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tips.txt      For Vim version 9.1.  Last change: 2023 Aug 10

                  VIM REFERENCE MANUAL    by Bram Moolenaar

Tips and ideas for using Vim                            tips

These are just a few that we thought would be helpful for many users.
You can find many more tips on the wiki.  The URL can be found on

Don't forget to browse the user manual, it also contains lots of useful tips

Editing C programs                              C-editing
Finding where identifiers are used              ident-search
Switching screens in an xterm                   xterm-screens
Scrolling in Insert mode                        scroll-insert
Smooth scrolling                                scroll-smooth
Correcting common typing mistakes               type-mistakes
Counting words, lines, etc.                     count-items
Restoring the cursor position                   restore-position
Renaming files                                  rename-files
Change a name in multiple files                 change-name
Speeding up external commands                   speed-up
Useful mappings                                 useful-mappings
Compressing the help files                      gzip-helpfile
Executing shell commands in a window            shell-window
Hex editing                                     hex-editing
Using <> notation in autocommands               autocmd-<>
Highlighting matching parens                    match-parens
Opening help in the current window              help-curwin

Editing C programs                                      C-editing

There are quite a few features in Vim to help you edit C program files.  Here
is an overview with tags to jump to:

usr_29.txt            Moving through programs chapter in the user manual.
usr_30.txt            Editing programs chapter in the user manual.
C-indenting           Automatically set the indent of a line while typing
=                     Re-indent a few lines.
format-comments       Format comments.

:checkpath            Show all recursively included files.
[i                    Search for identifier under cursor in current and
                        included files.
[_CTRL-I              Jump to match for "[i"
[I                    List all lines in current and included files where
                        identifier under the cursor matches.
[d                    Search for define under cursor in current and included

CTRL-]                Jump to tag under cursor (e.g., definition of a
CTRL-T                Jump back to before a CTRL-] command.
:tselect              Select one tag out of a list of matching tags.

gd                    Go to Declaration of local variable under cursor.
gD                    Go to Declaration of global variable under cursor.

gf                    Go to file name under the cursor.

%                     Go to matching (), {}, [], /* */, #if, #else, #endif.
[/                    Go to previous start of comment.
]/                    Go to next end of comment.
[#                    Go back to unclosed #if, #ifdef, or #else.
]#                    Go forward to unclosed #else or #endif.
[(                    Go back to unclosed '('
])                    Go forward to unclosed ')'
[{                    Go back to unclosed '{'
]}                    Go forward to unclosed '}'

v_ab                  Select "a block" from "[(" to "])", including braces
v_ib                  Select "inner block" from "[(" to "])"
v_aB                  Select "a block" from "[{" to "]}", including brackets
v_iB                  Select "inner block" from "[{" to "]}"

Finding where identifiers are used                      ident-search

You probably already know that tags can be used to jump to the place where a
function or variable is defined.  But sometimes you wish you could jump to all
the places where a function or variable is being used.  This is possible in
two ways:
1. Using the :grep command.  This should work on most Unix systems,
   but can be slow (it reads all files) and only searches in one directory.
2. Using ID utils.  This is fast and works in multiple directories.  It uses a
   database to store locations.  You will need some additional programs for
   this to work.  And you need to keep the database up to date.

Using the GNU id-tools:

What you need:
- The GNU id-tools installed (mkid is needed to create ID and lid is needed to
  use the macros).
- An identifier database file called "ID" in the current directory.  You can
  create it with the shell command "mkid file1 file2 ..".

Put this in your .vimrc:
        map _u :call ID_search()<Bar>execute "/\\<" .. g:word .. "\\>"<CR>
        map _n :n<Bar>execute "/\\<" .. g:word .. "\\>"<CR>

        function! ID_search()
          let g:word = expand("<cword>")
          let x = system("lid --key=none " .. g:word)
          let x = substitute(x, "\n", " ", "g")
          execute "next " .. x

To use it, place the cursor on a word, type "_u" and vim will load the file
that contains the word.  Search for the next occurrence of the word in the
same file with "n".  Go to the next file with "_n".

This has been tested with id-utils-3.2 (which is the name of the id-tools
archive file on your closest gnu-ftp-mirror).

[the idea for this comes from Andreas Kutschera]

Switching screens in an xterm           xterm-screens xterm-save-screen

(From comp.editors, by Juergen Weigert, in reply to a question)

:> Another question is that after exiting vim, the screen is left as it
:> was, i.e. the contents of the file I was viewing (editing) was left on
:> the screen. The output from my previous like "ls" were lost,
:> ie. no longer in the scrolling buffer. I know that there is a way to
:> restore the screen after exiting vim or other vi like editors,
:> I just don't know how. Helps are appreciated. Thanks.
:I imagine someone else can answer this.  I assume though that vim and vi do
:the same thing as each other for a given xterm setup.

They not necessarily do the same thing, as this may be a termcap vs.
terminfo problem.  You should be aware that there are two databases for
describing attributes of a particular type of terminal: termcap and
terminfo.  This can cause differences when the entries differ AND when of
the programs in question one uses terminfo and the other uses termcap
(also see +terminfo).

In your particular problem, you are looking for the control sequences
^[[?47h and ^[[?47l.  These switch between xterms alternate and main screen
buffer.  As a quick workaround a command sequence like
        echo -n "^[[?47h"; vim ... ; echo -n "^[[?47l"
may do what you want.  (My notation ^[ means the ESC character, further down
you'll see that the databases use \E instead).

On startup, vim echoes the value of the termcap variable ti (terminfo:
smcup) to the terminal.  When exiting, it echoes te (terminfo: rmcup).  Thus
these two variables are the correct place where the above mentioned control
sequences should go.

Compare your xterm termcap entry (found in /etc/termcap) with your xterm
terminfo entry (retrieved with "infocmp -C xterm").  Both should contain
entries similar to:

PS: If you find any difference, someone (your sysadmin?) should better check
    the complete termcap and terminfo database for consistency.

NOTE 1: If you recompile Vim with FEAT_XTERM_SAVE defined in feature.h, the
builtin xterm will include the mentioned "te" and "ti" entries.

NOTE 2: If you want to disable the screen switching, and you don't want to
change your termcap, you can add these lines to your .vimrc:
        :set t_ti= t_te=

Scrolling in Insert mode                                scroll-insert

If you are in insert mode and you want to see something that is just off the
screen, you can use CTRL-X CTRL-E and CTRL-X CTRL-Y to scroll the screen.

To make this easier, you could use these mappings:
        :inoremap <C-E> <C-X><C-E>
        :inoremap <C-Y> <C-X><C-Y>
(Type this literally, make sure the '<' flag is not in 'cpoptions').
You then lose the ability to copy text from the line above/below the cursor

Also consider setting 'scrolloff' to a larger value, so that you can always see
some context around the cursor.  If 'scrolloff' is bigger than half the window
height, the cursor will always be in the middle and the text is scrolled when
the cursor is moved up/down.

Smooth scrolling                                        scroll-smooth

If you like the scrolling to go a bit smoother, you can use these mappings:
        :map <C-U> <C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y><C-Y>
        :map <C-D> <C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E><C-E>

(Type this literally, make sure the '<' flag is not in 'cpoptions').

Correcting common typing mistakes                       type-mistakes

When there are a few words that you keep on typing in the wrong way, make
abbreviations that correct them.  For example:
        :ab teh the
        :ab fro for

Counting words, lines, etc.                             count-items

To count how often any pattern occurs in the current buffer use the substitute
command and add the 'n' flag to avoid the substitution.  The reported number
of substitutions is the number of items.  Examples:

        :%s/./&/gn              characters
        :%s/\i\+/&/gn           words
        :%s/^//n                lines
        :%s/the/&/gn            "the" anywhere
        :%s/\<the\>/&/gn        "the" as a word

You might want to reset 'hlsearch' or do ":nohlsearch".
Add the 'e' flag if you don't want an error when there are no matches.

An alternative is using v_g_CTRL-G in Visual mode.

If you want to find matches in multiple files use :vimgrep.

If you want to count bytes, you can use this:

        Visually select the characters (block is also possible)
        Use "y" to yank the characters
        Use the strlen() function:
                :echo strlen(@")
A line break is counted for one byte.

Restoring the cursor position                           restore-position

Sometimes you want to write a mapping that makes a change somewhere in the
file and restores the cursor position, without scrolling the text.  For
example, to change the date mark in a file:
   :map <F2> msHmtgg/Last [cC]hange:\s*/e+1<CR>"_D"=strftime("%Y %b %d")<CR>p'tzt`s

Breaking up saving the position:
        ms      store cursor position in the 's' mark
        H       go to the first line in the window
        mt      store this position in the 't' mark

Breaking up restoring the position:
        't      go to the line previously at the top of the window
        zt      scroll to move this line to the top of the window
        `s      jump to the original position of the cursor

For something more advanced see winsaveview() and winrestview().

Renaming files                                          rename-files

Say I have a directory with the following files in them (directory picked at
random :-):


and I want to rename *.c *.bla.  I'd do it like this:

        $ vim
        :r !ls *.c
        :%s/\(.*\).c/mv & \1.bla
        :w !sh

Change a name in multiple files                         change-name

Example for using a script file to change a name in several files:

        Create a file "subs.vim" containing substitute commands and a :update

        Execute Vim on all files you want to change, and source the script for
        each argument:

                vim *.let
                argdo source subs.vim

See :argdo.

Speeding up external commands                           speed-up

In some situations, execution of an external command can be very slow.  This
can also slow down wildcard expansion on Unix.  Here are a few suggestions to
increase the speed.

If your .cshrc (or other file, depending on the shell used) is very long, you
should separate it into a section for interactive use and a section for
non-interactive use (often called secondary shells).  When you execute a
command from Vim like ":!ls", you do not need the interactive things (for
example, setting the prompt).  Put the stuff that is not needed after these

        if ($?prompt == 0) then
                exit 0

Another way is to include the "-f" flag in the 'shell' option, e.g.:

        :set shell=csh\ -f

(the backslash is needed to include the space in the option).
This will make csh completely skip the use of the .cshrc file.  This may cause
some things to stop working though.

Useful mappings                                         useful-mappings

Here are a few mappings that some people like to use.

        :map ' `
Make the single quote work like a backtick.  Puts the cursor on the column of
a mark, instead of going to the first non-blank character in the line.

For Emacs-style editing on the command-line:
        " start of line
        :cnoremap <C-A>         <Home>
        " back one character
        :cnoremap <C-B>         <Left>
        " delete character under cursor
        :cnoremap <C-D>         <Del>
        " end of line
        :cnoremap <C-E>         <End>
        " forward one character
        :cnoremap <C-F>         <Right>
        " recall newer command-line
        :cnoremap <C-N>         <Down>
        " recall previous (older) command-line
        :cnoremap <C-P>         <Up>
        " back one word
        :cnoremap <Esc><C-B>    <S-Left>
        " forward one word
        :cnoremap <Esc><C-F>    <S-Right>

NOTE: This requires that the '<' flag is excluded from 'cpoptions'<>

This mapping will format any bullet list.  It requires that there is an empty
line above and below each list entry.  The expression commands are used to
be able to give comments to the parts of the mapping.

        :let m =     ":map _f  :set ai<CR>"   " need 'autoindent' set
        :let m ..= "{O<Esc>"                  " add empty line above item
        :let m ..= "}{)^W"                    " move to text after bullet
        :let m ..= "i     <CR>     <Esc>"     " add space for indent
        :let m ..= "gq}"                      " format text after the bullet
        :let m ..= "{dd"                      " remove the empty line
        :let m ..= "5lDJ"                     " put text after bullet
        :execute m                            |" define the mapping

(<> notation <>.  Note that this is all typed literally.  ^W is "^" "W", not
CTRL-W.  You can copy/paste this into Vim if '<' is not included in

Note that the last comment starts with |", because the ":execute" command
doesn't accept a comment directly.

You also need to set 'textwidth' to a non-zero value, e.g.,
        :set tw=70

A mapping that does about the same, but takes the indent for the list from the
first line (Note: this mapping is a single long line with a lot of spaces):
        :map _f :set ai<CR>}{a                                                          <Esc>WWmmkD`mi<CR><Esc>kkddpJgq}'mJO<Esc>j

These two mappings reduce a sequence of empty (;b) or blank (;n) lines into a
single line
    :map ;b   GoZ<Esc>:g/^$/.,/./-j<CR>Gdd
    :map ;n   GoZ<Esc>:g/^[ <Tab>]*$/.,/[^ <Tab>]/-j<CR>Gdd

Compressing the help files                              gzip-helpfile

For those of you who are really short on disk space, you can compress the help
files and still be able to view them with Vim.  This makes accessing the help
files a bit slower and requires the "gzip" program.

(1) Compress all the help files: "gzip doc/*.txt".

(2) Edit "doc/tags" and change the ".txt" to ".txt.gz":

(3) Add this line to your vimrc:
        set helpfile={dirname}/help.txt.gz

Where {dirname} is the directory where the help files are.  The gzip plugin
will take care of decompressing the files.
You must make sure that $VIMRUNTIME is set to where the other Vim files are,
when they are not in the same location as the compressed "doc" directory.  See

Executing shell commands in a window                    shell-window

See terminal.

Another solution is splitting your terminal screen or display window with the
"splitvt" program.  You can probably find it on some ftp server.  The person
that knows more about this is Sam Lantinga <>.

Another alternative is the "window" command, found on BSD Unix systems, which
supports multiple overlapped windows.  Or the "screen" program, found at, which supports a stack of windows.

Hex editing                                     hex-editing using-xxd

See section 23.4 of the user manual.

If one has a particular extension that one uses for binary files (such as exe,
bin, etc), you may find it helpful to automate the process with the following
bit of autocmds for your <.vimrc>.  Change that "*.bin" to whatever
comma-separated list of extension(s) you find yourself wanting to edit:

        " vim -b : edit binary using xxd-format!
        augroup Binary
          autocmd BufReadPre  *.bin set binary
          autocmd BufReadPost *.bin
            \ if &binary
            \ |   execute "silent %!xxd -c 32"
            \ |   set filetype=xxd
            \ |   redraw
            \ | endif
          autocmd BufWritePre *.bin
            \ if &binary
            \ |   let s:view = winsaveview()
            \ |   execute "silent %!xxd -r -c 32"
            \ | endif
          autocmd BufWritePost *.bin
            \ if &binary
            \ |   execute "silent %!xxd -c 32"
            \ |   set nomodified
            \ |   call winrestview(s:view)
            \ |   redraw
            \ | endif
        augroup END

Using <> notation in autocommands                       autocmd-<>

The <> notation is not recognized in the argument of an :autocmd.  To avoid
having to use special characters, you could use a self-destroying mapping to
get the <> notation and then call the mapping from the autocmd.  Example:

 " This is for automatically adding the name of the file to the menu list.
 " It uses a self-destroying mapping!
 " 1. use a line in the buffer to convert the 'dots' in the file name to \.
 " 2. store that in register '"'
 " 3. add that name to the Buffers menu list
 " WARNING: this does have some side effects, like overwriting the
 " current register contents and removing any mapping for the "i" command.
 autocmd BufNewFile,BufReadPre * nmap i :nunmap i<CR>O<C-R>%<Esc>:.g/\./s/\./\\./g<CR>0"9y$u:menu Buffers.<C-R>9 :buffer <C-R>%<C-V><CR><CR>
 autocmd BufNewFile,BufReadPre * normal i

Another method, perhaps better, is to use the ":execute" command.  In the
string you can use the <> notation by preceding it with a backslash.  Don't
forget to double the number of existing backslashes and put a backslash before

  autocmd BufNewFile,BufReadPre * exe "normal O\<C-R>%\<Esc>:.g/\\./s/\\./\\\\./g\<CR>0\"9y$u:menu Buffers.\<C-R>9 :buffer \<C-R>%\<C-V>\<CR>\<CR>"

For a real buffer menu, user functions should be used (see :function), but
then the <> notation isn't used, which defeats using it as an example here.

Highlighting matching parens                                    match-parens

This example shows the use of a few advanced tricks:
- using the CursorMoved autocommand event
- using searchpairpos() to find a matching paren
- using synID() to detect whether the cursor is in a string or comment
- using :match to highlight something
- using a pattern to match a specific position in the file.

This should be put in a Vim script file, since it uses script-local variables.
It skips matches in strings or comments, unless the cursor started in string
or comment.  This requires syntax highlighting.

A slightly more advanced version is used in the matchparen plugin.

        let s:paren_hl_on = 0
        function s:Highlight_Matching_Paren()
          if s:paren_hl_on
            match none
            let s:paren_hl_on = 0

          let c_lnum = line('.')
          let c_col = col('.')

          let c = getline(c_lnum)[c_col - 1]
          let plist = split(&matchpairs, ':\|,')
          let i = index(plist, c)
          if i < 0
          if i % 2 == 0
            let s_flags = 'nW'
            let c2 = plist[i + 1]
            let s_flags = 'nbW'
            let c2 = c
            let c = plist[i - 1]
          if c == '['
            let c = '\['
            let c2 = '\]'
          let s_skip ='synIDattr(synID(line("."), col("."), 0), "name") ' ..
                \ '=~?  "string\\|comment"'
          execute 'if' s_skip '| let s_skip = 0 | endif'

          let [m_lnum, m_col] = searchpairpos(c, '', c2, s_flags, s_skip)

          if m_lnum > 0 && m_lnum >= line('w0') && m_lnum <= line('w$')
            exe 'match Search /\(\%' .. c_lnum .. 'l\%' .. c_col ..
                  \ 'c\)\|\(\%' .. m_lnum .. 'l\%' .. m_col .. 'c\)/'
            let s:paren_hl_on = 1

        autocmd CursorMoved,CursorMovedI * call s:Highlight_Matching_Paren()
        autocmd InsertEnter * match none

Opening help in the current window                              help-curwin

By default, help is displayed in a split window.  If you prefer it opens in
the current window, try this custom :HelpCurwin command:

        command -bar -nargs=? -complete=help HelpCurwin execute s:HelpCurwin(<q-args>)
        let s:did_open_help = v:false

        function s:HelpCurwin(subject) abort
          let mods = 'silent noautocmd keepalt'
          if !s:did_open_help
            execute mods .. ' help'
            execute mods .. ' helpclose'
            let s:did_open_help = v:true
          if !getcompletion(a:subject, 'help')->empty()
            execute mods .. ' edit ' .. &helpfile
            set buftype=help
          return 'help ' .. a:subject