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Insert line numbers

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Tip 28 Printable Monobook Previous Next

created 2001 · complexity intermediate · version 7.0


The :set number command displays line numbers. This tip, however, shows how to insert line numbers into a file, or into just a section. Also, the option to print with line numbers is given (Vim can print lines with numbers, and does not need the numbers in the file).

Using VimEdit

The :s command can be used to insert line numbers before each line:

:%s/^/\=printf('%-4d', line('.'))

The pattern ^ matches the start of every line, and the replacement \= is the result of evaluating the following expression. That expression uses printf() to format the number of the current line: %-4d is a left-aligned decimal number, padded if necessary by adding spaces to a 4-column width (%4d is right-aligned, and %04d inserts leading zeroes).

To number a section, specify which lines should be numbered with a range. For example, press V to select the first line, then press j to extend the selection down until all required lines are selected. Then type the following command (do not type '<,'> as that is inserted by Vim):

:'<,'>s/^/\=printf("%d.\t", line(".") - line("'<") + 1)

The above example has a format string of "%d.\t" which inserts a left-aligned number, followed by a period and a tab character. Each line in the selected range is numbered. Use the following if you want to only number non-blank lines (it finds the start of a line followed by a character that is not whitespace):

:'<,'>s/^\S/\=printf("%d.\t", line(".") - line("'<") + 1)

In the above, blank lines are counted, but do not have a number inserted (the inserted numbers would be 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 if line 4 was blank).

The following alternative does not number blank lines and does not skip line numbers:

:'<,'>g/^\S/s/^/\=printf("%d.\t", Inc())

The above requires the Inc() function from here. In addition, you need to set the value for the first line number before selecting any lines. To do that enter:

:let i = 1

Using nlEdit

On Unix based systems, the number lines utility can be used to insert numbers by filtering the whole buffer:

:%!nl -ba

The nl utility has many options to control which lines are numbered and how the numbers are formatted.

To number a section, specify which lines should be numbered with a range. For example, press V to select the first line, then press j to extend the selection down until all required lines are selected. Then type :!nl -ba. You will see (the '<,'> is inserted by Vim):

:'<,'>!nl -ba

Printing with line numbersEdit

There is no need to insert line numbers if all that is wanted is to have lines numbered in a printout. Instead, use the following command to tell Vim to insert line numbers on printing (change y to n to turn this off):

:set printoptions=number:y

CommentsEdit

Insert line numbers with a Perl filter is another method.

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