I started to use Linux back in 2002 and since then Vim has been my main editor. In this post, I will introduce the basic usage of Vim, as well as extending Vim experience to bash and browsers.

basic Vim usage

The key concept of Vim is editing mode. The main ones are

mode purpose triggering key
normal text navigation & manipulation escape
insert text input i, I, a, A, o, O, s, S, c, C
command more advanced manipulation :
visual manual text selection v, V

Most other text editors have only one mode, which corresponds to the insert mode in Vim. In this mode, whatever one types becomes the text content. To navigate to a different location, one needs to use mouse, trackpad, or arrow keys. In contrast, Vim users would use the normal mode, where certain keys have special meaning for navigation. Thus one’s fingers are on alphanumeric keys almost all time.

Here I list the most common keyboard shortcuts and commands I use. My .vimrc setting is here.

navigation keys meaning
j, k, h, and l move cursor up/down/left/right
gg and G go to the first/last line of the file
nG or :n go to line n where n is a number
g, and g; go to the last/previous change
% go to first matching parenthesis/bracket
+, -, and ^ (or _) go to first non-blank character in the next/previous/current line
0 and $ go to beginning/end of line
g0 and g$ go to beginning/end of wrapped line
gd go to the local definition of the word under cursor
ctrl + y and ctrl + e move the screen upward/downward one line while keeping the cursor location
ctrl + f and ctrl + b move the cursor forward/backward one screen
ctrl + u and ctrl + d move the cursor upward/downward half screen
ctrl + o go to the previous cursor position in jump list (I use it mostly for go to the previous file)
ctrl + ^ go to the alternative file (mostly likely the previous file)
zt, zb, and zz move the screen such that the cursor is at the top/bottom/middle of the screen
H, L, and M go to the top/bottom/middle of screen
]m and [m next/previous method
]c and [c next/previous change
* and # search forward/backward for the current word, exact match
g* and g# search forward/backward for the current word, superstring match
/ and ? search forward/backward
fx and Fx find the next occurrence of x (replace x to any letter you want) forward/backward
( and ) go to the beginning of current/next sentence
{ and } go to the beginning of current/next paragraph
text manipulation keys meaning
c, d, y change, delete, yank
x delete
~ switch upper/lower case for the current letter
gu change to lower case
gU change to upper case
u undo
ctrl+r redo
. repeat the previous edit
@: repeat the previous Vim command, @@ works if it has been repeated at least once
ctrl+a and ctrl+x increase/decrease the number under cursor (or right to cursor)

Another useful key combo is ctrl + p for auto completion. But I have some plugins installed for more advanced code completion, and completion is triggered by tab.

file keys meaning
:e <fname> edit
Vim -O <fname1> <fname2> open two files in vertical split windows
ctrl+g display some basic information of the file (I use a plugin called lightline which displays such information by default)
window keys meaning
ctrl+w+v split window vertically
ctrl+w+= resize the split windows equally
ctrl+w+ctrl+w cycle through the windows
ctrl+w then H or J or K or L move the current window to other locations (I only use this to turn horizontally split windows to vertically split windows)
:vert sf <fname> and :vert new open /a new buffer in a new vertical split window
:on close all other windows
:wincmd equivalent of ctrl+w
other keys meaning
:term create a terminal buffer (requires Vim 8.1)
:h <keywords> get help on , for example, `:h navigation`
zm and zr fold and unfold one level
zM and zR fold and unfold all

To manage Vim plugins, I use Vim-plug. It is a newer tool than Vundle and Pathogen. Overall Vim-plug is similar to Vundle, but allows finer control on the installation and plugin loading (which I don’t use).

bash in Vim mode

Often times one needs to fix a mistyped command in terminal. This can be done using the fc command (fix command), which triggers the Shell’s default editor.

In my .bashrc file, I have

export EDITOR=Vim

which sets Vim as the default editor for Shell.

Bash has two edit modes for command editing, the Emacs mode and vi mode. By default, Emacs mode is used. To switch to the vi mode, I put

set -o vi

in .bashrc. This will allow you to enter normal mode using escape.

One drawback is that ctrl+l doesn’t clear screen anymore. Thus I have this line in .bashrc.

bind -m vi-insert 'Control-l: clear-screen'

The following combos still work.

key combo meaning
ctrl+u clear the command
ctrl+r search command in history

Vim-like browser plugins

There are quite a few browser plugins that enable Vim-like navigations (think about moving the page using h, j, k, l). I tried both Vimium and Surfingkeys and settled with Vimium.

Many of their key bindings are the same. Both of them are somewhat buggy. For example, they both have problems with / occasionally. Surfingkeys has many more keyboard shortcuts than Vimium, which are not useful to me. But when it fails, it can completely mess up the webpage’s rendering.

Here is a list of the shortcuts that I use often.

key combo meaning
x close the tab
X reopen the recently closed tab
r reload tab
j, k, h, and l move page up/down/left/right
gg go to top of page
G go to bottom of page
f display key combo for links
/ search text
yy copy URL
t open a new tab
o open a URL in current tab
O open a URL in a new tab
H go back in history
L go forward in history

I also disable it on Youtube and Github.

Miscellaneous improvements

Finally I would like to talk about several minor points.

For a Vim user, escape key is frequently used. Thus I place it to the left of a, i.e., where cap lock key (or search key on Chromebook) is.

As for terminal programs, I use iterm2 on Mac and extraterm on Chromebook. Iterm2 has many nice features. For example, mouseless copy can be triggered by apple + shift + c. I am still new to extraterm and only use its capability for tabs and nice themes. Let me know if you know any other good ones on Chrome OS.


I just switched to the beta channel and noticed that the default Crostini terminal supports tabs. You can also customize keyboard shortcuts for tabs using (ctrl+shift+p). Also the themes got a lot better. Thus there is no need for ExtraTerm.