How to Use the vi Editor

*Copyright 1991 by Simon Fraser University. Reprinted with permission.

The vi editor is available on almost all Unix systems. vi can be used from any type of terminal because it does not depend on arrow keys and function keys–it uses the standard alphabetic keys for commands.

vi (pronounced “vee-eye”) is short for “vi”sual editor. It displays a window into the file being edited that shows 24 lines of text. vi is a text editor, not a “what you see is what you get” word processor. vi lets you add, change, and delete text, but does not provide such formatting capabilities as centering lines or indenting paragraphs.

This help note explains the basics of vi:

  • opening and closing a file
  • moving around in a file
  • elementary editing

vi has many other commands and options not described here. The following resources can help you get started using the vi editor, and are available at the UW University Book Store:

  • “vi Tutorial.” Specialized Systems Consultants (SSC).
  • “vi Reference.” Specialized Systems Consultants (SSC).
  • “Learning the vi Editor.” Linda Lamb, 1990.

Starting vi

You may use vi to open an already existing file by typing

      vi filename

where “filename” is the name of the existing file. If the file is not in your current directory, you must use the full pathname.

Or you may create a new file by typing

      vi newname

where “newname” is the name you wish to give the new file.

To open a new file called “testvi,” enter

      vi testvi

On-screen, you will see blank lines, each with a tilde (~) at the left, and a line at the bottom giving the name and status of the new file:

      "testvi" [New file]

vi Modes

vi has two modes:

  • command mode
  • insert mode

In command mode, the letters of the keyboard perform editing functions (like moving the cursor, deleting text, etc.). To enter command mode, press the escape <Esc> key.

In insert mode, the letters you type form words and sentences. Unlike many word processors, vi starts up in command mode.

Entering Text

In order to begin entering text in this empty file, you must change from command mode to insert mode. To do this, type


Nothing appears to change, but you are now in insert mode and can begin typing text. In general, vi’s commands do not display on the screen and do not require the Return key to be pressed.

Type a few short lines and press <Return> at the end of each line. If you type a long line, you will notice the vi does not word wrap, it merely breaks the line unceremoniously at the edge of the screen.

If you make a mistake, pressing <Backspace> or <Delete> may remove the error, depending on your terminal type.

Moving the Cursor

To move the cursor to another position, you must be in command mode. If you have just finished typing text, you are still in insert mode. Go back to command mode by pressing <Esc>. If you are not sure which mode you are in, press <Esc> once or twice until you hear a beep. When you hear the beep, you are in command mode.

The cursor is controlled with four keys: h, j, k, l.

     Key        Cursor Movement
     ---        ---------------
     h        left one space
     j        down one line
     k        up one line
     l        right one space

When you have gone as far as possible in one direction, the cursor stops moving and you hear a beep. For example, you cannot use l to move right and wrap around to the next line, you must use j to move down a line. See the section entitled “Moving Around in a File” for ways to move more quickly through a file.

Basic Editing

Editing commands require that you be command mode. Many of the editing commands have a different function depending on whether they are typed as upper- or lowercase. Often, editing commands can be preceded by a number to indicate a repetition of the command.

Deleting Characters

To delete a character from a file, move the cursor until it is on the incorrect letter, then type


The character under the cursor disappears. To remove four characters (the one under the cursor and the next three) type


To delete the character before the cursor, type

      X (uppercase)

Deleting Words

To delete a word, move the cursor to the first letter of the word, and type


This command deletes the word and the space following it.

To delete three words type


Deleting Lines

To delete a whole line, type


The cursor does not have to be at the beginning of the line. Typing dd deletes the entire line containing the cursor and places the cursor at the start of the next line. To delete two lines, type


To delete from the cursor position to the end of the line, type

       D (uppercase)

Replacing Characters

To replace one character with another:

  1. Move the cursor to the character to be replaced.
  2. Type r
  3. Type the replacement character.

The new character will appear, and you will still be in command mode.

Replacing Words

To replace one word with another, move to the start of the incorrect word and type


The last letter of the word to be replaced will turn into a $. You are now in insert mode and may type the replacement. The new text does not need to be the same length as the original. Press <Esc> to get back to command mode. To replace three words, type


Replacing Lines

To change text from the cursor position to the end of the line:

  1. Type C (uppercase).
  2. Type the replacement text.
  3. Press <Esc>.

Inserting Text

To insert text in a line:

  1. Position the cursor where the new text should go.
  2. Type i
  3. Enter the new text.

The text is inserted BEFORE the cursor.

4. Press <Esc> to get back to command mode.

Appending Text

To add text to the end of a line:

  1. Position the cursor on the last letter of the line.
  2. Type a
  3. Enter the new text.

This adds text AFTER the cursor.

4. Press <Esc> to get back to command mode.

Opening a Blank Line

To insert a blank line below the current line, type

  • (lowercase)

To insert a blank line above the current line, type

     O (uppercase)

Joining Lines

To join two lines together:

  1. Put the cursor on the first line to be joined.
  2. Type J

To join three lines together:

  1. Put the cursor on the first line to be joined.
  2. Type 3J


To undo your most recent edit, type


To undo all the edits on a single line, type

     U (uppercase)

Undoing all edits on a single line only works as long as the cursor stays on that line. Once you move the cursor off a line, you cannot use U to restore the line.

Moving Around in a File

There are shortcuts to move more quickly though a file. All these work in command mode.

     Key            Movement
     ---            --------
     w            forward word by word
     b            backward word by word
     $            to end of line
     0 (zero)     to beginning of line
     H            to top line of screen
     M            to middle line of screen
     L            to last line of screen
     G            to last line of file
     1G           to first line of file
     <Control>f   scroll forward one screen
     <Control>b   scroll backward one screen
     <Control>d   scroll down one-half screen
     <Control>u   scroll up one-half screen

Moving by Searching

To move quickly by searching for text, while in command mode:

  1. Type / (slash).
  2. Enter the text to search for.
  3. Press <Return>.

The cursor moves to the first occurrence of that text.

To repeat the search in a forward direction, type


To repeat the search in a backward direction, type


Closing and Saving a File

With vi, you edit a copy of the file, rather than the original file. Changes are made to the original only when you save your edits.

To save the file and quit vi, type


The vi editor editor is built on an earler Unix text editor called ex. ex commands can be used within vi. ex commands begin with a : (colon) and end with a <Return>. The command is displayed on the status line as you type. Some ex commands are useful when saving and closing files.

To save the edits you have made, but leave vi running and your file open:

  1. Press <Esc>.
  2. Type :w
  3. Press <Return>.

To quit vi, and discard any changes your have made since last saving:

  1. Press <Esc>.
  2. Type :q!
  3. Press <Return>.

Command Summary


     vi filename    edit a file named "filename"
     vi newfile     create a new file named "newfile"


     i            insert text left of cursor
     a            append text right of cursor


     h            left one space
     j            down one line
     k            up one line
     l            right one space


     x         delete character
     nx        delete n characters
     X         delete character before cursor
     dw        delete word
     ndw       delete n words
     dd        delete line
     ndd       delete n lines
     D         delete characters from cursor to end of line
     r         replace character under cursor
     cw        replace a word
     ncw       replace n words
     C         change text from cursor to end of line
     o         insert blank line below cursor
                  (ready for insertion)
     O         insert blank line above cursor
                  (ready for insertion)
     J         join succeeding line to current cursor line
     nJ        join n succeeding lines to current cursor line
     u         undo last change
     U         restore current line


     w            forward word by word
     b            backward word by word
     $            to end of line
     0 (zero)     to beginning of line
     H            to top line of screen
     M            to middle line of screen
     L            to last line of screen
     G            to last line of file
     1G           to first line of file
     <Control>f   scroll forward one screen
     <Control>b   scroll backward one screen
     <Control>d   scroll down one-half screen
     <Control>u   scroll up one-half screen
     n            repeat last search in same direction
     N            repeat last search in opposite direction


     ZZ            save file and then quit
     :w            save file
     :q!            discard changes and quit file

Share a Printer from XP to Windows 7

One common problem I have run into with clients is trying to share a printer connected to a Windows XP machine with Windows 7. There are lots of people out there that have USB connected printers attached to one computer, usually a Windows XP machine.

If you get a new laptop running Windows 7, it makes sense to share that printer so that any computer can print to it. Unfortunately, trying to print to an shared printer on XP from Windows 7 is not as simple as it should be!

In this article I will walk you through the steps for XP to Windows 7 printer sharing. I am assuming your printer is directly attached to a Windows XP machine and you want to print from a Windows 7 machine.

Step 1: First make sure that the printer on the XP machine is shared. You can do this by right-clicking on the printer and choosing Sharing.

share printer xp to 7

Click the Share this printer radio button and give your printer a share name. Make sure is less than 8 characters and does not contain any symbols.

share printer

Step 2: Make sure you can see the printer share from the network browsing area in Windows 7. You can do this by going to Control Panel and clicking on Network and Internet.

win 7 to xp printer sharing

Then click on View network computers and devices under Network and Sharing Center.

printer sharing win 7

At this point, you should see the name of your XP computer in the list of computers. Mine XP machine is called Aseem.

network printer sharing

Double-click on the computer name and you should see your shared printer in the list. Here you can try to add the printer by right-clicking on it and choosing Connect.

connect to printer

If everything goes perfectly, Windows 7 should automatically add the printer to your set of printers. However, if you get a message like “Cannot connect to printer”, follow the next steps.

Step 3: Click on Start and then click on Devices and Printers. At the top, click on the Add a printer link.

add printer win 7

Step 4: Next choose Add a local printer. Yes, that sounds counter-intuitive, but this is what you have to do!

local printer win 7

Step 5: Next, click Create a new port and choose Local port from the list of options.

create new local port

Step 6:  Click Next and in the Port name box, type in the path to the shared printer. It should be something like \\Aseem\HPXP, where Aseem is the name of your XP machine and HPXP is the shared name of the printer.

printer share name

Step 7: Now choose the printer driver from the list or download the latest driver for the printer and choose Have Disk. Note that if you printer is a little older, it’s a good idea to download the Windows 7 driver for the printer and click Have Disk.

add prin to win 7

That’s it! Windows 7 will load the driver and you’ll be able to print to the XP machine from Windows 7! The main things to remember are sharing the XP printer and downloading the latest driver for the printer on the Windows 7 machine.

If you have any problems sharing your printer on XP and printing from Windows 7, post a comment here and I will try to help! Enjoy!