Make It Snappy With Vim

by Juliet Kemp

Tip of the Trade: Learn how to set your own abbreviations and mappings in the ever-useful Vim.

Vim is still one of the most powerful text editors out there. One of its more useful features is that it allows you to set up your own abbreviations and mappings. These can speed up the typing of stock phrases or do far more complicated things. Enter these in command mode to try them out, or add them to your ~/.vimrc (without the initial colon) if you want them to stay.

Abbreviations (use iab for abbreviations that work only in insert mode or ab for abbreviations that work in any mode) and mappings (use imap for mappings that work in insert mode, or map for mappings that work in multiple modes) are very similar. Broadly speaking, if you're doing something you'd normally use the command-line mode for, use a mapping. If you want a set of characters to expand into a longer string while you're typing, use an abbreviation.

  • The basic 'shorten a stock phrase' type abbreviation:
    :iab YDATE =strftime("%a %b %d %T %Y")
    If you type YDATE, this will output a string like 'Mon May 04 11:01:58 2009'. (You can also use abbreviations to fix common typos, e.g.,
    :iab teh the
  • Reformat the current paragraph according to the current textwidth by hitting Ctrl+L:
    :imap <C-L> gqap
    :map <C-L> gqap
  • Underline the current line with ,u or double-underline it with ,U (this is useful for text note files):
    :imap ,u <ESC>yypv$r-o
    :imap ,U <ESC>yypv$r=o
  • Take out unwanted newlines: Turns every paragraph into a single line:
    :map ,L :%s/(.)n(w)/1 2/<CR>
    This is helpful when you're editing config files that need not have line breaks (e.g. ~/.ssh/authorized_keys2), but you have your textwidth set for normal reading of textfiles.

To list all the mappings that have been set, use :map.

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This article was originally published on Monday Jun 22nd 2009
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