The Power of Recursive Macros in Vim

If for some crazy reason you’re not already a user of Vim, shutdown your computer and go think about your life choices.

Joking aside, Vim is really a great editor. And if you didn’t know – Vim supports macros.

Basics of macros in Vim

Macros represent a simple concept which can be described as “record the sequence of my actions, save them, and anytime I need them again, execute them.”

This is probably the most underused Vim feature which can improve your productivity dramatically. You can do all sorts of amazing stuff with your code using macros.

Incredibly powerful. Here’s a simple example:

What’s happening here:

  • qa – start recording macro in register a
  • i<Tab>' – enter Insert mode, insert Tab and 
  • Esc – get back to Normal mode (so I can run next command)
  • AAppend command, which places cursor at the end of the current line, in Insert mode
  • ', – Insert ',
  • Esc – get back to Normal mode again
  • j – Go down one line
  • ^ – Go to the start of the current line
  • q – Stop recording the macro

Then, using command @a I run the macro on the current line. After that, I can just hit @@ to run the macro I previously run.

Recursive macros

Using macros can be even more effective with recursion. Recursive macros are especially useful when you need to act on many lines in a file.

In order to record a recursive macro, you need to start with an empty register. You can make the register a empty by hitting qaq.

Now, let’s see recursive macro in action, with a slightly different example:

 

Let’s see what’s going on here:

  • qa followed by Tab and ' followed by Esc – same as in first example
  • f: – find the first occurrence of : and place cursor on it
  • C – command to delete everything from cursor to the end of the line, and enter Insert mode
  • ', followed by Escj and ^ – same as in the first example: insert ', get to Normal mode, move one line below and jump to beginning
  • @a – this is the key step: while recording a macro in register a, we call it inside itself!
  • q – stop recording the macro
  • @a – now we run the recursive macro – and there you go – magic! :)

 

There’s so much more you can do with macros in Vim!

My colleagues sometimes stare at my screen and wonder wtf is going on, when my hands are even not on the keyboard – and my code is being edited by a macro :D

You can master this magic too!

Get Macros chapter (plus three other!) from my book Mastering Vim Quickly for free.

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The “dot” command in Vim

This post is a part of a chapter from my book Mastering Vim Quickly: From WTF to OMG in no time

I believe you have already heard of the principle Don’t Repeat Yourself.

In software engineering, this is a principle of software development where your focus is on reducing repetition of all kinds. As you’ll see throughout the book, Vim has many ways and commands to automate different kinds of tasks, so you don’t have to repeat your actions.

One of the most powerful Vim command when it comes to avoiding repetition is the . (“the dot”) command.

Hitting . in Normal mode will repeat the last native Vim command you’ve executed.

Let’s say you want to delete 5 words from the cursor forward. As you already know, you could press 5dw and it’s done. However, sometimes it’s not convenient to mentally count the number of words.

An alternative would be to use dw to delete one word. And then press .... to call the dot command four times. In this case, you would repeat the latest, dw command, four more times, and in this way achieve the same effect without counting the words.

If you used dd to delete a line, and you want to delete 4 more lines, you could also execute 4. instead of pressing .... . That also works.

It’s very important to understand what is actually repeatable by the dot command. For example, if you have a sample code like this:

my $i
my $learn
my $quickly

and your cursor is positioned on the first line. You want to append ; to all three lines.
You could run a command like: A;<Esc>j

• A – would place your cursor at the end of the first line in Insert mode.
• ; – you press to actually insert it, and then you press Esc to get back to Normal mode.
• j – to move one line down

Now, your cursor is at the second line. If you then press . to repeat the change in next (second) line, this won’t work. Here’s what you’d get:

my $i;
my $learn;
my $quickly

Your cursor will still be at the second line rather than on the third line, but ; will be appended. This brings us to conclusion that only this part of our original command was repeated: A;<Esc>.

Now, why is this the case? It’s important to remember that with the dot command, you can repeat the commands which change the contents of the buffer.

A change is any command which you can use to modify your text. In our example, we had the case that command j wasn’t repeated, and our cursor wasn’t moved to the third line.

Commands like j are called motions (or nouns)—and they don’t affect the text itself. Command j just moves the cursor, but doesn’t change text anyhow, so it can’t be repeated.

Think in terms of the grammar of your native language: Not nouns, but verbs are used to express some sort of action. The same is true in Vim: nouns (or motions) can’t affect the text, so they can’t be repeated with the dot command.

Of course, if you’d like to repeat multiple changes, or a combination of movements and changes, you can easily record those into a macro. You can learn all you need on macros from Macros chapter of my book Mastering Vim Quickly-download it here. To see all the commands which can affect the text in a buffer, take a look at :help change.txt

Still reading? Every week I publish awesome tips on Vim in my Mastering Vim Quickly Newsletter. Join thousands of other Vim fans here: masteringvim.com


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Your First Vim Session

The major barrier to any skill acquisition isn’t intellectual, but emotional. The same goes for learning Vim. That’s why, as one of the first chapters in my book Mastering Vim Quickly, I teach how to do something very cool.

It’s very motivational, especially for someone who is new to the Vim world. You see you can use some advanced concepts, even if you don’t really understand them yet. Right from the start. Many of my readers who were beginners told me this chapter gave them a huge motivation boost.

Here’s a quote from one of them: “Your tag line to the title of your work MVQ, “From WTF to OMG in no time” is well earned, because it did exactly that to me.  The example that comes to mind is quite simple but it was the first time I remember saying to myself “How marvellous”,  Page 19 Task: Change work pick from line 2 to last line (line 6) to s. The fact that moving down a line in visual mode did not select the rest of the line above was a revelation!  This simple action and explanation made me look forward to more secrets explained further in the book.  Thank you.”

This post will present you the chapter I’m talking about – Your First Vim Session. At the end of it, there’s also a video which goes along with it.


To run Vim, open your terminal, and type: vim

This will start Vim, as always, in Normal mode. To start with inserting some text, you need to switch to Insert mode. You do this by simply pressing i. Feel free to type some text, and then try moving your cursor around with arrow keys, so you can gain familiarity.

Now, when you’re done with typing, let’s save this text in a file. To do so, you need to get back to Normal mode. You do this always by pressing the Esc key.

If you have never used Vim before, you’re probably a bit confused. What in the world is a mode? I’ll explain it to you very soon. For now, just try to understand that Vim is different than any other text editor you’ve used. The concept of modes is very simple: you want to insert text—then enter the Insert mode first. You’re done with typing? Exit Insert mode.

Now, whenever you want to type a command, you need to type :. This is how every command starts. The command to save the file and exit Vim is :wq. Letter w comes from write, letter q comes from quit. So, type :wq test.txt and press Enter. Voilà, you’ve just created a file called test.txt.

If you want to open a file you’ve just created, just type in your terminal: vim test.txt. Press key i and add some more text to your file. But, you don’t want to save it this time.
In order to close the file without saving it, and exit Vim, you’ll need to get back to Normal mode (press Esc) and type :q!.

Simple as that. Of course, there are several more ways to open and close files in Vim, but this is enough for your fist Vim session.

Now, let’s do something cool. You won’t understand everything now, but you’ll have a complete understanding of this example when you read the entire book.

If you use https://github.com and git in the command line, you’ve probably had to squash some of your commits at times. This example will show you how quickly you can do it with Vim, even though you’re just at the very start.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, never mind—just copy the snippet below to Vim and try out the example.

Info: You’re squashing your commits, here’s the list of them:

pick e08be68 Add initial Rexfile
pick 5b4143f Fixes
pick 855be75 fix
pick d7a5285 Initial work
pick 59e82a2 add more stuff
pick 34cfc9c Fixes

Task: Change word pick from line 2 to last line (line 6) to s.

Solution:

1. Open Vim. Press i to enter Insert mode. Then copy the text from above. Paste the text in Vim, using the shortcut for pasting in your terminal.

2. Now press Esc to get back to Normal mode. Use arrows to place your cursor on the beginning of the second line.

3. Press Ctrl-v. Then press right-arrow three times. You’ll notice that you just selected word pick in second line.

4. Now press down-arrow four times. You’ll notice that you’ve selected all words pick starting from second to last line.

5. While this block of words is selected, press c. That’s a command for changing text.

6. All words in your selection will be deleted, and cursor placed on second line. Mode will change to Insert. Now just type s. That’s what we want to replace word pick with.

7. Last final step – press Esc. And voila! You did it!

Here’s how the result should look like:

pick e08be68 Add initial Rexfile
s 5b4143f Fixes
s 855be75 fix
s d7a5285 Initial work
s 59e82a2 add more stuff
s 34cfc9c Fixes

This might look complicated, but trust me, it’s very easy. Keep reading, and soon you’ll understand what actually happened in this example.

 

If you’re interested in Vim, definitely take a look at my book Mastering Vim Quickly: From WTF to OMG in no time.


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Persistent Undo in Vim

This post is a part of a chapter from my book Mastering Vim Quickly: From WTF to OMG in no time

As you already saw in the chapter on Undo/redo, Vim is pretty powerful when it comes to these features. However, there’s one more feature which I didn’t mention, as it takes a bit of configuration.

In Vim, like in every other text editor, you can perform undo/redo in your current session. Once the session is closed, and you reopen the same file, running undo will do nothing – as you will be already at the oldest change.

Vim supports persistent undo, which means that you can run undo/redo even from your previous sessions.

 

Persistent Unto in Vim

Persistent Undo in Vim

 

This is great feature indeed. This way you can go back historically through changes of any of your files.

How this works? Vim creates hidden file where it stores the undo history, for every file you edit. Now, configuration is very simple. You could add only this line to your .vimrc:

set undofile " Maintain undo history between sessions

and it would work.

However, Vim will write undo history files in the same directory as the file you edit. Overtime, this will become messy. You don’t want that. That’s why, I recommend you complete the next two steps as well.

First, create a dedicated directory for these undo history files, by running a command like:

$ mkdir ~/.vim/undodir

My assumption is that ~/.vim is your Vim directory, where your .vimrc, among others, is located.

Then, once you have created the directory, you need to add only one more line to your .vimrc file:

set undodir=~/.vim/undodir

That’s all. Vim will store all the undo history files in that directory, and you’ll have persistent undo working flawlessly.

 

 


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Mastering Vim Quickly: Introduction

This post presents a chapter from my upcoming book Mastering Vim Quickly: From WTF to OMG in no time

 

Mastering Vim Quickly book

Introduction

There’s so much you want to do in life, and so little time. The story of our modern lives. Take a moment and consider how many things you want to learn. Since you’re reading this, for sure one of them is Vim. Now think, what’s holding you back from getting started? It’s hard? It takes time? Effort?

Over the years, I learned two uncomfortable truths related to learning. First: skills take time and effort to master. And second: many things aren’t fun until you’re good at them.

While learning any skill, there is a period of time in which you’re horribly unskilled, and you’re painfully aware of that fact. The same goes when learning Vim. This book presents my personal quest to quickly learn Vim, and as such, it will help you to acquire new Vim skills in record time.

One of the beautiful things about learning any subject is the fact that you don’t need to know everything. What’s important is that you only need to understand a few critically important concepts that provide the most of the value. The same goes for Vim.

Mastering Vim Quickly presents a set of fundamental Vim concepts you can use to get things done. Once you master the fundamentals, you can accomplish even the most challenging Vim magic with surprising ease. And you will love it!

Over the past few years, I read several books on Vim, passed through hundreds of tutorials and tips, used Vim from few to 10+ hours a day and coded in more than few different programming languages. Along the way, I’ve collected, distilled and refined my findings into concepts and best tips presented in this book.

If you invest the time and energy necessary to learn these concepts, you’ll easily be in top 5% of the human population when it comes to productivity in coding, programming and text editing.

Think of this book as a filter. Instead of trying to absorb all of the Vim knowledge – and
there’s really a lot out there – use this book to help you what matters the most. This way you can focus on what’s actually important: getting stuff done.

The art of learning

I’m a learning addict. I usually read few books every month. This is good, because I learn a lot. Then I try out what I learned, and adopt what works for me. In this short chapter, I will present you the three most important principles which work for me when it comes to learning.

Don’t skip them. I believe it’s very important that each one of you has the same basic start when it comes to learning techniques. I really want to help you learn Vim quickly. That’s why, pay attention to these principles. Once learned, you can use them for learning and improving on any
topic, not just Vim.

Pareto principle

Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. While investigating other countries he found the same unequal distribution of income and wealth in each.

He published his observations and the math supporting his findings. After publication, researchers in other areas of science and business began to find the same unequal distribution in their fields. That’s how Pareto’s Principle became the name of one of the most significant of universal principles.

Pareto’s Principle basically states that roughly 20% of all our actions produce 80% of our results. This means that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. Because of these numbers, it’s also called 80/20 principle.

We know that it doesn’t have to be 80/20. It can also be 90/10, or 70/30. That’s not important right now. What you must know is that 80/20 principle works, regardless of whether you’re conscious of it working or not. This is true for your business, personal life, and everything you learn. Including Vim.

This means that, more or less, around 80% of what you’ve done today, has been pretty much worthless to your bottom line. You probably know there are things you should be doing, that you’re just not doing for whatever reason. Maybe you’re overweight or out of shape and you know you should work out more. But, back to the topic.

Why am I telling you this at all, in a book about Vim? Well, I truly believe that this principle is true. I use it in almost every important area of my life, and it gives me very good results. I also used this principle to quickly master Vim. This book provides you 20% of the most important Vim fundamentals, which will help you to learn Vim really fast.

Mini habits

In order to learn Vim, you need to commit to it.

Think of the last time you made a commitment to learn something. Or to change something in your life. It was easy to make a commitment, wasn’t it? Maybe you even had a plan! Then, forward a few weeks. Where’s that commitment? Gone, right? You’re not so motivated anymore. Your willpower is close to zero.

I know this story very well. I’ve been there, and done that. I had to read a lot and try out what works to find my way out. And I did! In the next couple of paragraphs, you’ll read the summary. That’s all you need to know.

When you commit to something, the best way to reach your goal is to create a habit. In this case, your goal would be mastering Vim quickly, and the habit you need to adopt is to regularly learn.

The biggest barrier to forming new habits is usually the fact that it takes discipline to keep doing something you don’t really feel like doing. I found a workaround for this. It’s called the mini habit. This is a game changer! And you need to know this.

I’ll show you how it worked on my own example with writing this book. As I was working on this book, sometimes I struggled to start writing. But once I start, I can easily write for hours. That’s how it works for me. The problem is that, on some days, I don’t want to start writing. So I won’t. I’m pretty sure you experienced something similar, even with different activity.

The key to forming a habit, is the consistency.

So I decided to create a new habit, and promise myself that no matter what, I’ll stick to it for the next 30 days. I promised myself to write 600 words every day for 30 days. Here’s what happened: for the first couple of days I was motivated to stick to the plan. Then my motivation got lower (always does), so I used my willpower to keep going with the habit.

However, after a two weeks or so, I missed a day. And once I missed one day, it’s was pretty easy to miss another. That’s the biggest problem with forming new habits. If you’re not consistent, you can’t create a habit.

So I finally understood the problem. When you feel resistance to something, you won’t do it. If you don’t feel like start with writing (like me in the above example), motivation and willpower can’t really help for the long-term.

With mini habits, you make a workaround for this resistance. And when there’s no resistance, you just start and do what you should.

Back to the previous example: 600 words a day doesn’t seem like much. And it’s not in the beginning. But after a week or two, as I started to lose motivation, it’s becoming harder. To solve this problem, instead of making a commitment to write 600 words a day, I’ve made a commitment to write just 50 words a day. One paragraph or one Vim tip.

When you do this, you’ll notice that there’s absolutely no resistance whatsoever. I know I didn’t feel resistance to write only 50 words. Even if I was having a bad day – I was still able to find a couple of minutes and write the damn 50 words! Anyone can do that. Actually, I realized that it was easier to write those 50 words, than it is NOT to write them.

Why? Because if you make a commitment, and no matter how good or bad you feel, you can’t motivate yourself to write the damn 50 words, then you’re basically saying yourself that you’re a big loser. Your pride won’t let you fail at something so ridiculously small. Especially if it takes less than two minutes to complete. This was a game changer for me.

You might think: “Yeah, but there’s nothing you can achieve with writing 50 words per day…”. Well, that’s absolutely wrong. How so? You can try it. Sit down to write 50 words. Or trust me. When I would start with writing (with 50 written words goal in mind), I would usually write far more than 50 words. Because once I would start, it was difficult to stop.

And this is the real power I wanted to share with you. No matter how you feel. No matter how busy you are. It’s very hard to fail with such a tiny commitment you’re after.

So, the whole trick for me was to make a commitment to write just 50 words every day. Your commitment could be learning Vim quickly. That’s why you must always go in with the intention to complete the smallest possible step. If you make it bigger, you will start to feel resistance.

Now, let’s get back to Vim. This book is carefully structured, so you can get knowledge from it step by step. Don’t make a goal to read 3 chapters of it today. Don’t make that mistake. Instead, read a page or two. And then go practice what you’ve learned.

Don’t forget. Habits require consistency. That’s how you’ll master Vim quickly.

1% improvement per day

You can’t master any skill in one day. You have to improve a little every singe day. It compounds. That’s the how you should approach to learning Vim as well.

Every day matters. You either increase your skill level for 1% or decrease it. It’s your choice. In the beginning, there’s no really difference between making a choice that is 1% better or 1% worse. It won’t impact you today. But over time these small choices compound.

When 1% compounds every day, it doubles every 72 days. If you commit to improve your Vim skills 1% every day, in one year your skills will be 38 times better!

How do you know how much is 1%? Well, when it’s about Vim, it’s hard to measure it. I would suggest that you decide what your 1% is doing to be. It can be reading one page of this book. Or learning one new Vim feature, command or trick.

Another way is to dedicate a fixed time for learning Vim every day. Let’s say that you dedicate 20 minutes every day to learning Vim. During those 20 minutes, you’ll improve your Vim skills – sometimes by 1%, sometimes by less or more. It’s not so much important to be that precise. What’s the most important here is consistency. Keep improving you skills every single day.

No Experience Necessary

Don’t worry if you’re a complete beginner. I don’t assume that you’re already good in Vim (but this book will still be very useful if you are!). You’ll find the information in this book more valuable and practical than anything you learned from other Vim resources.

Each chapter is packed with examples that support detailed explanations of all the important concepts, and they are presented in a way that helps you avoid the confusion that I faced when I was learning. With this book and plenty of practice, you will be amazed at how quickly you can go from complete beginner to super productive pro.

Mastering Vim Quickly is for anyone who wants to learn Vim, but either doesn’t know where to start. For anyone who has tried to learn it, but struggled to make progress, or was intimidated by how difficult Vim appears to be.

This book is designed to give you the head start I didn’t have. Wherever you are, if you want to learn Vim, the book will help you learn it faster and easier. Start exploring Vim today, and have fun!


If you want to get notified when I publish the book or get more content from the book for free, leave me your email below, and I’ll make sure to keep you updated. You could also go to Mastering Vim Quickly page and check it out.


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Lessons learned after 300 books in 4 years

Four years.

Three hundred (mostly nonfiction) books.

There are a few simple lessons I learned after reading all of those.
They might seem too obvious, but aren’t all the great truths simple?

Anyway, here they are:

  • It’s much better to read the best book on the topic 5 times, than to read 5 different books on the topic once.
  • Eyes that pay read better than eyes that don’t. Eyes that pay more read better than eyes that pay less. In other words, when you pay for a book or a course, you’ll dedicate more to it, so you’ll get more value from it.
  • Good books can offer you a lot of great ideas and useful knowledge. You can’t apply or adopt all of it in your life. Focusing on 3 ideas from which you can benefit in a near future is the best thing you can do.
  • If you read ~1h (almost) every day, you’ll be able to read 60-80 books per year.
  • When you read a lot, you’ll forget a lot. Make notes about the most important ideas and knowledge you get from books you’ve read.

Also, I find this quote very interesting:

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none. Zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads – and how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”

Charles Munger, the billionaire business partner of Warren Buffett and the Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway.

Happy reading! :)


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