Vim Editing Multiple Files and Windowing Support Under Linux / UNIX

last updated in Categories , , , , ,

How do I open and edit multiple files on a VIM text editor running under Ubuntu Linux / UNIX-like operating systems to improve my productivity?

Vim offers multiple file editing with the help of windows. You can easily open multiple files and edit them using the concept of buffers.


Understanding vim buffer

A buffer is nothing but a file loaded into memory for editing. The original file remains unchanged until you write the buffer to the file using w or other file saving related commands.

Understanding vim window

A window is noting but a viewport onto a buffer. You can use multiple windows on one buffer, or several windows on different buffers. By default, Vim starts with one window, for example open /etc/passwd file, enter:
$ vim /etc/passwd

Open two windows using vim at shell promot

Start vim as follows to open two windows stacked, i.e. split horizontally:
$ vim -o /etc/passwd /etc/hosts
$ vim -o file1.txt resume.txt
Sample outputs:

(Fig.01: split horizontal windows under VIM)

The -Ooption allows you to open two windows side by side, i.e. split vertically, enter:
$ vim -O /etc/passwd /etc/hosts

How do I switch or jump between open windows?

This operation is also known as moving cursor to other windows. You need to use the following keys:

  1. Press CTRL + W + <Left arrow key> to activate left windows
  2. Press CTRL + W + <Right arrow key> to activate right windows
  3. Press CTRL + W + <Up arrow key> to activate to windows above current one
  4. Press CTRL + W + <Down arrow key> to activate to windows down current one
  5. Press CTRL-W + CTRL-W (hit CTRL+W twice) to move quickly between all open windows

How do I edit current buffer?

Use all your regular vim command such as i, w and so on for editing and saving text.

How do I close windows?

Press CTRL+W CTRL-Qto close the current windows. You can also press [ESC]+:q to quit current window.

How do I open new empty window?

Press CTRL+W + n to create a new window and start editing an empty file in it.

Press CTRL+W+ s to split current window in two.

How do I open exiting file in a new windows?

Press [ESC]+:new /path/to/file. This will create a new window and start editing file /path/to/file in it. For example, open file called /etc/hosts.deny, enter:
:new /etc/hosts.deny
Sample outputs:

(Fig.02: Create a new window and start editing file /etc/hosts.deny in it.)

(Fig.03: Two files opened in a two windows)

How do I resize Window?

You can increase or decrease windows size by N number. For example, increase windows size by 5, press [ESC] + 5 + CTRL + W+ +. To decrease windows size by 5, press [ESC]+ 5 + CTRL+ W + -.

Moving windows cheat sheet

Key combination Action
CTRL-W h move to the window on the left
CTRL-W j move to the window below
CTRL-W k move to the window above
CTRL-W l move to the window on the right
CTRL-W t move to the TOP window
CTRL-W b move to the BOTTOM window

How do I quit all windows?

Type the following command (also known as quit all command):
If any of the windows contain changes, Vim will not exit. The cursor will automatically be positioned in a window with changes. You can then either use “:write” to save the changes:
or “:quit!” to throw them away:

How do save and quit all windows?

To save all changes in all windows and quite , use this command:
This writes all modified files and quits Vim. Finally, there is a command that quits Vim and throws away all changes:

Further readings:
  • Refer “Splitting windows” help by typing :help under vim itself.


Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

25 comment

  1. Bash,

    Yeah I agree with you. Vertical split is especially very good if you a wide screen monitor.

    I absolutely love the multiple window feature of the vim and it definitely enhances the productivity to a great extend.


    1. but that’s not the same thing dear.
      vimdiff is intended to show differences between/among 2/3 files, which would produce the result you refer here in case of files with totally dissimilar content, but not otherwise.

    2. but that’s not what its intended for. Its meant to bring out (highlight) the diffenrences between/among 2/3 files, which would be same as vim -O [,], with highlighted differences.

  2. Your text states “You can then either use “:write” to save the changes, or “:quit!” to throw them away.”

    But your command says “:quite!”

    May wanna fix that ;)

  3. When you are in split mode, you can type

    :set mouse=a

    to enable mouse command and then you can use your mouse to drag the window boundary to resize the all windows.


  4. Hi,

    If I have multiple files opened, say by
    $ vim file1.txt file2.txt file3.txt

    Now, :ls shows all the open buffers

    When I do :q ,all the buffers are closed, but is there a way to close a particular buffer, say only file2.txt

  5. Aman,

    It’s easy to close one buffer. In fact, there are a lot of ways to navigate through many open buffers. Here’s some

    Using your example:
    $ vim file1.txt file2.txt file3.txt

    you currently have 3 open buffers. Let’s say you are currently editing file1.txt

    :bn – go to next buffer (in this case, file2.txt)
    :bp – go to previous buffer (will go backwards to file3.txt)
    :bd – delete current buffer (file1.txt will be closed and file2.txt will become the current buffer) (can also take a filename or number as an argument)
    :b – go directly to a file

    If you are editing file2.txt and want to close file3.txt, type:

    :bd file3.txt

    You will still be editing file2.txt, but file3.txt will no longer be open.

    in vim,
    :ls – this command lists your open files and assigns an identifying number to each one.

    In your example, it would look like
    1 “file1.txt” line 0
    2 “file2.txt” line 0
    3 “file3.txt” line 0

    :b 3
    will go directly to file3.txt (which is buffer 3)

    :bd 2
    will delete the file2.txt buffer

    I think this is a good starting point. Google something like “vim buffers” for more info!


  6. Thanks dude
    I generally used gvim instead of vi/vim. I really like to woke with multi-file in split windows. This web page help me to switch window using keystrokes only which i have needed.

  7. How can I change the size of a vertical split without using the mouse. I know that you can use #,Ctrl+w,+ to re-size a horizontal split but I can’t seem to figure out how to get the same results for a vertical one.

  8. Really all are awesome and help a lot, thanks for all commenter come up with their various alternate
    thanks a lot!

  9. hi
    If i goto some dir and do vi *, then i have to see all the files in vi vertically..doing :sba shows all the files horizontally .. how could this be achived?

  10. I would suggest updating your documentation above. Moving between vertical / horizontal split windows is CTRL + w + , not CTRL + W + . The uppercase W should be lowercase.

  11. I checked multiple forums to get a help on vim but found that this tutorial was most helpful . Thanks a lot for this post . wonderful

    1. One more thing to mention is switching the windows. If you have two windows with horizontal split and making them to vertical split use ctrl+w+K , for the reverse ctrl+w+L

    Still, have a question? Get help on our forum!