Vi vs. Vim

What's the Difference?

Vi and Vim are both popular text editors used in the Unix-like operating systems. Vi, which stands for "visual editor," is the predecessor of Vim, which stands for "Vi Improved." While Vi is a lightweight and minimalistic editor, Vim is an enhanced version of Vi with additional features and functionalities. Vim includes features like syntax highlighting, multiple buffers, split windows, and a powerful search and replace functionality. It also offers a more user-friendly interface and customizable settings. However, both Vi and Vim are known for their efficiency, speed, and versatility, making them preferred choices for many programmers and system administrators.


Editor TypeModalModal
Development StatusActiveActive
Initial Release19761991
Written InCC
Supported PlatformsUnix-like, Windows, macOSUnix-like, Windows, macOS
Scripting LanguageEx commandsVimscript, Lua, Python, etc.
GUI VersionNoYes
Mouse SupportNoYes
Unicode SupportNoYes
Community SupportActiveActive

Further Detail


Vi and Vim are two popular text editors used in the Unix and Linux environments. While they share a common ancestry, there are distinct differences between the two. In this article, we will explore the attributes of Vi and Vim, highlighting their similarities and differences, and helping you understand which editor might be the best fit for your needs.

1. User Interface

Both Vi and Vim have a command-line interface, which means they are primarily operated through keyboard commands rather than a graphical user interface (GUI). This can be intimidating for beginners, but it offers a powerful and efficient way to edit text once you become familiar with the commands.

Vi has a simpler interface compared to Vim, with fewer features and customization options. It provides basic functionalities like text insertion, deletion, and navigation. On the other hand, Vim is an enhanced version of Vi, offering a wide range of additional features, including syntax highlighting, split windows, and support for various programming languages.

Both editors have a steep learning curve, but Vim's extensive feature set can make it more challenging for beginners to grasp. However, once you become proficient in Vim, it can significantly boost your productivity and efficiency.

2. Modes

One of the fundamental concepts in Vi and Vim is the concept of modes. Both editors have different modes that determine the behavior of the keyboard commands.

In Vi, there are three main modes: command mode, insert mode, and last-line mode. Command mode is the default mode, where you can navigate, delete, and copy text using various commands. Insert mode allows you to directly input text into the document. Last-line mode is used for executing commands or saving and quitting the editor.

Vim inherits these modes from Vi but introduces additional modes like visual mode, which enables you to select and manipulate text visually, and ex mode, which provides an extended command-line interface with more advanced features.

The availability of these modes in Vim makes it more versatile and powerful compared to Vi, allowing for more efficient editing and manipulation of text.

3. Customization and Plugins

While Vi and Vim both offer some level of customization, Vim takes it to a whole new level. Vim allows users to extensively customize their editor by modifying the configuration file, called the .vimrc file. This file can be used to define custom key mappings, enable or disable features, and install plugins.

Plugins are a significant advantage of Vim over Vi. Vim has a vast ecosystem of plugins developed by the community, which can enhance its functionality in various ways. These plugins can provide features like code completion, linting, version control integration, and much more. The availability of plugins makes Vim highly extensible and adaptable to different programming languages and workflows.

On the other hand, Vi has limited customization options and lacks the extensive plugin ecosystem of Vim. While it can still be customized to some extent, it may not offer the same level of flexibility and functionality as Vim.

4. Portability

One of the significant advantages of Vi is its portability. Vi is available on almost all Unix and Linux systems by default, making it readily accessible without the need for any additional installations. This makes it an excellent choice for system administrators or users who frequently work on different machines.

Vim, being an enhanced version of Vi, is also widely available and can be installed on most Unix and Linux systems. However, it may not be present by default on all systems, requiring additional installation steps. Nevertheless, Vim's popularity and widespread usage make it relatively easy to install and use on various platforms.

5. Learning Curve

Both Vi and Vim have a steep learning curve, primarily due to their reliance on keyboard commands and modes. However, Vi's simpler interface and limited feature set make it slightly easier for beginners to get started. The basic commands and navigation in Vi are relatively straightforward to grasp.

Vim, on the other hand, has a steeper learning curve due to its extensive feature set and additional modes. It requires more time and effort to become proficient in Vim, but the investment pays off in terms of increased productivity and efficiency once you master it.

Ultimately, the learning curve of both editors depends on the individual's familiarity with command-line interfaces and their willingness to invest time in learning the editor's commands and features.


Vi and Vim are powerful text editors with their own unique attributes. Vi offers a simpler interface and is readily available on most Unix and Linux systems, making it a reliable choice for basic text editing tasks. Vim, on the other hand, provides an enhanced feature set, extensive customization options, and a vibrant plugin ecosystem, making it a preferred choice for advanced users and programmers.

Choosing between Vi and Vim depends on your specific needs and level of expertise. If you are new to command-line editors or require a straightforward and portable solution, Vi may be the right choice for you. However, if you are willing to invest time in learning a more feature-rich and customizable editor, Vim can greatly enhance your editing capabilities and productivity.

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