Command-line text editors | Bash

Command-line editors are text editors that operate in a command-line interface (CLI) environment, and they are used for creating, modifying, and managing text files directly from the command line. Bash, which stands for "Bourne Again SHell," is a popular Unix shell that includes its own set of command-line editors. Two commonly used command-line editors in Bash are Nano and Vim.


Nano is a popular and user-friendly command-line text editor available on most Linux and Unix systems. It's known for its simplicity, clear interface, and helpful prompts, making it a great choice for beginners and veterans alike.

To open a file with nano, just type nano filename in your terminal. If the file doesn't exist, nano will create it for you.

Basic Editing

Moving around:
  1. Arrow keys and Home/End for cursor movement.
  2. Ctrl+B/F to scroll left/right.
  3. Ctrl+A/E to jump to the beginning/end of a line.
Text manipulation:
  1. Backspace/Delete to remove characters.
  2. Ctrl+X/C/V to cut, copy, and paste text.
  3. Ctrl+U to delete the entire line.
Searching and replacing:
  1. Ctrl+W to search for text.
  2. Alt+X followed by text to replace all occurrences.

Key Features

  1. Undo/Redo: Ctrl+Z to undo, Ctrl+Y to redo.
  2. Line numbering: Enabled by default, can be toggled with Ctrl+L.
  3. Syntax highlighting: Supports highlighting for various programming languages and file types.
  4. Spell checking: Available with an optional package, activated with Ctrl+T.
  5. Macros: Record and replay sequences of keystrokes for repetitive tasks.
  6. Customization: Configure many aspects of the editor (colors, shortcuts) through the .nanorc file.

In a nutshell, nano is a valuable tool for anyone who needs to edit text files in the command line. Its friendly interface, helpful prompts, and extensive features make it a perfect choice for beginners and experienced users alike.

Vim (Vi Improved)

Vim, short for "Vi Improved," is a highly configurable and powerful text editor for the command line. While its initial learning curve might feel steep, mastering Vim unlocks a scope of efficiency and customizability unmatched by most other editors. Let's look into the details of this legendary tool:

Modality Mastery

Vim operates in distinct modes, each with its purpose:

  1. Normal mode: Navigation, selection, and editing commands (think arrow keys, text copying, etc.).
  2. Insert mode: Text entry and basic editing like backspace and deletion.
  3. Visual mode: Selecting text for editing or manipulation.
  4. Command line mode: Entering commands for advanced actions like searching, replacing, or opening files.

Switching between modes seamlessly is key to Vim's power. Understanding and utilizing these modes is crucial for efficient editing.

Powerful Editing Features

  1. Modal editing: Efficient workflow thanks to dedicated modes for specific tasks.
  2. Extensive keybindings: Customizable key combinations for every action, allowing for personalized setups.
  3. Macros and plugins: Automate repetitive tasks and extend functionality with community-developed plugins.
  4. Search and replace: Powerful search features with regular expressions for precise text manipulation.
  5. Multiple buffers and windows: Edit multiple files or portions of the same file simultaneously.
  6. Syntax highlighting: Color-coded representation of code structure for various programming languages.
  7. Undo/Redo: Rewind mistakes with multi-level undo and redo capabilities.

Vim is a versatile and powerful tool for mastering command-line text editing. Its initial learning curve might seem daunting, but the rewards of efficiency, customization, and sheer power make it a worthwhile investment for any serious text wrangler.

Vim vs. Nano

  1. Nano: Beginner-friendly, simple interface, limited features.
  2. Vim: Powerful, highly customizable, steeper learning curve.

Nano is ideal for quick edits and basic tasks, while Vim shines for extensive text manipulation, programming, and complex workflows.

Other Notable Command-line Editors

  1. Emacs: Another powerful and extensible command-line text editor. It has a steeper learning curve but provides a wide range of features for text editing and more.
  2. Ed: A line-oriented text editor with a simple and minimalistic interface.

Choosing the right tool

  1. Use the built-in editing features for quick edits on the fly within the shell.
  2. Use a dedicated editor for longer editing sessions, complex files, or tasks requiring specific features.
  3. Nano is a good starting point for beginners.
  4. Vim and emacs are power tools for experienced users who want granular control and customization.


Using command-line editors efficiently is an essential skill for working with Unix-based systems, programming, and system administration tasks. Each editor has its strengths, and users often develop preferences based on their needs and comfort level with the editor's features.