Harmonizing with Vi-Nature

After using Vim for a while, it is likely that you have found yourself to be incredibly productive within it. Those moments when you have to step outside, however, can be painful. But they need not be.

Vim itself is just a text editor. Vi-nature, though, is becoming increasingly universal.

"Vim is not permanent. Nvi is not permanent. Vi itself is not permanent, only vi-nature. Emacs has vi-nature, nano has vi-nature, even Notepad has vi-nature. You narrow your sights, you grow attached, and hence you do not grasp the true value of your poem’s subject."
Master Wq, Vim Koans

I've listed some applications that support the key-bindings you've become familiar with, along with some instructions on how to get them working.


Readline is what a lot of CLI programs will use for handling input. If you're using arrow keys to move around text you've entered in your bash prompt, you're doing yourself a disservice.

With a properly configured readline, you can have bash, irb, gdb, and many other programs all support vi-keybindings.

All you need to do is write set editing-mode vi to ~/.inputrc.

If you want to get a little fancier, this is what I use:

set completion-ignore-case On
set bell-style none
set editing-mode vi

$if mode=vi
  set keymap vi-command
  "gg": beginning-of-history
  "G": end-of-history
  set keymap vi-insert
  "jj": vi-movement-mode
  "\C-p": history-search-backward
  "\C-l": clear-screen

The first line lets tab-compeltion be case insensitive, and the second line silences and bell sounds. After that, I set my editing mode to vi and set up some mappings for command mode and insert mode.

In command mode, gg takes me to the top of my input history and G to the bottom.

I prefer to use jj to escape rather than actually hitting escape, so I have it mapped to return to movement mode.

The Ctrl-p mapping allows you to cycle through history while being in insert mode, and Ctrl-l lets you clear the screen.

Caveat: zsh does not use readline


If for whatever reason you don't want vi-bindings in all of readline and only want to affect bash, just include this in your ~/.bashrc or ~/.bash_profile:

set -o vi


If you're a zsh user, you may have found that it does not use readline at all. To get vi-bindings in zsh, add this to your ~/.zshrc:

bindkey -v

If you want to also be able to use jj to enter command mode, add this line as well:

bindkey -M viins 'jj' vi-cmd-mode


Tmux and vim can become best friends with just a little bit of configuration.

The first thing you're going to want is seamless navigation from vim and tmux splits. The vim-tmux-navigator completely takes care of that.

You can also use vi-bindings within tmux's copy mode. If you're on OSX, getting tmux to copy to the system clipboard require a bit of tweaking as well. This post from thoughtbot has all the instruction you need to get things working.

This is what my ~/.tmux.conf looks like:

# Set TERM to screen-256color in tmux
set -g default-terminal "screen-256color"

# Share the system clipboard
set-option -g default-command "reattach-to-user-namespace -l bash"

# urxvt like tab switching (-n: no prior escape seq)
bind -n S-down new-window
bind -n S-left prev
bind -n S-right next
bind -n C-left swap-window -t -1
bind -n C-right swap-window -t +1

# Status bar
set -g status-bg black
set -g status-fg white
set -g status-interval 1
set -g status-left ' '
set -g status-right '#[fg=white]%Y-%m-%d  %I:%M%p#[default] '
set-window-option -g window-status-current-bg white
set-window-option -g window-status-current-fg black

# Toggle status bar
bind-key z set -g status

# Create easier mapping to split window
bind v split-window -h

# Smart pane switching with awareness of vim splits
bind -n C-h run "(tmux display-message -p '#{pane_current_command}' | grep -iqE '(^|\/)vim$' && tmux send-keys C-h) || tmux select-pane -L"
bind -n C-j run "(tmux display-message -p '#{pane_current_command}' | grep -iqE '(^|\/)vim$' && tmux send-keys C-j) || tmux select-pane -D"
bind -n C-k run "(tmux display-message -p '#{pane_current_command}' | grep -iqE '(^|\/)vim$' && tmux send-keys C-k) || tmux select-pane -U"
bind -n C-l run "(tmux display-message -p '#{pane_current_command}' | grep -iqE '(^|\/)vim$' && tmux send-keys C-l) || tmux select-pane -R"
bind -n C-\ run "(tmux display-message -p '#{pane_current_command}' | grep -iqE '(^|\/)vim$' && tmux send-keys 'C-\\') || tmux select-pane -l"

# Use vim keybindings in copy mode
setw -g mode-keys vi

# Setup 'v' to begin selection as in Vim
bind-key -t vi-copy v begin-selection
bind-key -t vi-copy y copy-pipe "reattach-to-user-namespace pbcopy"

# Update default binding of `Enter` to also use copy-pipe
unbind -t vi-copy Enter
bind-key -t vi-copy Enter copy-pipe "reattach-to-user-namespace pbcopy"


There is a plugin for Google Chrome called Vimium. It's well-documented and pretty featureful.


There are few plugins that bring vi-bindings to Firefox, but Pentadactyl is the best by far. It's more powerful than Vimium, and very much exstensible.

Sublime Text

Sublime actually ships with vi-bindings, but has them disabled by default. Open up the default settings and change

"ignored_packages": ["Vintage"]


"ignored_packages": [].

There are some extra little tweaks you might want to make as well.

While you're in the settings page, you can add this to make command mode the default:

"vintage_start_in_command_mode": true

Within keymap settings, I use this setting to let jj escape from insert mode:

{ "keys": ["j", "j"], "command": "exit_insert_mode", "context":
        { "key": "setting.command_mode", "operand": false },
        { "key": "setting.is_widget", "operand": false }

You can see this page for more details on Vintage mode.


There are a few different ways to get vi-bindings in Emacs, but Evil seems to be the most popular one. I'm not an emacs user, but here is the evil documentation.


Eclipse has a few different plugins available. I've personally found vrapper to be the simplest one to use. You can find installation instructions here.

Vrapper is customizable via ~/.vrapperrc. It doesn't have quite the flexibility a .vimrc would give you, but you can do some basic things like mapping new keybindings.

Here's what mine looks like:

inoremap jj <ESC>

An alternative to bringing vim into Eclipse is to bring Eclipse into vim. For that, you can use Eclim. It basically lets you run a headless Eclipse instance that you can use to bring some of Eclipse's IDE-like features to vim.


If you're developing OSX or iOS applications, you're going to be very sad if you try to do so outside of Xcode. Fortunately, XVim exists to bring vi-bindings to it.

You'll have to download the xcodeproject and build it yourself to use it. Instructions are in the README found in the github repo.

You can also customize XVim via ~/.xvimrc. This is what mine looks like:

" Key Mappings "
imap jj <Esc>
nmap <Space> <C-d>
nmap n nzz
nmap N Nzz

" Search Settings "
set incsearch
set ignorecase
set smartcase


Any of the IDEs in the IntelliJ family can support vi-bindings via the IdeaVim plugin. The list includes:

  • IntelliJ IDEA
  • RubyMine
  • PyCharm
  • PhpStorm
  • WebStorm
  • AppCode
  • Android Studio

A major shortcoming of this plugin, however, is that it does not support custom keymappings.


If you open up the settings page in Gmail and set keyboard shortcuts to on, you'll find that Gmail has some nice vi-like keybindings built in. Once you have them enabled, you can press ? to bring up a friendly help window.

If you're using a browser plugin that has vi-bindings, be sure to add Gmail to the list of excluded websites.

Sparrow users on OSX, can also access these same keyboard shortcuts to by checking Use Gmail shortcuts under advanced preferences.


Much like Gmail, GitHub has some awesome vi-like keyboard shortcuts. You can press ? to bring up a help pane that shows you the available commands.

Be sure to add GitHub to the list of excluded sites of your vi browser plugin if you have one.

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