On Easily Replacing Text In Vim

April 02, 2011 at 03:43 PM

Or more specifically: search and replace using the current visual selection.

Lately with my job, I’ve been spending more time refactoring old code than writing new code. Refactoring and manipulating code (and text) is something that I think Vim is great at, once you really understand the different modes and motions that Vim has, see Stack Overflow for a good summary. Vim’s Search and Replace mode is what I’ve primarily been using and while refactoring, I found some Vim tricks I wanted to share.

Let’s look at normal search and replace usage:

Find each occurrence of ‘foo’, and replace it with ‘bar’.


When dealing with complex functions or tricky variable names, I didn’t want to type out my function name again into Vim’s command line. I wanted a way to visually select my search text and just type my replacement text. I found some help on Stack Overflow again, finding out about the <C-R><C-W> shortcut to insert the current word under under cursor. The Vim Wikia explained this shortcut a bit further and I had enough ideas to write something out:

vmap <Leader>r "sy:%s/<C-R>"s/

So, visual map leader key + r to the command: yank the current visual selection to the s register, then go into command line mode, setup a string replace on the current buffer and use to load text from the s register. Then you can finish the replace command!

My final version include a tip from the Wikia article to run the search string through substitute() to replace newline characters, allowing for multi line/end of line searching. I had to switch to using the @ register format instead of the quote register format for vim to complain though.

vmap <Leader>r "sy:%s/<C-R>=substitute(@s,"\n",'\\n','g')<CR>/

To expand on this command, to find the number of occurrences of the visually selected word, before you run a replace on it:

vmap <Leader>c "sy:%s/<C-R>=substitute(@s,"\n",'\\n','g')<CR>//n<CR>

Other cool search aliases I found in vim:

  • [I shows all instances of the word under the cursor in the document
  • ]I shows all instances of the word under the cursor after your current location

One final tip, regex can be a dangerous tool kids, so always use the confirm flag when replacing!

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