Recording Macro

Need for Macro

The repeat command can only repeat the last change. It also gets overwritten with every editing command. The q command allows user to record any sequence of editing commands to effectively create a user defined command, which can then be applied on other text across files. It can also be prefixed with a number to repeat the command. Powerful indeed!


  • Press q to start recording session
  • Use any alphabet to store the recording, say a
  • Use the various editing commands in combination with movement commands to accomplish the sequence of editing required
  • Press q again to stop recording
  • Use @a (the alphabet typed in step 2) to execute the recorded command elsewhere
    • 5@a execute 5 times
    • @@ execute last recorded macro

Example 1

  • qwceHello<Esc>q
    • q start recording
    • save recording to w register
    • ce change till end of word
    • Hello literally type these characters
    • <Esc> denotes pressing Esc key, one can type it in Insert or Command Line mode by pressing Ctrl+v followed by pressing Esc key
      • Note-1: It looks like ^[ but is a single character
      • Note-2: if you are using gvim and Ctrl+v is mapped to something else, Ctrl+q can be used instead
    • q stop recording
    • Now, in Normal mode, wherever you press @w, it will clear text until end of word and insert the characters Hello
    • To use the last recorded macro, @@ can be used without having to remember which register was used to save the recording

What if you made a mistake and you wanted 'Hello!' instead of Hello? Instead of meticulously recording the sequence again, we can take advantage of the fact that we are using registers to record and play the macro

  • "wp will paste contents of w register, which is ceHello<Esc>
    • Note that in Vim, it will look like ceHello^[
  • change it to ce'Hello!'<Esc>
  • then visually text the sequence and press "wy to replace the contents of w register to this new sequence
    • this can be achieved in non-visual mode as well by placing cursor at start of sequence and then "wy followed by appropriate movement to copy till end of sequence
  • now @w will clear text until end of word and insert the characters 'Hello!'
  • to use this recording in a portable manner, add let @w = "ce'Hello!'<Esc>" to ~/.vimrc
    • Note again that you need to type the <Esc> key using Ctrl+v followed by Esc key in Insert mode

Now, suppose, you wanted to change only the starting word of a line, irrespective of where the current position of cursor is

  • ^ce'Hello!'<Esc>

How about changing starting word of multiple lines bunched together?

  • ^ce'Hello!'<Esc>j we need to first end the recording by going to next line
  • 5@w whatever count of lines to modify

Hmm, all this is fine, but how to change only those lines in the file whose starting word is Hi to 'Hello!' And they are not bunched next to each other

  • :g/^Hi/ normal @w use the :g command to filter the lines and then execute the Normal mode command @w
  • Note: This particular editing can easily be done using :% s/^Hi/'Hello!'/ This example was used to only show how to use the q macro recording

Example 2

Suppose, we forgot braces in Perl for single statement control structures

if($a > 4)
    print "$a is greater than 4\n";

# some other code here

if($word eq reverse($word))
    print "$word is a palindrome\n";
  • o{<Esc>jo}<Esc> record the sequence for one statement in a register say p
  • :g/\<if(/ normal @p execute the macro for all occurences
  • When dealing with multiple lines, recording macro with q might be cleaner than using :s
if($a > 4)
    print "$a is greater than 4\n";

# some other code here

if($word eq reverse($word))
    print "$word is a palindrome\n";

Example 3

Suppose we need to convert these lines in markdown text

# <a name="intro-guide"></a>Intro Guide
# <a name="basic-steps"></a>Basic steps
# <a name="advanced-usage"></a>Advanced Usage
# <a name="further-reading"></a>Further Reading

to table of contents, like this

* [Intro Guide](#intro-guide)
* [Basic steps](#basic-steps)
* [Advanced Usage](#advanced-usage)
* [Further Reading](#further-reading)
  • $T>d$0r*la[<Esc>pa]<Esc>lcf"(#<Esc>f"C)<Esc>j say this is saved in b register
    • $ move to end of line
    • T> move to character after last occurence of '>' in the line
    • d$ delete upto end of line
    • 0 move to first column of line
    • r* replace '#' with '*'
    • l move cursor one character right
    • a[<Esc> append '[' and change to Normal mode
    • p paste the earlier deleted content
    • a]<Esc> append ']' and change to Normal mode
    • lcf"(#<Esc> move cursor one character right, clear text upto next double quote, insert '(#' and change to Normal mode
    • f"C)<Esc>j move cursor to next double quote, clear text till end of line, insert ')', change to Normal mode and move cursor one line down
  • 4@b on first line, as they are bunched together
    • or vip: normal @b
  • Note: again, this is a demonstration and s/\v.*"(.*)".*\>(.*)/* [\2](#\1)/ is perhaps better option

Further Reading

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