Vim vs Emacs: Which Text Editor Do You Need?

vimvsemacsThe battle of the text editors is long-running and fierce. Vim and Emacs are the two most commonly used text editors on Linux, and many Windows users also use one of these editors when writing code. Both editors have features that help programmers write clear programs in a variety of languages, but their approaches are very different. While the philosophy of Vim is that the user should be able to do everything in the least possible number of keystrokes, Emacs uses more intuitive commands and consequently has a shallower learning curve. If you are wondering whether you should use Vim or Emacs, read on to learn a little more about each editor and decide which one best meets your needs.

Eli the Computer Guy gives a lecture on using Vim in his collection of classes, which are available on

Vim Vs Emacs Interface and Commands

The interface in Emacs is relatively straightforward; it functions much like the simple text editors that you have probably used before, like Notepad, for example. The difference is that you can use shortcut keys such as Ctrl-f and Ctrl-b to move the cursor around within the file, rather than reaching for the mouse or the arrow keys. Once you get used to navigating using these shortcuts, you might find that it allows you to edit faster than you could using a simple text editor.

Vim takes the principle of using shortcuts to speed things up even further. By pressing the Esc key, you can move from Insert Mode, where the text you type appears on the screen, to Command Mode, in which you can move the cursor around and make edits and deletions. Once in Command Mode, you move the cursor around using the h,l,k, j keys. While this may not seem very intuitive, it means that you can quickly dart around the screen without taking your fingers away from the home keys where they naturally rest.

Confused by Vim’s commands? Get some clarity in Zed Shaw’s Vim Setup, offered as part of Learn C the Hard Way on If you want to learn to use Vim for programming, this online course will give you a thorough grounding.

Learning Curve Vs Speed

Pretty much everyone agrees that Vim has a much steeper learning curve than Emacs. However, Vim’s fans claim that putting in the extra effort is worth it because you will ultimately be able to work much faster and more comfortably in Vim. In particular, they point to the fact that the creator of Emacs suffered seriously from Repetitive Stress Injury as proof that Emacs’ reliance on Ctrl + combinations of keys forces the user to frequently adopt unnatural hand positions.


You can customize Emacs by installing plugins or defining your own custom elisp functions. Vim also allows functions and macros to be defined. One of the most helpful features of Emacs is the ability to switch between different modes, which can provide syntax highlighting and standardized templates when programming in various languages.

You can learn how to use the advanced features of Emacs for programming in the free course CS107: Programming Paradigms.

Share your opinion on the Vim vs Emacs debate in the comments below!