Learn Vim

Starting Vim

Starting Vim

Ch01. Starting Vim

In this chapter, you will learn different ways to start Vim from the terminal. I was using Vim 8.2 when writing this guide. If you use Neovim or an older version of Vim, you should be mostly fine, but be aware that some commands might not be available.


I won't go through the detailed instruction how to install Vim in a specific machine. The good news is, most Unix-based computers should come with Vim installed. If not, most distros should have some instructions to install Vim.

For download informations, check out Vim's official download website or Vim's official github repository:

The Vim Command

Now that you have Vim installed, run this from the terminal:


You should see an intro screen. This is the where you will be working on your file. Unlike most text editors and IDEs, Vim is a modal editor. If you want to type "hello", you need to switch to insert mode with i. Press ihello<Esc> to insert the text "hello".

Exiting Vim

There are several ways to exit Vim. The most common one is to type:


You can type :q for short. That command is a command-line mode command (another one of Vim modes). If you type : in normal mode, the cursor will move to the bottom of the screen where you can type some commands. You will learn about the command-line mode later in chapter 15. If you are in insert mode, typing : will literally produce the character ":" on the screen. In this case, you need to switch back to normal mode. Type <Esc> to switch to normal mode. By the way, you can also return to normal mode from command-line mode by pressing <Esc>. You will notice that you can "escape" out of several Vim modes back to normal mode by pressing <Esc>.

Saving A File

To save your changes, type:


You can also type :w for short. If this is a new file, you need to give it a name before you can save it. Let's name it file.txt. Run:

:w file.txt

To save and quit, you can combine the :w and :q commands:


To quit without saving any changes, add ! after :q to force quit:


There are other ways to exit Vim, but these are the ones you will use daily.


Throughout this guide, I will refer you to various Vim help pages. You can go to the help page by typing :help {some-command} (:h for short). You can pass to the :h command a topic or a command name as an argument. For example, to learn about different ways to quit Vim, type:

:h write-quit

How did I know to search for "write-quit"? I actually didn't. I just typed :h, then "quit", then <Tab>. Vim displayed relevant keywords to choose from. If you ever need to look up something ("I wish Vim can do this..."), just type :h and try some keywords, then <Tab>.

Opening a File

To open a file (hello1.txt) on Vim from the terminal, run:

vim hello1.txt

You can also open multiple files at once:

vim hello1.txt hello2.txt hello3.txt

Vim opens hello1.txt, hello2.txt, and hello3.txt in separate buffers. You will learn about buffers in the next chapter.


You can pass the vim terminal command with different flags and options.

To check the current Vim version, run:

vim --version

This tells you the current Vim version and all available features marked with either + or - Some of these features in this guide require certain features to be available. For example, you will explore Vim's command-line history in a later chapter with the :history command. Your Vim needs to have +cmdline_history feature for the command to work. There is a good chance that the Vim you just installed have all the necessary features, especially if it is from a popular download source.

Many things you do from the terminal can also be done from inside Vim. To see the version from inside Vim, you can run this:


If you want to open the file hello.txt and immediately execute a command, you can pass to the vim command the +{cmd} option.

In Vim, you can substitute texts with the :s command (short for :substitute). If you want to open hello.txt and substitute all "pancake" with "bagel", run:

vim +%s/pancake/bagel/g hello.txt

The command can be stacked:

vim +%s/pancake/bagel/g +%s/bagel/egg/g +%s/egg/donut/g hello.txt

Vim will replace all instances of "pancake" with "bagel", then replace "bagel" with "egg", then replace "egg" with "donut" (you willl learn substitution in a later chapter).

You can also pass the c flag followed by the command instead of the + syntax:

vim -c %s/pancake/bagel/g hello.txt
vim -c %s/pancake/bagel/g -c %s/bagel/egg/g -c %s/egg/donut/g hello.txt

Opening Multiple Windows

You can launch Vim on split horizontal and vertical windows with o and O, respectively.

To open Vim with two horizontal windows, run:

vim -o2

To open Vim with 5 horizontal windows, run:

vim -o5

To open Vim with 5 horizontal windows and fill up the first two with hello1.txt and hello2.txt, run:

vim -o5 hello1.txt hello2.txt

To open Vim with two vertical windows, 5 vertical windows, and 5 vertical windows with 2 files:

vim -O
vim -O5
vim -O5 hello1.txt hello2.txt


If you need to suspend Vim while in the middle of editing, you can press Ctrl-z. You can also run either the :stop or :suspend command. To return to the suspended Vim, run fg from the terminal.

Starting Vim The Smart Way

You can pass the vim command with different options and flags, just like any terminal commands. One of the options is the command-line command (+{cmd} or c cmd). As you learn more commands throughout this guide, see if you can apply it on start. Also being a terminal command, you can combine vim with many other terminal commands. For example, you can redirect the output of the ls command to be edited in Vim with ls -l | vim -.

To learn more about Vim terminal command, check out man vim. To learn more about the Vim editor, continue reading this guide along with the :help command.

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