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Set Vim as your default editor for Unix

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created December 6, 2001 · complexity basic · author bhaskar · version 5.7

Normally, typing edit on a Unix system brings up the vi editor and not Vim. If you've installed Vim in your home directory somewhere, you don't have a root account, and you want to make Vim the default editor for anything you do (e.g. edit a SQL statement in SQLplus), define these three variables in your .profile:

VIM=<base directory where Vim executable is placed>
VIMRUNTIME=<base directory where Vim runtimes are kept>


If you've installed vim with another name (say, vim.exe) then change EDITOR=$VIM/vim to EDITOR=$VIM/vim.exe

Source .profile, and the next time you start an editor from any program you'll bring up Vim.

On Ubuntu (or other Debian-based systems), update-alternatives can be used to change the default editor:

sudo update-alternatives --config editor
# Type the number which corresponds to Vim here (after installing it) then press Enter.

$EDITOR is the defined variable that programs on Unix-like operating systems are supposed to use for the default editor. Actually, $VISUAL is another defined variable for a non line-oriented editor, which is technically the correct role for Vim. Many notable programs on Unix support these variables, though obviously there are a few that for various reasons do not.


Note that if you built Vim manually rather installed your distribution's package, it may not show up in the list presented by update-alternatives, you will need to add it:

sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/editor editor /usr/bin/vim 100

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