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Vim Cheat Sheet and Command Reference

Feeling overwhelmed? This go-to Vim cheat sheet is trimmed down to the essential commands.
  1. Get started - Expect to struggle at first.
  2. A better way - Ditch those one-page pdf cheat sheets that are too condensed and confuse beginners.
  3. Modes - Simplify hundreds of command combinations by starting with four modes.
  4. Plateaus - Try new commands and see if they save you time.
  5. Continue improving - Bookmark this quality Vim quick reference and find your answer without getting sidetracked.
face pic by Paul Alan Davis, CFA
Updated: February 20, 2021
Memorizing the thousands of Vim shortcuts and Vim command combinations can take years. Having a solid base of understanding will improve your odds of success.

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Vim Cheat Sheet Outline

For Those Just Getting Started


The goal with these seven sections is to give the beginner confidence to replace existing tools with the Vim editor.

  1. Vim Modes - Navigating modes
  2. Vim Command Structure - Counts, Operators and Motions
  3. Vim Editing - Undo, replace, delete and append
  4. Vim Cut, Copy and Paste - Edit in Visual and Normal Modes
  5. Vim Search and Replace - Edit in Normal and Command Modes
  6. Vim Command Mode - Save, quit, write, read
  7. Vim Registers - Reuse saved blocks of text
  8. Vim Tabs - Manage multiple files in tabs

Accepting that Vim has over 1,000 commands, we only had space to cover about 80 essential commands, but these should provide a good base of knowledge to launch a further exploration of Vim commands.

Vim and Vi Version Confusion

On most modern Linux distributions for command-line operation, Vim is the replacement for the Vi editor, despite being launched with the command vi. If this is the case for you, your system is most-likely running a limited version of Vim, called vim-tiny. You can find your version using :ve inside Vim. If it says "Small version without GUI" then you have a limited, but small program. Many of the commands covered in this Vim cheat sheet will not work for you as vim-tiny emulates vi commands and vi shortcuts, so keep that in mind.

If that is the case for you, and you can upgrade to the full version of Vim, called vim-runtime, look for a tutorial on this later.

Vim Modes

Keystrokes have alternative meanings in each mode. So a vital first step is knowing your current mode and how to navigate between them.

The default or home mode is Normal Mode and Esc returns you here.

Navigating Vim Modes

Keystrokes used to navigate between Vim modes.

Current Mode Desired Mode Character(s)
Normal Mode Insert Mode A, a, C, I, i, O, o, S, s
Normal Mode Command Mode (Ex Mode) :
Normal Mode Visual Mode v
Any Mode Normal Mode Esc (sometimes twice)

So if you make unintended keystrokes, return to Normal Mode using Esc. There are other ways to navigate between modes of course, and here we cover the basics for beginners.

Vim Command Structure

Counts, Operators and Motions

A combined command is one that can be applied multiple times, taking a variety of actions in all directions.

Below is a short example of three combined commands translated into Counts, Operators and Motions.

Combined command Count Operator Motion What does it do?
5dw 5 d w Delete 5 words
3j 3 j Move down 3 lines
3g~l 3 g~ l Swap case for next 3 characters

All Counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 require an Operator and/or Motion afterwards. Use Esc to erase an unwanted Count. Counts are optional, and without a Count you can think of the default being 1.

0 is not a Count, but instead moves the cursor to the first column of a line.


Of the 15 Operators in total, below are those commonly used by beginners. Operators are optional.

Character Operation
c Change
d Delete
g~ Swap case
gu Make lowercase
gU Make uppercase
y Yank (copy)
< Shift left
> Shift right

Vim Motions can optionally be preceded by a Count and/or an Operator. Vim will move or take action from the cursor a specified number of times and remain in Normal Mode. Also note, there are many ways (over 90) to initiate a Motion but to save time and to avoid feeling overwhelmed, start with those in the first column.

Character Synonym(s) Motion Units
h Backspace, Ctrl-h Left Characters
l Space Right Characters
j Enter, Ctrl-j, Ctrl-m, Ctrl-n Down Lines
k Ctrl-p Up Lines
b   Backward Words
w   Forward Words
{   Backward Paragraphs
}   Forward Paragraphs
Ctrl-d   Down 1/2 Screens
Ctrl-u   Up 1/2 Screens
Ctrl-b   Backward Screens
Ctrl-f   Forward Screens

The Ctrl-s keystroke is used for Linux Terminal control and may lock your Vim console. If this happens, hit Ctrl-q to regain control.

Other Motions

The following are important and commonly-used Motions.

Character Prefix with Count? Motion
0 (zero) No Move cursor to beginning of current line
$ Yes Move cursor to end of current line
^ No Move cursor to first non-blank character of current line
g_ Yes Move cursor to last non-blank character of current line
gg No Go to start of file
G No Go to end of file
H No Go to top of screen
L No Go to bottom of screen
M No Go to middle of screen
zz No Center the screen around the cursor

A Count plus the vertical bar or pipe will go to that column of the current line. So 80| will go to column 80.

Vim Editing

Two Modes for Editing: Normal Mode and Insert Mode

Here we cover editing files from two modes. Light edits are performed while remaining in the default Normal Mode, while others such as appending text take a Motion followed by a change to Insert Mode.

Normal Mode Vim Editing
Character Prefix with Count? Meaning
u Yes Undo the last edit
Crtl-r Yes Redo last undo changes
r Yes Replace one or several characters
x Yes Delete character under cursor and forward
. Yes Repeat the last change at the cursor

The r command is recommended for beginers over R which kicks you into a whole different mode called Replace Mode. It is often easier to use Insert Mode to edit larger blocks of text, rather than learn a new mode.

Insert Mode Vim Editing
Character Prefix with Count? Meaning
a Yes Append text after cursor position
A Yes Append text at end of line
C Yes Cut text from cursor to end of line
I Yes Insert text at the first non-blank character of the line
i Yes Insert text before the cursor
O Yes Open line(s) above cursor
o Yes Open line(s) below cursur
S Yes Swap or delete line(s) for newly created line
s Yes Swap or delete character(s) for newly type characters

Vim Cut, Copy and Paste

Two Modes: Visual Mode and Normal Mode

Here are two ways to select blocks of text to accomplish standard cut, copy and paste operations. First, and easiest for those coming from other visual editors, is in Visual Mode. Second is remaining in Normal Mode.

Visual Mode

The following keystrokes perform the most basic copy and paste, switching from Normal Mode to Visual Mode.

Character Synonym Meaning
v   Switch to Visual Mode for character selection
y   Yank (copy) text selected with Motions
p   Put (paste) selected text block after the cursor
x d Delete a block of selected text
Ctrl-v, (select rows), Shift+i, (add text), Esc   This enters Visual Block mode and is helpful for adding text or comment characters in front of multiple lines.

Once you enter Visual Mode text is highlighted as you select blocks of text with standard Motions. After you are happy with the block, type your cut or copy command from the table above. You will then automatically return to Normal Mode to paste the text.

Many find Visual Mode easier to grasp at first but advancing to Normal Mode for cut, copy and paste operations can save keystrokes.

The Visual Block Mode example above can be a timesaver if for example you wanted to comment out 20 lines of code in Python with the hash # character. Start at the first line where you want to enter a comment and hit Ctrl+v, then navigate down the 19 lines, hit Shift+i and input the text you would like, here a # and space, then Esc.

Normal Mode

To perform cut, copy and paste operations from within Normal Mode requires a good understanding of Motions.

Character Prefix with Count? Meaning
y$ Yes Yank (copy) to end of line
yy Yes Yank (copy) the whole current line
yw Yes Yank (copy) current word
Y Yes Yank (copy) the whole current line
P Yes Put (paste) before the cursor
p Yes Put (paste) after the cursor

Search Lines, Files and Replace Text

Vim offers many commands to search for and replace text at the line-level and file-level.

We will stick with the basics here, but at a more advanced level, with regular expressions, the Vim editor offers the ability initiate any search imaginable, even across whole filesystems.

Search Lines

Searching for characters within lines can be helpful for jumping to specific coding symbols and letters.

Character Prefix with Count? Meaning
f{character} Yes Search current line right for N occurance of {character}
F{character} Yes Search current line left for N occurance of {character}
Search Files

File-level search is one of the most common functions for Vim users, and most users memorize one of the two pattern recognition commands because when combined with the n and N symbols noted above, they both can direct Vim to search up and down a file just as easily, so using / or ? is your preference.

Character Prefix with Count? Meaning
/{pattern}Return Yes Search for next N occurance of {pattern}
?{pattern}Return Yes Search for previous N occurance of {pattern}
n Yes Search for next N occurance of an already initiated search in the same direction
N Yes Search for next N occurance of an already initiated search in the opposite direction
:noh<Enter> No To turn off highlighting of searched-for text.
Search and Replace

Here we start to see entries in Command Mode using the : character. The term Command Mode, often confuses beginners because you can enter Vim commands from any mode. Official Vim documentation refers to commands entered with : as Ex Commands, but most people use the term Command Mode.

Character(s) Meaning
:%s/{search}/{replace}/gc Search over the range (% for whole file) for all occurances of {search} and replace with {replace}.
:10,20s/{search}/{replace}/gc Search over the range (lines 10 to 20) for all occurances of {search} and replace with {replace}.

The only spaces allowed in the string above sit between the / characters, and the { and } characters are not typed. The g means globally over the whole file and c instructs Vim to provide a confirmation before each replacement is made.

A confirmation dialog will prompt you for one of seven choices.

  1. y - substitute at current stop
  2. n - skip this substitution
  3. a - accept all future substitutions
  4. q - quit the search and replace
  5. l - substitute at current stop then quit
  6. ^E (Ctrl-e) - scroll up to previous stop
  7. ^Y (Ctrl-y) - scroll down to next stop

If you leave the c off the end of the command, Vim will perform all replacements in the whole file almost instantly, so it is best for beginners to start with confirming changes.

A Search and Replace Example

The following command uses Regular Expressions to remove the last one or several blank spaces at the end of each line in a file :%s/\s\+$//.

Vim Command Mode

Save, Quit, Write and Read

Many essential commands sit in Command Mode, sometimes called Ex Command Mode. All of the following commands are input from Normal Mode, so from any other mode, hit Esc once (sometimes twice) to return to Normal Mode. When entering Command Mode, once the colon character : is pressed, your additional keystrokes appear at the bottom left of the screen.

There are as many as 515 commands in Command Mode and many can be abbreviated. Also, unlike with other modes, commands here, because they are open-ended, require Enter to complete.

Character(s) Synonym(s) Meaning
:w :write Write (save) current and previously-named file.
:w {file} :write {file} Write (save) current file and name it {file}.
:wq :x, ZZ Write (save) current and previously-named file and quit Vim.
:q :quit Quit Vim from an unedited file.
:q! ZQ Quit Vim from an edited or unedited file without saving changes.
:e {file} :edit {file} Edit a file named {file}.
:r {file} :read {file} Read an external file named {file} at the current cursor position.
:sh :shell To leave Vim temporarily and go to the shell. Type exit to return.
:!{cmd}   To run a shell command {cmd}. Hit q to return to Vim.
:h :help Open help in a new window. Use :q to quit help.

Vim Registers

Vim Registers allow you to save blocks of code to paste anywhere you like. Functionality is much like cut, copy and paste operations elsewhere but Registers allow you to save many blocks, using letters a-z and A-Z, so you have 52 slots. The last 10 yanks and deletes are automatically saved under the 0-9 slots in the Register. These can be viewed with :reg.

Creating, pasting and deleting Registers

Registers work logically with actions in Normal Mode and Visual Mode. The " symbol starts the Register functionality. Examples below use the empty Register name c.

Character(s) Synonym(s) Meaning
"cyy To save a Register from Normal Mode under the name c of a whole line.
"cy To save a Register from Visual Mode under the name c of a selected section.
"cp To put (paste) text from the saved Register named c while in Normal Mode.
:call setreg('c', []) To delete an item from the Register replace it with empty text.
:reg :registers View the currently saved Registers. Type q to quit.
:h reg :help registers Find help on Registers. Type :q to quit.

Besides assigning Registers to letters and numbers, an additional 8 types exist for more advanced uses. These are described in help.

Vim Tabs

You can manage multiple text files in tabs within one Vim window. To navigate between tabs click tab titles with the mouse or use the keystrokes described below. The "X" at the top right when clicked will close that tab.

Character(s) Synonym(s) Meaning
:tabe :tabedit
To open a new blank tab.
:tabe {file} :tabedit {file}
:tabenew {file}
To open a new tab to edit {file}.
:tabc :tabclose
To close the current tab.
{count} gt To specify which tab with {count} or go to the next tab. This wraps around forward.
{count} gT To specify which tab with {count} or go to the previous tab. This wraps around backward.
:tabs List the current Vim tabs.

Additional Vim tab functionality includes reordering tabs, looping over tabs and closing all tabs. See :help tabs for more.

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