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Applying substitutes to a visual block

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created 2001 · complexity intermediate · author Chip Campbell · version 6.0

If you'd like to apply a substitute, or even any Ex command, to a text region you've selected using visual-blocks (i.e. ctrl-v and move, or ctrl-q in Windows), then you'll be wanting to use Charles Campbell's vis.vim plugin.

Note that applying Ex commands to a simple visual selection is a much simpler process, as is searching in a visual selection (see Tip 438). The vis.vim plugin is useful for applying Ex commands to the area of a blockwise visual selection.

It's a plugin and comes as a vimball; so to install it with Vim 7.1 just

vim vis.vba.gz
:so %

Once installed:

ctrl-v (or ctrl-Q if using default mswin mappings) (move)
:B s/pattern/newtext/

You can also perform any Ex command (:B !sort, for example). On the command line, when you enter :B, what you'll actually see is:

:'<,'>B s/pattern/newtext/

Just continue with the substitute or whatever...

:'<,'>B s/abc/ABC/g

and the substitute will be applied to just that block of text!

Example: ctrl-v move-to-select the central four "abc"s

Initial           Select inner four "abc"s     :B s/abc/ABC/g
abcabcabcabc       abc--------abc              abcabcabcabc
abcabcabcabc       abc|abcabc|abc              abcABCABCabc
abcabcabcabc       abc|abcabc|abc              abcABCABCabc
abcabcabcabc       abc--------abc              abcabcabcabc

Vis.vim will also work with V (visual-line) and v (visual-character) selections.

Often it is used to change a variable. It's not the only way that the substitute can be done (you can use column selection regexp patterns), but it is, perhaps, more straightforward. As another example:

Initial                  After Substitute:
printf("...",            printf("...",
abc[0],def[0],def[0],    abc[0],def[0],DEF[0],
abc[1],def[1],def[1],    abc[1],def[1],DEF[1],
abc[2],def[2],def[2],    abc[2],def[2],DEF[2],
abc[3],def[3],def[3],    abc[3],def[3],DEF[3],

To do this, use ctrl-v and motion to select the defs, then apply the substitute:
:B s/def/DEF/


There is no need of plugins:


Perhaps we need another example. The plugin is needed more so that changes don't take effect outside the visual area.

For example, just using /\%V in your pattern will change this (visual selection denoted by |):


into this:


when you do:


If you use the plugin, it becomes:


Note the difference in the last line.

Or at least, that's how I understand it. I don't use the plugin myself.

--Fritzophrenic 15:52, January 20, 2010 (UTC)

Correct. Note that in order to fix that particular example, you could add another "visual selection" match at the last matched character:
But this is not only difficult to remember, but soon becomes virtually impossible to specify with more complex patterns. -- Inkarkat 19:31, January 20, 2010 (UTC)
If you think about it a different way, you just need to wrap your pattern in %V:
But now you have to remember that it will never match against the right column of the selection. (%V just matches the selection, but if the i is the last character in the selection, then the second %V isn't inside the selection.) --Pydave 14:42, August 9, 2011 (UTC)

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