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How do I exit the Vim editor?

Solutons:


Hit the Esc key to enter “Normal mode”. Then you can type : to enter “Command-line mode”. A colon (:) will appear at the bottom of the screen and you can type in one of the following commands. To execute a command, press the Enter key.

  • :q to quit (short for :quit)
  • :q! to quit without saving (short for :quit!)
  • :wq to write and quit
  • :wq! to write and quit even if file has only read permission (if file does not have write permission: force write)
  • :x to write and quit (similar to :wq, but only write if there are changes)
  • :exit to write and exit (same as :x)
  • :qa to quit all (short for :quitall)
  • :cq to quit without saving and make Vim return non-zero error (i.e. exit with error)

You can also exit Vim directly from “Normal mode” by typing ZZ to save and quit (same as :x) or ZQ to just quit (same as :q!). (Note that case is important here. ZZ and zz do not mean the same thing.)

Vim has extensive help – that you can access with the :help command – where you can find answers to all your questions and a tutorial for beginners.

Pictures are worth a thousand Unix commands and options:

Enter image description here

I draw this to my students each semester and they seem to grasp vi afterwards.

Vi is a finite state machine with only three states.

Upon starting, vi goes into COMMAND mode, where you can type short, few character commands, blindly. You know what you are doing; this isn’t for amateurs.

When you want to actually edit text, you should go to INSERT mode with some one-character command:

  • i: go to INSERT in the place of the cursor
  • I: go to INSERT mode at the beginning of the line
  • a: append after the cursor
  • A: append at the end of line
  • o: open a new line below the current line
  • O: open a new line in the place of the current line

Now, answering the question: exiting.

You can exit vi from EX mode:

  • q: if you haven’t made any modifications, or saved them beforehand
  • q!: ignores any modifications and quit
  • wq: save and quit
  • x: this is equal to wq

w and x accept a file name parameter. If you started vi with a filename, you need not give it here again.

At last, the most important: how can you reach EX mode?

EX mode is for long commands that you can see typing at the bottom line of the screen. From COMMAND mode, you push colon, :, and a colon will appear at the bottom line, where you can type the above commands.

From INSERT mode, you need to push ESC, i.e. the Escape button, going to COMMAND mode, and then: to go to EX mode.

If you are unsure, push ESC and that will bring you to command mode.

The robust method is ESC-:-x-Enter which saves your file and quits.

Before you enter a command, hit the Esc key. After you enter it, hit the Return to confirm.

Esc finishes the current command and switches Vim to normal mode. Now if you press :, the : will appear at the bottom of the screen. This confirms that you’re actually typing a command and not editing the file.

Most commands have abbreviations, with optional part enclosed in brackets: c[ommand].

Commands marked with ‘*’ are Vim-only (not implemented in Vi).

Safe-quit (fails if there are unsaved changes):

  • :q[uit] Quit the current window. Quit Vim if this is the last window. This fails when changes have been made in current buffer.
  • :qa[ll]* Quit all windows and Vim, unless there are some buffers which have been changed.

Prompt-quit (prompts if there are unsaved changes)

  • :conf[irm] q[uit]* Quit, but give prompt when there are some buffers which have been changed.
  • :conf[irm] xa[ll]* Write all changed buffers and exit Vim. Bring up a prompt when some buffers cannot be written.

Write (save) changes and quit:

  • :wq Write the current file (even if it was not changed) and quit. Writing fails when the file is read-only or the buffer does not have a name. :wqa[ll]* for all windows.
  • :wq! The same, but writes even read-only files. :wqa[ll]!* for all windows.
  • :x[it], ZZ(with details). Write the file only if it was changed and quit, :xa[ll]* for all windows.

Discard changes and quit:

  • :q[uit]! ZQ* Quit without writing, also when visible buffers have changes. Does not exit when there are changed hidden buffers.
  • :qa[ll]!*, :quita[ll][!]* Quit Vim, all changes to the buffers (including hidden) are lost.

Press Return to confirm the command.

This answer doesn’t reference all Vim write and quit commands and arguments. Indeed, they are referenced in the Vim documentation.

Vim has extensive built-in help, type Esc:helpReturn to open it.


This answer was inspired by the other one, originally authored by @dirvine and edited by other SO users. I’ve included more information from Vim reference, SO comments and some other sources. Differences for Vi and Vim are reflected too.

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