Embracing Vim, Step by Step

I’ve used Vim as my primary editor for years now after having mostly picked it up in college as a convenient editor for working on school servers. Having a lightweight editor that I was pretty much guaranteed to find already installed on any machine I happened to acquire SSH access to was what originally got me into using it; the speed and efficiency benefits were merely a nice side benefit.

As such, my first few years using Vim didn’t involve harnessing much of its power – I essentially used it at first like a version of pico that happened to have some use commands that were accessible by pressing Esc. (If you’re a Vim user, I can feel you cringing. I am too.)¬†As the amount of time I spend coding has increased (from starting out as a hobbyist, somewhat time-starved college student to working full-time as a software engineer), however, I’ve slowly begun picking up more and more Vim tricks of the trade.

Along the way, plenty of people have suggested various books or tutorials or other such massive collections of Vim knowledge, but so far my experience has been that very little of that tends to stick. If I try to learn a giant chunk of Vim features all at once, none of them really have the chance to become a habit, ingrained in my usage patterns. As a result (and due to the perfectly reasonable terseness of the average Vim instruction), they tend to just sort of fade away.

Instead, I’ve adopted a slower but steadier pace when it comes to learning new Vim shortcuts. First, I find a handful of related commands that are both useful and relevant to something I’m doing. I then focus on integrating those commands into my daily usage. Once they become something I do out of habit rather than conscious recollection, I move on to another set. I’ve found this approach much more successful in changing my long-term usage habits, which in turn has made my overall editing experience much more enjoyable.

As an example, the most recent set of commands I’ve decided to work on incorporating are related to visual mode:

  • v% – select text from current side of a matching pair to the other side (for instance, from one parens to a matching parens)
  • vib – select all text from the parens block the cursor is currently in
  • vi' or vi" – select the entire quoted string the cursor is currently in (depending on which quotes are used)
  • viB or vi{ – select an entire curly-brace-enclosed block
  • The a variants of these (using a instead of i includes the surrounding markers, e.g. quote marks).

These particular commands are nicely demonstrated in this StackOverflow answer,¬†including animated gifs to show the results. I’m almost certain I’ve run across these commands along with many others when perusing larger collections of Vim shortcuts before, but because I wasn’t focusing on them, they were lost in the noise. Time to fix that.

As I move on to other Vim shortcuts, you may find me writing other posts detailing each of them in turn. What you probably¬†won’t see is a giant blog post summarizing every Vim shortcut I’ve ever learned. There are already enough monolithic guides out there.

Posted on September 10, 2012, in Software Development and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.

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