1 of this series, we introduced you to some of the power in ViM’s feature
set and the flexibility it offers developers on the UNIX platform. Continuing
with the theme of making ViM more programmer-friendly, this second part of the
series concludes with more tips and tricks to make vi a powerful editing tool
in your arsenal.
We’ll cover a number of topics including copying and pasting
code between scripts in different windows, searching for words or patterns, and
storing your settings so they’ll load automatically the next time you open your
When you’re writing code, it’s common to switch back and
forth between multiple files, either for reference or to copy/paste lines of
code. On the Windows platform, this is simple—as the name suggests, all you
need to do is open multiple windows and work on them simultaneously.
But what happens in a UNIX console? Like all the best text
editors, ViM supports viewing and editing files in different windows.
To see how this works, simply type
from inside vi and watch as your window subdivides
horizontally into two. Each subwindow will display the contents of the selected
file, and you can move around independently in each one. To move from one
window to the other, type
To open a new blank window, type
Instead of having the same file appear in each window, you
can tell ViM to open a different file in the new window by adding the file path
and name after the split command, as
The cut, copy, and paste commands—d, y, and p—work as usual
and can be used to move text from one window to another. If your console and
ViM build support “visual mode,” you can even “select”
blocks of text and “drag and drop” them between windows.
Need to search your code for a particular word or pattern?
Use the / operator, followed by the search string:
/string to search for
ViM will now take you to the next match for your search
string. To move forward progressively through the list of matches, keep tapping
To search backwards, use the ? operator instead, as in:
If the word you’re searching for is already under the
cursor, save yourself some typing by using another well-known shortcut. Place
the cursor under the search word and type the asterisk (*). ViM will jump to
the next match for that word.
You can use the
option if you want ViM to perform case-insensitive matching.
Also, I like to use the
option as well for my searches. This automatically
highlights all the matches to the search string in the document, and it’s really
useful when you’re doing things like looking for “all calls to my function
hamandeggs(), which I’ve now decided to change to jamandfigs()”.
Remember that you can use regular expressions
in your search strings as well.
Now that you know how to search, let’s take a look at how to replace text
and how to store your favorite settings.
A common programming task involves performing substitutions
in a script—for example, correcting a variable name. For such tasks, ViM offers
a very powerful substitution command. Here’s an example that replaces all
occurrences of the variable colour
with color on the current line:
The g flag ensures
that all occurrences on the current line are replaced (without it, only the
first occurrence would be replaced), while the i flag performs a case-insensitive search.
You can have ViM confirm each substitution by adding a c flag:
Most often, though, you won’t want to replace on just a
single line. After all, you can do that manually. Instead, you’ll usually want
to perform a search-and-replace operation across the entire file. The true
power of ViM thus becomes evident when you add a range to the previous command,
This tells ViM to search and replace across the entire file,
from lines 1 (beginning) to $ (end). You can obviously use custom page ranges
In case you need to compare two or more scripts to see
what’s changed between them, you can use ViM’s built-in diff command to view the differences. To do this, start ViM with
the -d option, followed by the files
to be compared:
$ vim -d expenses.c expenses-old.c
In this mode, ViM starts up with each file occupying a
separate vertical window. The differences between the two files are highlighted
in different colors (if your terminal supports it) or with marks (if it
doesn’t). It’s possible to switch between windows using the standard window-tab
shortcuts discussed earlier.
If you’re editing both files simultaneously, two interesting
commands exist to make your life simpler. Type
at any point to recompare the files and update the windows
with the latest differences, and type
to have the two windows scroll in unison (extremely useful
if you’re comparing two versions of the same file!).
(Re)storing ViM settings
An interesting yet often overlooked feature of ViM lies in
its ability to import custom settings from the file being edited. Typically,
you’d use this feature to override the global or personal ViM settings (in
vimrc files) with settings that are optimized for editing a particular file.
Therefore, you could automatically turn on auto-indenting for C
files, or set a custom color scheme for CGI scripts, simply by appending the appropriate
variables to the bottom of the file in what are known as modelines.
Here’s how such a settings line might look:
Important: Note the space at the beginning of the line!
If the raw code above will break your script interpreter,
you can use the following alternative syntax, which encloses the ViM
modeline in comments so that it’s ignored by the parser:
/* vim: set autoindent tw=10: */
In order to tell ViM to read the custom settings when the file
is opened for editing, you must turn
on modeline parsing by typing
in ViM, or by adding it to the ViM startup configuration