VIMTIP! Named Registers, Macros & Black Holes

A little bit ago, I covered the basics of Vim registers. We’ve got a good handle on yanking, deleting and putting, but registers have a bit more to offer. Let’s dig in a little deeper and see if we can’t find the good stuff.

Named Registers

You can assign deletes, yanks & macros to named registers. All alpha characters are fair game to use. But be careful: lowercase & uppercase characters are not the same.

Lowercase letters are used to assign or replace anything in that register. Uppercase letters are used to append to registers. Let’s use the following text as an example.

Now put your hands up
Up in the club, we just broke up, I'm doing my own little thing.
Decided to dip and now you wanna trip
'Cause another brother noticed me

So you decided that “Now put your hands up” is something you want to reference throughout the file. Let’s head up to line 1 and yank that in to register a: "ayy

Great! Now we can use that text in the a register until we replace it.

But shoot! We just remembered that the first line has no power without the second. Let’s add that to our register. Head up to line 2, and enter "Ayy. That’s going to append line 2 to the text already in there. Fantastic!

Now whenever we need to tell our ex-boyfriend that we’re partying it up, we can just enter "ap and we’re good to go.


Macros record a sequence of commands to playback at a later time. And guess what? They’re stored in a register!

Let’s use our fantastic set of lyrics up top again. We like them so much, we want to put a ring on it. No problem, let’s do that with a macro.

Head up to the first line and hit qa. That tells Vim to start recording to the a register. Now we just need to execute the commands to add a ring to one line. I(<esc>A)<esc> That will wrap our line in parenthesis (a ring). Hit q to stop the recording and now drop down a line. Hit @a and the macro will replay those commands.

If we want to execute that macro for all lines in one fell swoop, we can either include it in the strategy of recording the macro and run it three times with 3@a. Or, we can visually select each line we want the macro to run on and in command mode execute :norm! @a.

How cool is that? We modified all the lines in substantially less commands!

System Clipboard

Many times I’ve needed to copy something outside of Vim and paste it in. I could :set paste, paste in the goods and remember to :set nopaste but that’s not a very Vim way to do it. Use the "+ register to paste that content in.


Sometimes you need to delete text and never see it again. Send it into the nether regions of our computers to be forgotten forever. More importantly, you don’t want that text messing up the numbered registers currently stored. The black hole register: "_ will do just that. "_dd will delete the line to the black hole register and not effect any of the other registers. See ya later text, nice knowing you.

Macros & named registers have easily found a place in my Vim tool belt. It makes the tedious text editing tasks more enjoyable and saves my fingers keystroke fatigue. (The Good Stuff, if you will.)

Happy Vim'ing!

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