I was just wondering what "Vi" means in Linux (the command used for editing files)?

  • 1
    It's not an acronym and it shouldn't be capitalized.
    – david25272
    Mar 31, 2014 at 1:06
  • 9
    Seems like a simple search on Wikipedia would've answered this one? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vi
    – slm
    Mar 31, 2014 at 2:48
  • @slm u r right though
    – Umair Ayub
    Mar 31, 2014 at 7:57
  • Vi = VIrtual VIM = VIrtual IMproved
    – Umair Ayub
    Apr 1, 2014 at 6:31
  • 2
    No, visual not virtual. And vim is "Vi improved", not virtual improved. Apr 1, 2014 at 10:54

4 Answers 4


Wikipedia has a concise and properly cited explanation:

The name vi is derived from the shortest unambiguous abbreviation for the command visual in ex; the command in question switches the line editor ex to visual mode.


Note that this does not mean that the full name of the text editor "vi" is still "visual" or, even, that "vi" currently stands for "visual" - the name of the editor is just "vi". The above quote just explains how the name originally came into being.

As Ben Voigt helpfully points out, the people (and websites) claiming that it stands for "Visual Instrument" are confusing it with another product unrelated to the text editor.

  • 10
    The association of VI = Visual Instrument comes from LabVIEW, which has an editor for visual instruments and therefore matches searches for "VI editor". There is no connection between the Linux text editor "vi" and the acronym Visual Instrument. +1
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 30, 2014 at 19:35
  • 3
    In case anyone wonders why a program would be named after a command in another, remember that programs under Unix can be installed under multiple names, and change their behaviour appropriately. Thus invoking ex with the name vi would start it in visual mode. vim can be started in many modes this way, including ex, exim ("ex improved"), view (read-only), rvim (restricted), evim (easy), vimdiff (compare two files) etc
    – IMSoP
    Mar 31, 2014 at 17:00

Vi is a screen editor for Linux, Unix and other Unix-like operating systems. Pronounced (vee-aye). Stands for VIsual.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vi and http://www.techopedia.com/definition/10347/vi

  • 13
    VI improved, just that Mar 30, 2014 at 11:40
  • 3
    It should probably be noted that while it is excellent (once you know how to use it), vi/vim takes some effort to learn. It can be overwhelming the first time you have to use it; if you're not editing plain text files regularly, it's probably better to use (in the terminal) nano or (in the GUI) gedit (which lack the advanced features, flexibility and efficiency of vim, but are much more new-user-friendly).
    – evilsoup
    Mar 30, 2014 at 13:01
  • 17
    VI = Visual Instrument in the context of National Instruments' LabVIEW programming environment. Not the Linux text editor. This answer erroneously suggests a relationship between the two.
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 30, 2014 at 19:36
  • 4
    I also disagree with the second half of this answer, as I've always pronounced it "vie".
    – IMSoP
    Mar 30, 2014 at 23:44
  • 2
    I just say "vim" - nobody really uses the original vi anyway - they may type "vi" but it'll most likely actually be vim, nvi or Busybox. Or in some cases Elvis. Mar 31, 2014 at 1:25

If one goes back and looks at an old man page for vi, such as the one for SunOS 5.10 from '07:

SunOS 5.10          Last change: 16 May 2007                    1

User Commands                                               vi(1)

     The vi (visual) utility is a  display-oriented  text  editor
     based on an underlying line editor ex. It is possible to use
     the command mode of ex from within vi and to use the command
     mode of vi from within ex. The visual commands are described
     on this manual page; how to set options (like  automatically
     numbering lines and automatically starting a new output line
     when you type carriage return) and all ex line  editor  com-
     mands are described on the ex(1) manual page.

Or from Ultrix (latest release '95):

       vi - screen editor

       vi [ -t tag ] [ +command ] [ -l ] [ -r ] [ -wn ] [ -x ] name...

       The (visual) editor is a display-oriented text editor based on The com
       mand and the command run the same code.  You  can  access  the  command
       mode of from within

And thus you have it: vi is from vi‍sual. This matches the pattern its ancestor editors: ex is the ex‍tended editor and ed is an ed‍itor.

There is no indication that this stands for anything else. Maybe V‍isual I‍nterface (what I learned it as back long ago), but there is no documentation that it stands for anything other than vi‍sual.


Vi just stands for Visual, as in Visual Editor. Vim stands for Visual Improved, as in Visual Editor Improved.wikibooks

  • 1
    Vim stands for Vi IMproved proved really, with the "V" from "VI" and the "IM" from "IMPROVED". Mar 31, 2014 at 0:27
  • I said that and gave an example of usage.
    – ChrisR.
    Mar 31, 2014 at 0:28
  • Your answer says it stands for "visual improved". What I'm trying to say is it stands for "vi improved", not "visual improved". The "v" is from "vi". Mar 31, 2014 at 0:46
  • 1
    Vi, which stands for Visual (according to the link and the old man page according the MichaelT) and IM, which stands for Improved. If the abbreviation stands for Vi Improved, then the Vi in that would still be Visual.
    – ChrisR.
    Mar 31, 2014 at 3:56
  • 1
    Vim certainly does not stand for Visual Improved. Expanding acronyms multiple times is not valid—far less something that isn't even an acronym. Also, incidentally: quoting the Vim manual: "VIM stands for Vi IMproved." Apr 1, 2014 at 4:51

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