09Using the GUI

Vim works in an ordinary terminal, while gVim has a Graphical User Interface (GUI). It can do the same things and a few more. The GUI offers menus, a toolbar, scrollbars and other items. This chapter is about these extra things that the GUI offers.

    Table of contents

  1. Parts of the GUI
  2. Using the mouse
  3. The clipboard
  4. Select mode

09.1Parts of the GUI

You might have an icon on your desktop that starts gvim. Otherwise, one of these commands should do it:

gvim file.txt
vim -g file.txt

If this doesn't work you don't have a version of Vim with GUI support. You will have to install one first.

Vim will open a window and display file.txt in it. What the window looks like depends on the version of Vim. It should resemble the following picture (for as far as this can be shown in ASCII!).

| file.txt + (~/dir) - VIM			   X |	<- window title
| File	Edit  Tools  Syntax  Buffers  Window  Help   |	<- menubar
| aaa  bbb  ccc  ddd  eee  fff	ggg  hhh  iii  jjj   |	<- toolbar
| aaa  bbb  ccc  ddd  eee  fff	ggg  hhh  iii  jjj   |
| file text					 | ^ |
| ~						 | # |
| ~						 | # |	<- scrollbar
| ~						 | # |
| ~						 | # |
| ~						 | # |
|						 | V |

The largest space is occupied by the file text. This shows the file in the same way as in a terminal. With some different colors and another font perhaps.

#The window title

At the very top is the window title. This is drawn by your window system. Vim will set the title to show the name of the current file. First comes the name of the file. Then some special characters and the directory of the file in parens. These special characters can be present:

-The file cannot be modified (e.g., a help file)
+The file contains changes
=The file is read-only
=+The file is read-only, contains changes anyway

If nothing is shown you have an ordinary, unchanged file.

#The menubar

You know how menus work, right? Vim has the usual items, plus a few more. Browse them to get an idea of what you can use them for. A relevant submenu is Edit/Global Settings. You will find these entries:

Toggle Toolbarmake the toolbar appear/disappear
Toggle Bottom Scrollbarmake a scrollbar appear/disappear at the bottom
Toggle Left Scrollbarmake a scrollbar appear/disappear at the left
Toggle Right Scrollbarmake a scrollbar appear/disappear at the right

On most systems you can tear-off the menus. Select the top item of the menu, the one that looks like a dashed line. You will get a separate window with the items of the menu. It will hang around until you close the window.

#The toolbar

This contains icons for the most often used actions. Hopefully the icons are self-explanatory. There are tooltips to get an extra hint (move the mouse pointer to the icon without clicking and don't move it for a second).

The "Edit/Global Settings/Toggle Toolbar" menu item can be used to make the toolbar disappear. If you never want a toolbar, use this command in your vimrc file:

:set guioptions-=T

This removes the 'T' flag from the guioptions option. Other parts of the GUI can also be enabled or disabled with this option. See the help for it.

#The scrollbars

By default there is one scrollbar on the right. It does the obvious thing. When you split the window, each window will get its own scrollbar.

You can make a horizontal scrollbar appear with the menu item Edit/Global Settings/Toggle Bottom Scrollbar. This is useful in diff mode, or when the wrap option has been reset (more about that later).

When there are vertically split windows, only the windows on the right side will have a scrollbar. However, when you move the cursor to a window on the left, it will be this one the that scrollbar controls. This takes a bit of time to get used to.

When you work with vertically split windows, consider adding a scrollbar on the left. This can be done with a menu item, or with the guioptions option:

:set guioptions+=l

This adds the 'l' flag to guioptions.

09.2Using the mouse

Standards are wonderful. In Microsoft Windows, you can use the mouse to select text in a standard manner. The X Window system also has a standard system for using the mouse. Unfortunately, these two standards are not the same.

Fortunately, you can customize Vim. You can make the behavior of the mouse work like an X Window system mouse or a Microsoft Windows mouse. The following command makes the mouse behave like an X Window mouse:

:behave xterm

The following command makes the mouse work like a Microsoft Windows mouse:

:behave mswin

The default behavior of the mouse on UNIX systems is xterm. The default behavior on a Microsoft Windows system is selected during the installation process. For details about what the two behaviors are, see :behave. Here follows a summary.

#Xterm mouse behavior

Left mouse clickposition the cursor
Left mouse dragselect text in Visual mode
Middle mouse clickpaste text from the clipboard
Right mouse clickextend the selected text until the mouse pointer

#MSWIN mouse behavior

Left mouse clickposition the cursor
Left mouse dragselect text in Select mode (see “Select mode”)
Left mouse click, with Shiftextend the selected text until the mouse pointer
Middle mouse clickpaste text from the clipboard
Right mouse clickdisplay a pop-up menu

The mouse can be further tuned. Check out these options if you want to change the way how the mouse works:

mousein which mode the mouse is used by Vim
mousemodelwhat effect a mouse click has
mousetimetime between clicks for a double-click
mousehidehide the mouse while typing
selectmodewhether the mouse starts Visual or Select mode

09.3The clipboard

In section “Using the clipboard” the basic use of the clipboard was explained. There is one essential thing to explain about X-windows: There are actually two places to exchange text between programs. MS-Windows doesn't have this.

In X-Windows there is the "current selection". This is the text that is currently highlighted. In Vim this is the Visual area (this assumes you are using the default option settings). You can paste this selection in another application without any further action.

For example, in this text select a few words with the mouse. Vim will switch to Visual mode and highlight the text. Now start another gvim, without a file name argument, so that it displays an empty window. Click the middle mouse button. The selected text will be inserted.

The "current selection" will only remain valid until some other text is selected. After doing the paste in the other gvim, now select some characters in that window. You will notice that the words that were previously selected in the other gvim window are displayed differently. This means that it no longer is the current selection.

You don't need to select text with the mouse, using the keyboard commands for Visual mode works just as well.

#The real clipboard

Now for the other place with which text can be exchanged. We call this the "real clipboard", to avoid confusion. Often both the "current selection" and the "real clipboard" are called clipboard, you'll have to get used to that.

To put text on the real clipboard, select a few different words in one of the gvims you have running. Then use the Edit/Copy menu entry. Now the text has been copied to the real clipboard. You can't see this, unless you have some application that shows the clipboard contents (e.g., KDE's Klipper).

Now select the other gvim, position the cursor somewhere and use the Edit/Paste menu. You will see the text from the real clipboard is inserted.

#Using both

This use of both the "current selection" and the "real clipboard" might sound a bit confusing. But it is very useful. Let's show this with an example. Use one gvim with a text file and perform these actions:

If you use the "current selection" and the "real clipboard" with care, you can do a lot of useful editing with them.

#Using the keyboard

If you don't like using the mouse, you can access the current selection and the real clipboard with two registers. The "* register is for the current selection.

To make text become the current selection, use Visual mode. For example, to select a whole line just press V.

To insert the current selection before the cursor:


Notice the uppercase P. The lowercase p puts the text after the cursor.

The "+ register is used for the real clipboard. For example, to copy the text from the cursor position until the end of the line to the clipboard:


Remember, y is yank, which is Vim's copy command.

To insert the contents of the real clipboard before the cursor:


It's the same as for the current selection, but uses the plus (+) register instead of the star (*) register.

09.4Select mode

And now something that is used more often on MS-Windows than on X-Windows. But both can do it. You already know about Visual mode. Select mode is like Visual mode, because it is also used to select text. But there is an obvious difference: When typing text, the selected text is deleted and the typed text replaces it.

To start working with Select mode, you must first enable it (for MS-Windows it is probably already enabled, but you can do this anyway):

:set selectmode+=mouse

Now use the mouse to select some text. It is highlighted like in Visual mode. Now press a letter. The selected text is deleted, and the single letter replaces it. You are in Insert mode now, thus you can continue typing.

Since typing normal text causes the selected text to be deleted, you can not use the normal movement commands hjkl, w, etc. Instead, use the shifted function keys. <S‑Left> (shifted cursor left key) moves the cursor left. The selected text is changed like in Visual mode. The other shifted cursor keys do what you expect. <S‑End> and <S‑Home> also work.

You can tune the way Select mode works with the selectmode option.