Notes on using Vim effectively.

See also: General programming page, shell scripting page, the Awk page, Textfile notes.


The ~/.vimrc file is where vim looks first for settings when starting up. ~/.gvimrc can be used to set options in the GUI version of Vim. .vimrc is read first.

Setting VIM defaults:

Encrypting files

Files can be encrypted using the -x flag. Typing:

vim -x <filename>

will prompt for a password and then open a new or existing file in encrypted mode. This file will subsequently be saved in encrypted form and will require a password to open it again. An already open file can also be encrypted with :X. The default level of encryption is not so secure (zip), so there are options to change that.

:set cryptmethod?         # Display the current encryption algorithm
:set cryptmethod=blowfish # Set to the much more secure blowfish cipher.

Diffing files (Vimdiff)

Vim (gvim) can be used to diff two or more files and merge changes between them (see vimdiff docs). Use:

vimdiff <file1> <file2>

The files will show up side by side (vertical split, use -o for horizontal), with changes highlighted in pink/red, and they can then be edited. viewdiff or gviewdiff is used to open a read-only diff view. Diff view can also be started from within a vim session (see docs). Once started, these are the basic commands for merging changes:

  • do - Get changes from other window into the current window.
  • dp - Put the changes from current window into the other window.
  • ]c - Jump to the next change.
  • [c - Jump to the previous change.
  • Ctrl W + Ctrl W - Switch to the other split window.`

Search/Replace strange unicode characters

Sometimes there are funky non-standard characters in file that don't display, print, or are simply undesired. For example, hyphens, minus signs, and dashes have a number of permutations and it is best to use them consistently. They frequently get mixed up in text files, especially when copying from strange formats (i.e. Word, Excel, etc.).

  • Place cursor over the funky character and type ga. This gives ascii value in decimal, hexidecimal, and octal format.
  • Form a search/replace command using the ascii value, prepended by some regexp syntax:.
  • %dNN is the symbol for a decimal ascii code, where NN is the first code given by ga.
  • %xNN is the symbol for a hexidecimal ascii code.
  • %oNN is the symbol for an octal ascii code.
  • Use %uNN for multibyte characters.
  • Don't forget to escape this (with a )!

For example, say there is a funky minus sign in my file. I ga over it and it has the hex value of 2212. I can then search and replace it with regular hyphen-minus using:


Tabs and tabkey behaviour

I prefer 4 columns of whitespace for each indent in a file, and I prefer to use spaces for this, not tabs. This means pressing the should give a defined number of spaces. This can be set in ~.vimrc.

set expandtab       When <tab>key is pressed, insert spaces, not hard tabs.
set tabstop=4       Number of columns per tab
set softtabstop=4   Match to tabstop unless expandtab is unset, then it may set to use tabs + spaces
set shiftwidth=4    Number of columns for indent and autoindent`

When editing a file with different tab settings, retab will change all tabs to the settings in .vimrc. A hard tab can be inserted by pressing <Ctrl-V><Tab>.