vi and ex: As required by law or custom

I’ve been struggling for a few days now to come up with something inspiring to say about vi. After trudging through hundreds of applications to reach this point, you’d think I’d have something witty to say about a 40-year old text editor.

I’m afraid I don’t. vi is just like any other text editor, only more so.


As I understand it (and I have been known to get these things wrong) vi is the visual mode of the ex line editor, and it is true that entering :vi into ex bounces you into the same interface as you see above. It doesn’t seem to carry your document with you though.

I’m not afraid to be painfully honest here: I almost never use vi, and that’s mostly because it’s a terrifically cumbersome program for me. I do confess to using vim on a daily basis, but dropping back from vim to vi is like trading a rocket ship for a paper airplane.

In fact, I can think of only one time when I use vi specifically, and generally I only do it once on each installation.


Yes, it’s the crummy sudoers file, the one that demands that you edit it with visudo. Invariably it takes me three or four attempts to get it right, usually because any misstep in vi is answered with a flashing screen and a mangled file. I bail out before I do so much damage that I have to wipe the entire system and start over. 🙄

As for ex, I don’t see a whole lot of differences between it and ed, even if it was supposedly written out of frustration with the latter. It’s just as cumbersome and curmudgeonly as the other, and neither one is likely to win my endorsement any time soon. 👿

I think that’s enough said. I won’t disparage vi too much, since it has a place in computing history that can’t be denied. I won’t claim that I use it much either, unless required by law or custom.

13 thoughts on “vi and ex: As required by law or custom

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  5. klg

    Most notable difference between ed and ex is, of course, that the later had a visual mode — vi. But it’s not the only one. For example, ex, unlike ed, had multiple buffers (yank command!) and also could execute their content as macros (@). Every time you start a command with a colon in vi or vim, you’re effectively escaping for one line to the rich command language of ex. Ed had *much* simpler language consisting only of handful of single-letter commands. You obviously didn’t try hard enough looking into it if you can claim not to see differences. But I won’t blame you for this, we have virtual terminals and GUI now, no one wants to use line editors anymore.
    But what do you mean by not carrying your document with you? You can seamlessly switch between vi/ex modes (regardless whether you start with ex or vi, or even vim!) while editing a file without loosing anything (you already know that :vi command enters visual, to switch from visual to ex mode, press Q).

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