3 Effective Methods To Select All Text In Vim/Vi

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Last updated: June 25, 2023

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To Select All text in Vim/Vi, you can try these three methods:

  1. Enter Visual mode by pressing v and select all text by navigating to the beginning and end.
  2. Use ex commands like %yank to select all text or %norm! followed by a command to apply it to all lines.
  3. Record a macro, manually select all text, and execute the macro to repeat the selection.

When selecting all text in Vim/Vi, be aware of common errors such as trailing characters, inability to open a file, no write since last change, unavailable commands, and pattern not found. Troubleshoot these errors by reviewing commands, ensuring proper file permissions, saving changes before quitting, exploring alternatives, and verifying the pattern’s existence while adjusting search options.

Read the guide below to learn different methods to select all text in Vim/Vi and common errors with their possible solutions.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced user, mastering the art of selecting text in Vim/Vi is a game-changer that can significantly boost your productivity and efficiency. Text selection is the foundation of manipulating and transforming text within Vim/Vi. By honing your text selection skills, you gain the power to effortlessly perform actions like copying, deleting, replacing, or applying formatting to selected portions of your code or documents. In this comprehensive guide, I will explore three effective methods to select all text in Vim/Vi and common errors that can occur when using Vim. 

How to Select All Text in Vim/Vi

To select all text in Vim/Vi, you have three methods at your disposal. Visual mode allows you to effortlessly select text across multiple lines by entering v in command mode and navigating to the beginning and end. Ex commands offer flexibility and efficiency, using the %yank command to select all text or %norm! followed by a command to apply it to all lines. Macros automate repetitive tasks, letting you record and playback a sequence of commands for efficient text selection.

1. Visual Mode

The visual mode in Vim/Vi provides a versatile and powerful way to select text. Visual mode is ideal for selecting and manipulating text across multiple lines, making it perfect for editing large sections of code or documents. Follow these steps to select all text in vim/vi using Visual mode:

  1. Enter Visual mode by pressing v in command mode.
  1. Move the cursor to the beginning of the text you want to select. Navigate to the end of the text using movement commands such as G or arrow keys. The selected text will be highlighted.

2. Ex Commands

Ex commands offer a range of powerful options for text selection. They provide flexibility and efficiency in selecting and manipulating text, allowing you to perform bulk operations and apply commands to specific ranges or patterns within your file. To select all text in vim/vi using Ex commands, follow these steps:

  1. Enter command-line mode by pressing : in normal mode.
  1. Use the % specifier, which represents the entire buffer, followed by the desired Ex command. For example, to copy all text, enter : %yank.
  2. Execute the command by pressing Enter.

3. Macros

Macros are an excellent tool for efficiently automating repetitive tasks and selecting all text. They allow you to record and playback a sequence of commands, making it easy to repeat complex text selection operations and streamline your editing workflow. Follow these steps to use macros for text selection:

  1. Start recording a macro by pressing q followed by a register key (e.g., a).
  1. Perform the text selection steps manually (e.g., using Visual mode).
  1. Stop recording the macro by pressing q again. Execute the macro by pressing @ followed by the register key (e.g., @a).

5 Common Errors with Troubleshooting Tips

When working with Vim/Vi, it’s common to encounter errors that can hinder your productivity. Troubleshooting and learning from these common errors will enhance your proficiency with Vim/Vi and improve your overall editing experience. Here are five common errors and their possible solutions:

  • 🔍 Trailing characters: This error arises when Vim/Vi encounters extra characters at the end of a command. It commonly occurs due to typos or misplaced symbols. To resolve this error, carefully review the command for formatting errors or unnecessary characters. Ensure the command is correctly structured and contains no trailing or unexpected characters.
  • 📂 Can’t open file: This error occurs when Vim/Vi cannot open a file for writing, typically due to insufficient permissions. To resolve this, ensure you have the file’s necessary write permissions. You can adjust the file’s permissions using the chmod command or use the forceful write command :w! to save changes, overriding any write restrictions.
  • 💾 No write since last change: When attempting to quit Vim/Vi without saving changes, this error reminds you that unsaved modifications exist. To exit without saving, use the command :q!. If you want to save changes before quitting, employ the :wq command instead.
  • Command not available: This error indicates that the command you’re trying to use is not supported in your version of Vim/Vi. To address this, check your Vim/Vi installation and consider upgrading to a more recent version. Alternatively, explore alternative commands or methods that accomplish the same task using the available features in your version.
  • 🔍 Pattern not found: This error occurs when a search or substitution command fails to find the specified pattern in the current file. It can happen when the pattern is not present or when the search options are not appropriately configured. To resolve this, double-check the pattern you’re searching for and ensure its existence in the file. Adjust the search options, such as using the /pattern/ syntax or adding appropriate flags like /pattern/g for a global search, to match the desired pattern.

To Sum Up

In this article, you have learned three powerful methods to select all text in Vim/Vi. By mastering these techniques—Visual mode, Ex commands, and macros—you now have a comprehensive toolkit for efficient text selection. You have also learned about five common errors that may arise during your Vim/Vi journey.

To further expand your knowledge and elevate your Vim/Vi proficiency, I recommend exploring the following articles, Advanced Text Editing Techniques in Vim/Vi, Vim/Vi Plugins for Enhanced Productivity, and Mastering Vim/Vi Navigation. By continually expanding your understanding of Vim/Vi’s features and exploring additional resources, you’ll unlock endless possibilities for text selection and elevate your overall editing experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to exclude specific lines while selecting all text?

Yes, excluding specific lines while selecting all text in Vim/Vi is possible. You can achieve this by using range modifiers with commands like :g!/{pattern}/. The :g command in Vim/Vi allows you to perform actions on lines that match a specific pattern. By adding the exclamation mark (!) after :g, you can exclude lines that match the pattern. For example, if you want to select all text except for lines containing the word example, you can use :g!/example/. This command will select all lines that do not contain the word example, allowing you to perform operations on the selected text.

Can I use a visual block to select all text in Vim/Vi?

While a visual block cannot be used directly to select all text in Vim/Vi, you can combine methods to achieve the desired result. Visual block mode in Vim/Vi enables the selection of rectangular blocks of text, but it may not cover the entire file. However, you can use visual block mode with other commands to effectively select all text in vim/vi . One approach is to use the : %yank or : %delete command along with visual block mode. By entering visual block mode, positioning the cursor at the opposite corner of the desired text, and pressing y or d, you can manipulate and select all text in Vim/Vi.

How do I select all text in multiple files simultaneously using Vim/Vi?

To select all text in multiple files simultaneously using Vim/Vi, you can utilize the :argdo command and the : %yank or : %delete command. Start by opening Vim/Vi and specifying the files you want to work with as arguments. Once inside Vim/Vi, enter :argdo %yank or :argdo %delete. This command instructs Vim/Vi to perform the specified operation (yank or delete) on all the files provided as arguments. The : % modifier ensures that the operation is applied to the entire buffer of each file. Vim/Vi will process each file sequentially, selecting all text and executing the desired operation. Using the :argdo command, you can efficiently select all text in multiple files and enhance your editing workflow.



Ojash is a skilled Linux expert and tech writer with over a decade of experience. He has extensive knowledge of Linux's file system, command-line interface, and software installations. Ojash is also an expert in shell scripting and automation, with experience in Bash, Python, and Perl. He has published numerous articles on Linux in various online publications, making him a valuable resource for both seasoned Linux users and beginners. Ojash is also an active member of the Linux community and participates in Linux forums.



Akshat is a software engineer, product designer and the co-founder of Scrutify. He's an experienced Linux professional and the senior editor of this blog. He is also an open-source contributor to many projects on Github and has written several technical guides on Linux. Apart from that, he’s also actively sharing his ideas and tutorials on Medium and Attirer. As the editor of this blog, Akshat brings his wealth of knowledge and experience to provide readers with valuable insights and advice on a wide range of Linux-related topics.

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