I know a bit about *NIX text editors (currently migrating from nano to vim), and, after looking around a bit on the Unix & Linux SE, have noticed that vi is used instead of 'vim' in a fair number of questions. I know that 'vim' stands for 'Vi IMproved', and, with that in mind, am wondering why anyone would rather use vi instead of vim. Does vi have any significant advantage over vim?

Edit: I think that my question is being misinterpreted. I know that vim is, for the most part, significantly more powerful and feature-complete then vi is. What I want to know is if there are any possible cases where vi has an advantage over vim, such as less memory use, prevalence on *nix systems, etc.

  • 29
    The nice thing about vi is you can expect it to be on every POSIX compliant system.
    – jordanm
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 7:06
  • 1
    Actually, Ubuntu standard installation includes vi and not vim.. Ubuntu is one of the most user friendly distro btw ;-)
    – amyassin
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 19:53
  • 15
    @amyassin This is incorrect, Ubuntu, like most Linux distributions,includes vim. vi is just a symbolic link that eventually point to vim in the default installation.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 0:21
  • 1
    Not quite sure but I think vim is heavier. This caracteristic is important on light platforms (e.g. raspberry pi)
    – Manu H
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 7:38
  • 5
    My advice is: Use Vim, but learn vi using the POSIX specifications for vi. That way you have portable knowledge as well as knowing Vim extensions.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 11:51

10 Answers 10


vi is (also) a POSIX standard editor. There are plenty of implementations and vim is likely the most popular.

While many traditional Unix compliant OSes provide vi implementations very close to the standard, vim has added a lot of extra features that make it a double-edged sword.

Of course, these extensions are usually designed to ease the editing process and provide useful features and functionalities. However, once you are used to some of them (not the cosmetic ones like syntax coloring but those that change the editor's behavior) you can easily forget they are specific; and using a different implementation, including the ones based on the original BSD code can be very frustrating. The opposite is also true.

This is quite similar to the issue that happens with scripts using non POSIX bashisms faced to more orthodox shell implementations like dash or ksh.


No vi doesn't have any significant advantage over vim rather its the other way around. Vim has more advantages then Vi. You may be interested in : Why, oh WHY, do those #?@! nutheads use vi?

Edit also read : Is learning VIM worth the effort?

  • 5
    Yep. I don't use any IDE because the editors they force you to use just isn't Vim.
    – Keith
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 7:51
  • 1
    @Keith I use both Xcode and Eclipse and I'm still able to do editing with vi only.
    – ott--
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 9:39
  • 1
    @Keith SlickEdit has a great Vim emulation, and IDEA's is coming close to it. Also, Visual Studio has ViEmu.
    – demonkoryu
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 13:50
  • 2
    IntellIJ also has a nice vim plugin overriding the standard editor's behavior.
    – JulienD
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 6:59

After spending a large fraction of my life (not including childhood) editing comfortably with Vim, I spent about a month only using vi. In doing so, I realized that I had been dependent on Vim for all of my text modification needs. Before my trip with vi, whenever I had to substitute some text or perform a similar operation in a large group of files, I would just open up the files in Vim and run a :bufdo command, and whenever I had to indent or format some files, I would open them up in Vim and use Vim's = and gw commands. I was Vim-dependent. After realizing vi did not have these commands, I was forced to perform bulk text transformations with sed and learned a great deal about other programs such as awk and indent. Though I switched back to using Vim in the end, the knowledge I gained by using a less featured editor was substantial and has proved to be extremely useful. In addition to learning about tools outside of a text editor, I also became better acquainted with vi. Whenever I am working on a new system or a server that doesn't have Vim, I feel much more comfortable using vi than I did before my month-long excursion.

Also, last month I installed Linux on a cheap WM8650 tablet and found there to be a noticeable performance difference between Vim and vi, so I tend to use vi on the tablet.

  • 3
    I find that this is a common issue in IT- the tools that help us can also obscure things we'd be better off learning.
    – danno
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 17:11
  • Actually, handling in-place file editing on many files can't portably be done with Awk or Sed either. (The -i switch on both is a GNU extension.) But you can use them portably with something like for f in *; do printf '%s\n' '%!sed -e '\''some sed command'\' x | ex "$f"; done
    – Wildcard
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 12:38

I would have a hard time living without vim but I can't stand vi. However, learning the former will at least leave you with an idea of how to deal with the later when that's all that is available.

The vim interface by default is actually pretty close to vi. If I'm working on a system with vim the first thing I do is add this stuff to ~/.vimrc:

syntax enable
set nocp
set wildmenu

There's a bunch of other stuff I prefer -- nowrap and numbering on, etc -- but never mind. "syntax enable" just turns on basic syntax highlighting (somewhat beefier: filetype plugin on is fundamental too); "nocp" turns off vi compatibility and it is this that starts to distinguish vim from ye olde vi (eg, it enables showmode which makes the whole experience somewhat more human, since you now have some clue about whether you are in command or ~INSERT~ mode). "wildmenu" just gives you a horizontal completion menu when doing some things, which makes life easier too.

The text editing facilities of vim are second to none -- other than emacs, I've never seen or heard of a piece of software that comes close. They are not easy to learn, but once you know them, they are much faster than mouse menus to use and much more dynamic than the simple key macro alternatives in mouse menu based interfaces. For programming, I sometimes use vim alongside an IDE like Eclipse, but I do most of the work in vim.

If you take that path, lol, look into the autocompletion and taglist plugins. And beware the dark side.

  • I always add set mouse=a too.
    – ott--
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 16:36
  • Regarding your programming comment, you may find eclim interesting... Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 23:41
  • @ire_and_curses : haven't tried it. Eclipse and vim both monitor the source files and allow them to be updated externally, and flipping from one desktop to another is flipping from one desktop to another. Seems like quite the idea tho.
    – goldilocks
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 0:33
  • Although I don't think this answer should be the chosen answer (since it's biased), it's exactly the type of perspective that is helpful for understanding the differences. Thanks for taking a position.
    – geneorama
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 17:24

The advantage is that vi usually preinstalled in enterprise UNIX like AIX or Solaris. Besides vim is not accessible on installation media.


This is exerpt from Vim Koans:

Master Wq and the Unix master

An old Unix master came to Master Wq. “I am troubled, Wq. You teach the way of Vim. vi is holy but Vim is not; its code sprawls, its features crowd memory; its binaries are vast, its behavior inconsistent. This is not the way of Unix. I fear you mislead your students. What can be done?”

Master Wq nodded. “You are right,” he said. “Vim is broken. Let us fix it. Shall we begin?”

The old Unix master agreed, and opened a shell. He typed:

$ vi vim.c

He began to code. Master Wq watched for a while and then asked him, “Which implementation of vi are you using? Nvi? Vim? Elvis?”

“I don’t know,” said the Unix master. “It doesn’t matter.”

Master Wq nodded. The Unix master sat stunned for a moment and closed his document unsaved.

  • 1
    hahah ... it is funny to me .... deep but funny. Thanks for sharing.
    – Dan Ortega
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 21:25

The only reason ever to use vi over vim is when you have no other choice.

There's many, many reasons why vim stands for "vi improved"!

Borrowing from a related post I answered:-

  1. Multiple windows - horizontal, vertical & tabs.
  2. Visual highlighting.
  3. Online help via the :help command.
  4. Record macros into a register that you can then execute.
  5. Undo (and redo) multiple times, rather than old vi's insane undo toggle.
  6. Command line history, search history.
  7. An entire language embedded along with a host of available functions, eg getcwd()
  8. Vastly expanded pattern matching.
  9. Word completion via ctrl-P & ctrl-N.
  10. A built in file navigator (a little clunky, but can be useful).
  11. The ESC key actually quits commands you were trying to, well, escape from instead of (insanely) running them as vi does.
  12. Ability to run commands on all buffers, args or windows via bufdo, argdo & windo.
  • 1
    You probably could have brought over the "many, many" reasons you mentioned in unix.stackexchange.com/a/425597/85039 answer over here. That'd make this answer a little better; otherwise it reads more like a comment than an actual answer Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 6:12
  • Point taken. Answer updated, borrowing from a related answer I made yesterday.
    – Paul T
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 0:31

As previous answers have already mentioned, vi comes with just about every UNIX system out there.

I just wanted to add an example. Arch Linux is one particularly popular and lightweight distro which neither the Installer, or the base distro comes with vim by default, however both come with vi.

This is not an advantage for vi per se, because you can simply install vim manually, and there's little you need to accomplish in the installation that requires a text editor, and nothing where vim is superior to vi for the intended purpose. But understanding the difference and that vi is more ubiquitous and lightweight than vim does give it some niche advantages.

Also, just to be comprehensive, no one has yet metioned explicitly that vi is a direct precursor to vim. Vim was desinged specifically to be everything that vi was, and more.

So in a very direct way, vim is superior to vi, because it was designed to be.


I have noticed that I only choose Vi over VIM when I am copying and pasting a text document or config file that I have used cat command. This is because when I try to ctrl-c and then ctrl-v into the VIM opened document, it forces all lines to have a comment infront of them. So when I use Vi to ctrl-v or paste into the Vi opened document, it pastes exactly what I copied from. Other than that, I use VIM all day long.



The UNIX philosophy of "do one thing and do it well" is a valuable life lesson, one I have often learned by doing the opposite and suffering for it.

Other commenters note how they learned how to use other tools like sed when they had to do things vi could not do. That's valuable, to work with a box of independent modular tools.

I can testify to the reverse, having cut off enough fingers playing with the Swiss-army chainsaw that is Vim. I spent too much time getting into exotic fragile plugin package ecosystems, Vimscript etc. when really I should have been writing standalone scripts or doing something else entirely -- anything that wouldn't break my editor if it broke.

Of course this is really a matter of self-discipline. I personally tend to play with and over-optimize things with bells and whistles until it breaks.

Using vi is like drawing with a stick of heavy charcoal -- I've got to get in there and do things that matter -- instead of fiddling around, finely erasing, and hesitantly redrawing lines -- as I would with a nice mechanical pencil with lots of features. Sometimes one has got to draw, and not doodle.

These are aesthetics that can affect how I work for better or for worse. I'm not a purist. There's just something comfortable and familiar with the grip in using standard vi, so instead of changing the user I just change the tool and get on with life.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .