Mastering Vim: Undo, redo and repeat

This time I’ll show you how to undo, redo and repeat stuff in Vim.
With just a few simple keystrokes you can improve your daily workflow.


Undo things in Vim is quite easy, as you can just press the  u key in normal command mode.

The  u key will navigate through the history of your changes. This means everytime you press it, one more change will be undone. You can also use a quantifier, such as 3u (undo the last 3 changes).

Please note that the u is lowercase. If you use an uppercase U instead, the whole last line you’ve modified will be reverted to its original state. However, U will not navigate through the undo history, but instead of it create a new undo history entry.

Redo & simple repeating

When we talk about “redo” things, we’ve to differ between the following two key strokes in normal command mode:

  • . will repeat the last change you’ve done
  • Ctrl-r will redo (revert) a previous undone change

Here are some examples for both commands.

Let’s say you’re switching to insert mode ( i), press the comma ( ,) key and then go back to normal mode ( ESC). You just inserted a comma under your cursor – that’s your change! Now you go a line down and want to do the same thing. At this point, you can simply press the . key, and the last change (insert a comma) is repeated.

Now switch to a different example where you did some changes you want to undo. So you press u several times, until you realize you did one undo too much. What you want to do now is redo your undo change, and this is where you’d use Ctrl-r.


We already know the repeat (aka .) command, our useful little helper. But what about more complicated scenarios, where you want to repeat a series of commands instead of only one? Well, this is where Vim macros come in place.

Recording macros

A macro is simply a sequence of commands. Macros can be recorded by using the following steps:

  1. First press the q key (macro key)
  2. Choose the macro register by pressing one of the  a-z keys
  3. Enter your (complicated) Vim commands you want to record
  4. Finally press the q key again

Now you’ve recorded your series of commands in a macro and stored it in a register. Whenever you start recording a macro, you should see something like this on the bottom margin of Vim:

Let’s say I want to do this:

  • Add the letter X right before the last character of the current line
  • Go to the next line
  • Jump to the first character

I’d use the following key combination:

  • qq is starting the macro recording on register q
  • $ is jumping to the last character in line
  • i is switching to insert mode
  • X is the letter X
  • <ESC> is switching back to normal mode
  • j (or alternatively down cursor) is jumping to the next line
  • ^ is jumping to the first character in line
  • q is stopping the macro recording

Playing macros

Of course a macro is only worth something if you can play / repeat it. This is where the @ key comes into place.

To play your macro simply press the @ key, followed by the register you’ve chosen before. In the example above, you can see my register was q, so I simply repeat it by pressing  @q. You can also specify a qunatifier, such as 3@q (repeat macro q 3 times).

Appending to macros

If you want to append something to an existing macro, simply use the uppercase letter of your register. With that in mind:

  • qxq will replace the macro on register x
  • qXq will append to the macro on register x

Displaying all registers

To display all existing registers, simply use the following command-line command:

You can also display a single register by specifying it after the :reg[isters] command.

More about macros

More about macros, such as editing & saving them can be found on this wiki page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.