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Alex Kallaway ⚡️
Alex Kallaway ⚡️

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7 Vim Tips That Changed My Life (With Demo)

Hi everyone!

This is the first article I'm positing on DEV, but I've heard great things about the community and have been following it on Twitter. ❤️

I know that most of you at least at one point were interested in learning and using Vim, and many of you use it on a daily basis.

There's plenty of resources out there that cover the basics of Vim and I don't want to just do another rewrite of those here. Instead, I want to share some quick tips that I've learnt from others while using Vim full time at work.

These are tiny things that you can learn quickly that will make a big difference in your day-to-day work in Vim. They'd definitely made my life easier.

Before we begin: if you're interested in Vim but haven't started yet, these are the resources I'd like to recommend:

  • OpenVim - Interactive Vim Tutorial
  • vimtutor - this is an interactive command line tutorial that's available and installed on Macs and some Linux distros. Just type vimtutor in your terminal
  • VimAdventures - First couple of levels are free, and if you like the format, and the full license is $25

If you like Vim but it's too much to run it on its own, install a Vim extension for your favourite editor, like VS Code or Sublime or any other. That way you get to use the quick actions and shortcuts of Vim and a friendlier interface you're more used to.

One important realization I had about learning and working with Vim: you don't need to master everything (which is practically impossible anyway) to start using it.

Once you figure out the basics, every time you have a question or a block throughout your workday, write it down, and then go through that list and search the Internet for how to do that in Vim. Thus, you will incrementally fill any gaps you might have and will become better with each new little thing you add to your repertoire (these micro-improvements will be similar to the tips in this article below).

Now let's proceed to the fun stuff - the tips and tricks! You don't have to have any Vim plugins installed to take advantage of these.

1. How to start writing on a line at correct indentation

Before I learned this, I used to jump on a new line and go to insert mode, TAB to the right indentation and start typing code. With this little trick, you won't have to do do all the extra tabbing, it will just place you in insert mode at the right indentation.



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2. Resize windows automatically

Very often we do something with windows inside Vim that causes them to be resized incorrectly, sometimes one being way too wide and the other way too narrow. The easiest way to see that effect is to open 3 windows in one Vim tab and resize the terminal window in which you opened Vim.

You want to resize the windows to all be the same size, with available space evenly distributed. Good news is, you don't have to do it manually.


The combination of CTRL+w, followed by pressing the equals sign key will equalize the windows.


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3. Jump to the matching bracket/brace

With your cursor on a square [ or round ( bracket or a curly brace {, press % (SHIFT+5) to jump to its matching symbol. Press it again to jump back (toggle between them).

if (condition) {
  // code
// If your cursor was on {, and you pressed %, you'd jump to }

RECIPE: % with your cursor on the character you want to find a match to


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4. Indent/Unindent a line or multiple lines

>> ⁠– indents a line
<< ⁠– unindents a line

When you have multiple lines selected (in VISUAL LINE mode), you only need to press > or < once to indent or unindent the lines (as shown in demo below)

It doesn't matter where your cursor is positioned in the line when indenting - it will still work. After indent is done, cursor is auto-positioned on first non-empty character in the line.

RECIPE: One line: >>, <<. Multiple lines: >, <.


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5. Fix indentation in the whole file

Start in the top of a file (to get there, press gg anywhere in the file.). Then press =G, and Vim fill fix the indentation in the whole file. If you don't start in the beginning of the file, it will fix indentation from current line to the bottom of file.


Press the equals sign, followed by SHIFT+G


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6. Basics of working with tabs

Often you want to be looking at multiple files or contexts at the same time. Vim tabs are very handy but underutilized feature for this. I don't know of other editor that supports this (I'm sure there is a way to do that one some). For example, I like to keep my code related files in my main tab, and in another tab: README with a TODO list and a place I can jot down further ideas.

To write the commands to work with tabs, you will need to be in command mode. To start writing the command, press : and type. The command will show up in the left bottom corner of the editor as you are typing. Press enter to execute.

:tabnew creates a new tab.
gt - go to next tab
gT - go to previous tab
:tabo - close all other tabs besides the active one


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7. How to quickly go back to a previous file

Often, when you edit a file with code, you open another one in the same window. Then it's not so easy to come back to the one you just worked on. You could list buffers and navigate to the previous one but you need to remember its name for that and spend your precious time. Vim users don't like to spend too much time on actions. :) So you can use CTRL+o for this!

All it does is that it finds a previous position of your cursor - and if it happened to be in a different file (the one you just lost by opening a new one), it jumps us right back there!

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If you have other cool tips you use, reply with them in the comments! I love learning these and I am sure other readers will appreciate them as well!

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Top comments (9)

phantas0s profile image
Matthieu Cneude

Ah! Vim! The pleasure of new tricks which save you two keystrokes!

I would recommend the book practical Vim. I learned so much from it, it's insane.

I have a couple of Vim posts on my blog as well. It's not really about new cool ways to do things, though.

If you want to extend Vim even more to bend it to your needs, I recommend learn vimscript the hard way.

voyeg3r profile image
Sérgio Araújo • Edited

To swich to the last file just hit Ctrl-6 (it alternates the last two buffers) because the last jump Ctrl-o could be on the same file, and you can open the last file in another window, just hit Ctrl-w Ctrl-6. About indentation "insert mode" use Ctrl-d to add more indentation and Ctrl-t decreases it. Ctrl-u clears the line (also insert), including lines that have any annoying comments at the beginning. gi start insert at the last inserted text. gv active last visual selection.

waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

I did not know about #3, I will definitely use that one.

I use vscode vim... mostly because I am a windows user and getting a good terminal setup is really hard. It's inevitable when I use vim I need to copy something from somewhere and it just doesn't come out right. These tips work great in vscode as well. I heavily use the c+p feature instead of get or c+o. TIL =g is tied to format document in vscode, I will likely start using that one more as well.

Thanks for the great tips.

lucasprag profile image

Great post!

For tip #1, you can also use o to jump to the next line, in insert mode already with the correct indentation. 👍

andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown 🇨🇦

Nice job on your first DEV post!
I'm from Toronto and also a Vim user.

ka11away profile image
Alex Kallaway ⚡️

Thank you so much! Great to hear! Let's grab a coffee some time when this whole crisis is over!

dak425 profile image
Donald Feury • Edited

7 is a god send, I use that all the time.

Jumps are a very useful concept to become familiar with in general.

I had no idea 5 was a thing, that is amazing.

kevsestrella profile image
kevin • Edited

1 is new to me, thanks 😄