Vim users, myself included, often advocate about gaining speed, carving text like a ninja and banning that awful device named a mouse.

The follow-up to this is people saying, “Vim seems to be awesome but I don’t need to be that fast anyway.”

Each time I heard that, I tried to advocate about the fact that as a coder you’re staying around seven hours per day typing, so why not try something really efficient ?

It hardly convinced anyone.

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Sublime Text 2, Textmate, are common answers, gladly followed by a “It does the job”.

This made realize how wrong I was to introduce vim that way. Sure, Vim-fu is always amazing to watch, but nobody really cares about speed.

You don’t get to code that fast with vim. You spend time thinking then you enter your idea. Or you think while typing, going back and forth through potentials solutions. Getting faster don’t mean producing significantly more code, the bottleneck is your brain anyway.

It’s about comfort.

Ever played to a FPS or a RTS ? Think about how you interact with the game. You basically remember that each key is associated to a function. Want to reload ? Press R. Want to build a bunker in Starcraft 2 ? Select your worker , press B then U. After a while, it becomes completely natural and you start memorizing patterns, or simply words made of your keypresses.

Now imagine having to press control R to reload, hold control while pressing B and U. It would be annoying right ? Having to strech fingers to catch that modifier all the time…

Well that’s basically the most common way to send commands to your text editor besides clicking in a menu.

Modality saves the day

Vim solves that by providing two modes : insert mode and normal mode. You already know insert mode, it’s the behavior you always knew to enter text. Press hello, it writes “hello”.

Press ESC or Ctrl-C to get back to normal mode, which is the standard mode and the reason behind the i you have to type before entering text.

Normal mode is similar to Starcraft 2. How can we change the text insides the quotes in the following example ?

9 : def greet
10:   "Hello you!"
11: end

10G to go to line 10, ci" to delete text inside the pair of quotes and it puts you in insert mode. That’s the kind of moves you make all day long in vim. And exaclty like in Starcraft 2, it makes words : c stands for change, i for inner and finally " to point out quotes as a delimiter.

9 : def greet
10:   ""      # The cursor will end between the quotes.
11: end

Sounds complicated ? Yes at first. But like Starcraft, you’ll get used to these kinds of moves.

Obviously, there are some vim actions bound to control something, like redo which is ctrl-r or ctrl-d to scroll down. But that still makes significantly less modifiers usage than any other editor.

How could I live without it ?

After a while, it becomes natural, you don’t even think about it. Your brain just know that going to next tab is gt, change text inside a pair of parenthesis is ci) and so on. It feels natural, exactly like typing.

You type to enter text, you type to shape your code, you type to move around (forget the arrows keys, do yourself a favor, disable them and use hjkl instead and learn other moving keys!).

And most of the time, your hands are on or close of the home row, which is the key to have comfortable text entering position (This is especially important if you have small hands like I do !).

Welcome to Vim, an efficient tool to edit text. It’s different from other editors, it is tough to learn, but you’ll end with what I consider after trying every editor out there the most comfortable tool to handle text and code.

This comfort is a plague, you’ll want it everywhere : mails, browser, shell. And this is why people stick to Vim once they got hooked, comfort.

Common pitfalls

If you’re not from UK or USA, you have a localized keyboard. Throw it away, it will just stand between you in and vim. For example Azerty is pretty horrible, : and w are on the bottom row on the keyboard’s edge. Just use a qwerty mapping for coding and you will notice that in fact, everything was made for qwerty. Weird key positions will now make sense. Typing 45G to go to line 45 is way easier too since you now got numbers without shift. Same goes for d3w, delete three words. You got the idea.

Don’t try to rebind everything. Choices had been made by people that spent years in Vi, it’s not like you’re going to find something better for every function in your two days vim life span.

If you try switching, stick to it. Try it for a week, not five minutes until you switch back because you that it wrecks your productivity. You can’t cheat on this step.


I just love vim for the ease it gives me with text editing, but to get started you have to keep in mind that getting out of your comfort zone is required to gain more of it.

In the end, I find that being fast while editing code in Vim is simply a consequence of this comfort.

Dig into Learnivore to find many resources to get started !

  • Edit : correct a few typos
  • Edit2: Thanks to Qoc_au_vin for pointing me that w to advance to the next word isn’t required before ci" !