I would appreciate it if someone can let a newbie know what the differences are between vi and vim. I've heard Vim is a successor to vi but whenever I try to open vi in Ubuntu it opens vim instead.


7 Answers 7


Functionally, vim is almost a proper superset of vi. Therefore, everything that is in vi is available in vim.

Vim adds onto those features. Here are a some of the extended vim features:

  • Vim has been ported to a much wider range of OS's than vi.
  • Vim includes support (syntax highlighting, code folding, etc) for several popular programming languages (C/C++, Python, Perl, shell, etc).
  • Vim integrates with cscope.
  • Vim can be used to edit files using network protocols like SSH and HTTP.
  • Vim includes multilevel undo/redo.
  • Vim allows the screen to be split for editing multiple files.
  • Vim can edit files inside a compressed archive (gzip, zip, tar, etc).
  • Vim includes a built in diff for comparing files (vimdiff).
  • Vim includes support for plugins, and finer control over config and startup files.
  • Vim can be scripted with vimscript, or with an external scripting language (e.g. python, perl, shell).

There are many more differences. Refer below sources which are few of good places to start finding out more.

Source: Vim.Org, Vim on Wikpedia.

Hope it helps! :)


"vi" is a text editor from the early days of Unix. It became quite popular and made its way into the Single Unix Specification (SUS) and POSIX, but wasn't freely available until 2002.

So, several free vi-like editors emerged. Vim ("vi improved") is one of these editors. As the name suggest it adds lots of functions to the original vi interface.

In Ubuntu Vim is the only vi-like editor installed by default, and vi actually starts Vim by default.

Other popular vi-like editors available in Ubuntu are, for example, nvi and elvis.

  • 7
    In Ubuntu Vim is the only vi-like editor installed by default - Xubuntu here: vim: command not found. Only vi is available.
    – phil294
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 18:58
  • 10
    @Blauhirn To be fair, technically Xubuntu is not Ubuntu. Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 16:14
  • 10
    @Blauhirn And that vi runs vim.tiny.
    – muru
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 16:08
  • 5
    +1 for answering the question about why vi opens vim instead. that is what the OP actually is asking.
    – MycrofD
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 6:04
  • @Florian Diesch "vi actually starts Vim by default." that is not true - at least what I found out on Ubuntu 22.04 LTS when I tried to run it $ vim Command 'vim' not found, but can be installed with: apt install vim # version 2:8.2.3995-1ubuntu2.5, o
    – likejudo
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 16:23

vi editor is the most popular text editor in Linux. We can say it has a simple black and white screen i.e. if you type any command there is no code highlighting, where as vim is improved version of VI it also has features same like vi but it also has code highlighting.

Both have these 4 basic modes:

  1. write mode
  2. command mode
  3. Visual mode
  4. escape mode
  • 4
    I'm reasonably certain original vi doesn't have Vim's visual mode.
    – muru
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 0:39

The Vim FAQ has a well formatted list: https://vimhelp.org/vim_faq.txt.html#faq-1.4

Excerpt from the FAQ:

  • Multi-level undo
  • Tabs, Multiple windows and buffers
  • Flexible insert mode (can use arrow keys in Insert Mode)
  • Macros
  • Visual mode (visually select sections of text)
  • Block operators
  • Online help system
  • Command-line editing and history
  • Command line completion (tab completion)
  • Horizontal scrolling (long lines)
  • Unicode and internationalization improvements.

There is indeed quite a big difference between them. I use both nvi and vim daily. Neither of them are perfect, but they're still better than anything else is out there.

Vim has more of everything. In addition to syntax hilighting (when compiled with a support for it) it does automatic conversions of charactersets, line-endings and such. It has multiple ways of numbering lines, which is really convenient. Vim certainly has a lot that speaks for it.

Unfortunately vim breaks the vi philosophy by mixing the editor modes and introducing a vast number of useless and redundant functions. Sure it's convenient at first that you can for example move with cursor keys in insert mode, but it also has some really weird unwanted side-effects (for example the . gets quirky and unpredictable).

Vim (while certainly being IMproved as it claims) is also a bloated, weird and inconsistent mixture of a broken vi and a modeless editor. :P

I still love it, though. And you can fix most of that by tuning you configuration ;D

  • 13
    Re "Sure it's convenient at first that you can […] move with cursor keys in insert mode" That's the overall purpose of cursor keys nowadays! We're not in the 80s any more and pressing a down arrow should move the cursor down and not put some ^Bad characters on the screen and make it beep.
    – PerlDuck
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 15:00

To add to what @gen said, it is easier to read it straight from vimhelp.org, if you don't wish to test things yourself. The reality is most people use very little of "real" vi's capabilities and even less of vim's or nvi's.




The biggest thing I notice is how undo / re-do has been brok.. er.. "improved" in vim, the non-classic behavior of the "BACKSPACE" key, and how slow vim-tiny is compared to n/vi at times. One append of 50,000 repetitions can lock a session up for almost an hour in any vim version I've ever tested. A 2,000,000 append of the same data in nvi takes less than 5 seconds. The vim Devs know about this bug but do not think it is worth fixing.

^[50000aUse vim or nvi or vi?^[

Better not try that in vim on a Production box. Just sayin'

If you don't know, ^[ is the code for the "ESCAPE" key. You SHOULD know that.

Generally your basic vim skills of ^[ibla foo bar^[:wq! will transfer enough to "real" vi if you need to support a real UNIX such as AIX, HP-UX, or Solaris. But if you rely on arrow keys to "move around" while in Insert mode then you are going to be in for a rough time. You should not be moving the cursor around in Insert mode, arrrow keys or otherwise, 1980's or not. Movement is meant to be done in Command mode. It is faster and allows you to use the actual power of vim|n/vi. Otherwise you might as well be using MS Win Notepad. If you use vim|n/vi as intended then the hjkl and/or arrow keys --in Command mode-- will still be your last resort for getting around in a file. It is too inefficient and slow. You type "new" text in Insert mode, while almost all movement and text editing is done in Command mode.

This is the part many people don't seem to get. Arrow keys don't work in Insert mode and type "garbage" when they are pressed because they are literally telling vi to "insert" the control code for your arrow key, so it does: ^B. Then people complain that UNIX/vi is doing what they told it to do! If you don't want vi to Insert the character then stop telling it to. Simple: Movement is done in Command mode.

Also, vim|n/vi have 2 modes in common: Insert mode and Command mode. There is no such thing as "Escape" mode. ^[ just puts you in Command mode.

n/vi does not have a "Visual Block" mode, which is specific to vim. But since marks have served that purpose in vi since the late 1970's then I question why a Visual Block mode is necessary. Maybe for people who actually use the COLUMN selection feature?

Not knowing what vi marks and named buffers are, or how to use them demonstrates that people have not went through some of the most basic vi tutorials that have been around since the 80's or even read the man pages.

Finally, to all the people who think "vi" is on Ubuntu, or almost any GNU/Linux system, for that matter -


The name is almost certainly a symlink to some vim binary somewhere.

All of this information has been publicly available about vi for around 40 years now.

-EDIT- I just thought of 2 other ways that vim is not POSIX vi:

  1. CTRL+R is expected to redraw the screen, not vim's "redo"
  2. Q (which is outright DISABLED in some vim builds, apparently) is supposed to switch you back to ex.

Vim is also a Linux text editor. It is an upgraded version of vi, and its full name is vi improved. In addition to the functions of vi, it has the features of multi-level undo, visual operation, syntax highlighting, and ease of use. Both vi and vim are editors in Linux. The difference is that vim is advanced and can be regarded as an upgrade version of vi. vi is used for text editing, but vim is more suitable for coding. Linux ESC: The difference between vi and vim

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