`gn` in Vim

Back to vim this week! This one might be a bit esoteric–apologies in advance–but it’s such a useful feature that I had to share.

gn is a kinda-sorta-but-not-really-motion that selects the matches of the current search pattern. It’s kind of like n (go to next match in search), except it also selects the contents of the match in visual mode. But where it really shines is when used with operators like c (change), etc to operate on the match. Quick demo to see it in action, before continuing:

So this is nice for a few reasons. First, it’s neat to be able to operate on just the match of a search. I remember a few times before I found gn where I was doing something similar to the demo, tried to use cw, and got mildly annoyed that I had to retype half the word because the w motion was too aggressive.

Another nice thing is that with gn, the dot command will both move to the next match and repeat whatever operation you did, instead of having to do the movement and operation separately using n.. It seems petty, but hey it’s a full 50% keystroke savings!!

Arguably, the demo above could have been done with an ex command like :%s/test/actual (universal search and replace), but I think gn still offers a lot. It works on all operators, so ygn would yank the match, gUgn would uppercase the match, and so on. Plus, it allows an easy on-the-fly workflow that’s still decently fast without the “crap I have to tune all the edge cases in my expression”: for example, if you want to only change some instances of test to actual, but others to sandbox.

As always, see :h gn for more details. Also note that gn has only been available since vim 7.4 or something like that, but there’s no reason anyone shouldn’t be using the latest on their personal boxes…


This email also generated some additional discussion, which led to my discovery of the multi-select feature in Sublime, and the associated vim plugin. It seems like it’s in a different spirit than gn, but still a very cool way of thinking about operating on search results that I had not seen before.