  To deprive such
                            |   a char of its special function it must be
                            |   preceded by a `\'.  If the option is turned off
                            |   it's just the other way around.  Meta-chars:
                            |   ^<string>    - <string> must begin the line
                            |   <string>$    - <string> must end the line
                            |   .            - matches any char
                            |   [a-z]        - matches any char in the range
                            |   [^a-z]       - any char not in the range
                            |   [<string>]   - matches any char in <string>
                            |   [^<string>]  - any char not in <string>
                            |   <char>*      - 0 or more <char>s
                            |   \<<string>   - <string> must begin a word
                            |   <string>\>   - <string> must end a word
    modeline                | When you read an existing file into the buffer,
                            |   and this option is set, the first and last 5
                            |   lines are checked for editing commands in the
                            |   following form:
                            |     <sp>vi:set options|map ...|ab ...|!...:
                            |   Instead of <sp> a <ht> can be used, instead of
                            |   `vi' there can be `ex'.  Warning: this option
                            |   could have nasty results if you edit a file
                            |   containing `strange' modelines.
    nu                      | number - Numbers before the lines.
    para=<string>           | paragraphs - Every pair of chars in <string> is
                            |   considered a paragraph delimiter nroff macro
                            |   (for `{' and `}').  A <sp> preceded by a `\'
                            |   indicates the previous char is a single letter
                            |   macro.  `:set para=P\ bp' introduces `.P' and
                            |   `.bp' as paragraph delimiters.  Empty lines and
                            |   section boundaries are paragraph boundaries
                            |   too.
    redraw                  | The screen remains up to date.
    remap                   | If on (default), macros are repeatedly
                            |   expanded until they are unchanged.
                            |   Example: if `o' is mapped to `A', and `A'
                            |   is mapped to `I', then `o' will map to `I'
                            |   if `remap' is set, else it will map to `A'.
    report=<*>              | Vi reports whenever e.g. a delete
                            |   or yank command affects <*> or more lines.
    ro                      | readonly - The file is not to be changed.
                            |   However, `:w!' will override this option.
    sect=<string>           | sections - Gives the section delimiters (for `[['
                            |   and `]]'); see option `para'. A `{' beginning a
                            |   line also starts a section (as in C functions).
    sh=<string>             | shell - The program to be used for shell escapes
                            |   (default `$SHELL' (default `/bin/sh')).
    sw=<*>                  | shiftwidth - Gives the shiftwidth (default 8
                            |   positions).
    sm                      | showmatch - Whenever you append a `)', vi shows
                            |   its match if it's on the same page; also with
                            |   `{' and `}'.  If there's no match at all, vi
                            |   will beep.
    taglength=<*>           | The number of significant characters in tags
                            |   (0 = unlimited).
    tags=<string>           | The space-separated list of tags files.
    terse                   | Short error messages.
    to                      | timeout - If this option is set, append mode
                            |   mappings will be interpreted only if they're
                            |   typed fast enough.
    ts=<*>                  | tabstop - The length of a <ht>; warning: this is
                            |   only IN the editor, outside of it <ht>s have
                            |   their normal length (default 8 positions).
    wa                      | writeany - No checks when writing (dangerous).
    warn                    | Warn you when you try to quit without writing.
    wi=<*>                  | window - The default number of lines vi shows.
    wm=<*>                  | wrapmargin - In append mode vi automatically
                            |   puts a <lf> whenever there is a <sp> or <ht>
                            |   within <wm> columns from the right margin
                            |   (0 = don't put a <lf> in the file, yet put it
                            |   on the screen).
    ws                      | wrapscan - When searching, the end is
                            |   considered `stuck' to the begin of the file.
    :set <option>           | Turn <option> on.
    :set no<option>         | Turn <option> off.
    :set <option>=<value>   | Set <option> to <value>.
    :set                    | Show all non-default options and their values.
    :set <option>?          | Show <option>'s value.
    :set all                | Show all options and their values.

    Converted to html by Jeff Aspinall ( with help from Meng Weng Wong's txt2html script, 22 June 1994

    [Home] [Search] [Index]