The .vimrc is Vim's configuration file. After you get used to using Vim, you can start customizing it by adding lines to .vimrc.


The .vimrc file goes in your home directory. The . at the beginning will hide the file from a normal ls UNIX command (so as not to clutter), but it is still there. You can edit the file from Vim itself:

vim .vimrc

Sample vimrc

You can find my .vimrc file on Github. It contains most of the settings described here.

Filetype Syntax

To turn on syntax highlighting, add

syntax on

You can change the colorscheme (replace desert with any other colorscheme):

colorscheme desert

Indentation rules for different filetypes can be set:

filetype plugin indent on


The first thing you'll want to do is

set nocompatible

This turns off Vi compatibility. This is especially important if you are using Vim on your class account.

Note: the " (double-quote) character begins a comment in VimScript.


set noerrorbells    " Gets rid of beeping sound


set lines=50        " Vim starts with this many lines
set columns=80      " You can change these numbers
set textwidth=80    " This sets the 'virtual' line number

The textwidth setting is useful when writing paragraphs (such as in LaTeX), as it automatically forces overflowing text onto a newline. It can be distracting when writing code, however, so you can always omit it.


set showcmd         " Show (partial) command in status line
set showmode        " Show the current mode
set laststatus=2    " Always show status line

The status line can contain useful information. For a full list of things you can put there, type the Vim command :help statusline. Here is the one I use:

set statusline=%.40F%=%m\ %Y\ Line:\ %3l/%L[%3p%%]

The full filepath is displayed on the left, and various things are displayed on the right — whether or not the file has been modified, the filetype, the line number, and the percentage through the file.

set nu              " Set line numbering
set scrolloff=5     " Keep at least 5 lines above/below cursor
set mouse=a         " Enable mouse usage in all modes
set mousehide       " Hide the mouse when typing

I personally like scrolloff because it allows me to see ahead, but it can be distracting for some people.


set ignorecase      " Do case insensitive matching
set smartcase       " Unless you explicitly search for upper case
set incsearch       " Incremental search
set hlsearch        " Highlight searches
set showmatch       " Show matching parentheses


set expandtab       " Uses spaces instead of tabs
set tabstop=4       " Each tab is 4 spaces
set shiftwidth=4    " Sets the >> and << width
set autoindent


set nobackup        " remove backup files
set noswapfile      " remove swap files

Only set these if you don't want backup files. Some people find them useful.

Key bindings

There are a couple of key-binding commands:

  • map: a simple map
  • remap: a "recursive map", which means that mappings are influenced by previous mappings
  • noremap: a "non-recursive map", which means mappings are not influenced by previous mappings

For mode-specific bindings, add a letter before each command. For example, normal mode mappings are done with nmap, nremap, and nnoremap.

Normal Mode Key Bindings

nnoremap ; :              " Enter command mode faster


nnoremap <C-k>  <C-w>k    " Move along windows faster
nnoremap <C-j>  <C-w>j
nnoremap <C-h>  <C-w>h
nnoremap <C-l>  <C-w>l

Line movement

nnoremap j      gj        " Move along rows, not lines
nnoremap k      gk        " Useful for long lines
nnoremap 0      g0
nnoremap $      g$

Screen centering

nnoremap <space>  zz      " Centers screen around cursor
nnoremap n        nzz
nnoremap N        Nzz

Command Mode Key Bindings

The following alias accidental shifts:

cnoremap W<CR> w<CR>
cnoremap Q<CR> q<CR>
cnoremap X<CR> x<CR>
cnoremap Sh<CR> sh<CR>
cnoremap sH<CR> sh<CR>
cnoremap SH<CR> sh<CR>