I recently switched to zsh (finally) and am loving it! So far one thing that I am missing is Ctrl+R to do incremental history search.
I have the history set up properly


and I used vi key bindings

bindkey -v

But Ctrl+R does not work. It removes the line above the current line, which is not the behavior it should have in vim either.

Any suggestions?

  • 1
    btw a quick work-around is to use non-incremental search: Ctrl+[ / ... Jan 27, 2012 at 14:16
  • 1
    Ctrl-R is an emacs shortcut. To search backwards in vi, it's ?, though in zsh's vi mode / and ? are reversed as you generally want to search backwards. Dec 15, 2019 at 21:33

3 Answers 3


If I recall correctly, you need to explicitly set it, even with bindkey -v. Use something like this:

bindkey -v
bindkey '^R' history-incremental-search-backward
  • 4
    perhaps history-incremental-pattern-search-backward is an alternative action to use in that context. Jan 27, 2012 at 14:18
  • 3
    @maxschlepzig sorry what is the difference between the two?
    – Ali
    Jan 27, 2012 at 15:34
  • 4
    @Ali, with the -pattern- versions you can use search-patterns (which style, i.e. globbing or regex (?) depends on other parts of your zsh-configuration) - like e.g. you can use the search-pattern fo*bar with grep to match 'fobar', 'foobar', 'fooobar' etc. Jan 27, 2012 at 21:03
  • 5
    I was getting an error. Wrapping ^R in double quotes did it. bindkey "^R" history-incremental-pattern-search-backward Sep 8, 2013 at 6:26
  • 4
    bindkey -v must precede history-incremental-search-backward
    – Deniz
    Feb 21, 2019 at 7:22

OMZ framework has zsh-history-substring-search plugin pre-packaged. Just enable & use.

plugins=(git history-substring-search)


bindkey -e also works and makes zsh behave more like bash. It restores other things that you may have been using like ctrl-A (beginning of line), ctrl-K (delete everything to the right of the cursor).

  • 1
    This is a great answer, thanks. It solves a couple of problems at once, in a clean way.
    – hraban
    Mar 30, 2021 at 10:28
  • Just adding a comment to explain that this sets so-called "emacs mode" which provides a lot of these settings even to those like me who aren't into emacs.
    – Steven Lu
    Nov 26, 2021 at 22:34

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