Unicode Characters in Vim

by Juliet Kemp

Tip of the Trade: The editor Vim supports unicode natively. There are three ways to take advantage of unicode's capabilities via Vim. The one that's best for you will depend on your setup and needs.

The editor Vim supports Unicode natively. If your X or console keymap is set up to enter unicode characters via the keymap, it will work fine in Vim. Alternatively, there are two other ways of entering these characters.

The slow way is just to use their hex code. Hit Ctrl+V, then u, then type the hex code. For example, hex code 00BF will give you an inverted question mark, ¿. This is useful if you only very occasionally want to type one of these characters. Lists of UTF-8 character codes are available online.

A better bet is to set up digraphs. These enable you to type a character, backspace, then another character, and have a UTF-8 character generated. To use these, first put this line:

set digraph
in your ~/.vimrc file (or to do it temporarily, type __:set digraph__ in command mode in Vim). To show the digraphs you have set, type this in command mode:
After this, typing (for example) D backspace - will give you Ð.

You can set your own digraphs using:

:dig[raphs] char1char2 number
where number is the decimal representation of the hex code for the character you want. Find more information about Unicode characters and possible encodings for them (including hex, decimal, and HTML) at this very useful page. Use this on the Vim command line, or add it to your ~/.vimrc file.

If you find digraphs annoying (if you regularly have to backspace to correct single characters, you may end up inserting them by accident), type:unset digraphs in command mode (or add unset digraphs to your ~/.vimrc__ file), and use Ctrl+K char1 char2 instead of char1 backspace char2 to enter digraphs. This method is always available, even when digraphs aren't set.

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This article was originally published on Monday Jun 15th 2009
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