Learn Vimscript the Hard Way


The next type of variable we'll look at is the String. Since Vim is all about manipulating text you'll be using this one quite a bit.

Run the following command:

:echom "Hello"

Vim will echo Hello. So far, so good.


One of the most common things you'll want to do with strings is adding them together. Run this command:

:echom "Hello, " + "world"

What happened? Vim displayed 0 for some reason!

Here's the issue: Vim's + operator is only for Numbers. When you pass a string to + Vim will try to coerce it to a Number before performing the addition. Run the following command:

:echom "3 mice" + "2 cats"

This time Vim displays 5, because the strings are coerced to the numbers 3 and 2 respectively.

When I said "Number" I really meant Number. Vim will not coerce strings to Floats! Try this command to see prove this:

:echom 10 + "10.10"

Vim displays 20 because it dropped everything after the decimal point when coercing 10.10 to a Number.

To combine strings you need to use the concatenation operator. Run the following command:

:echom "Hello, " . "world"

This time Vim displays Hello, world. . is the "concatenate strings" operator in Vim, which lets you combine strings. It doesn't add whitespace or anything else in between.

Coercion works both ways. Kind of. Try this command:

:echom 10 . "foo"

Vim will display 10foo. First it coerces 10 to a String, then it concatenates it with the string on the right hand side. Things get a bit stickier when we're working with Floats, though. Run this command:

:echom 10.1 . "foo"

This time Vim throws an error, saying we're using a Float as a String. Vim will happily let you use a String as a Float when performing addition, but won't let you use a Float as a String when concatenating.

The moral of this story is that Vim is a lot like Javascript: it allows you to play fast and loose with types sometimes, but it's a really bad idea to do so because it will come back to bite you at some point.

When writing Vimscript, make sure you know what the type of each of your variables is. If you need to change that type you should use a function to explicitly change it, even if it's not strictly necessary at the moment. Don't rely on Vim's coercion because at some point you will regret it.

Special Characters

Like most programming languages, Vimscript lets you use escape sequences in strings to represent hard-to-type characters. Run the following command:

:echom "foo \"bar\""

The \" in the string is replaced with a double quote character, as you would probably expect. Escape sequences work mostly as you would expect. Run the following command:

:echom "foo\\bar"

Vim displays foo\bar, because \\ is the escape sequence for a literal backslash, just like in most programming languages. Now run the following command (note that it's an echo and not an echom):

:echo "foo\nbar"

This time Vim will display two lines, foo and bar, because the \n is replaced with a newline. Now try running this command:

:echom "foo\nbar"

Vim will display something like foo^@bar. When you use echom instead of echo with a String Vim will echo the exact characters of the string, which sometimes means that it will show a different representation than plain old echo. ^@ is Vim's way of saying "newline character".

Literal Strings

Vim also lets you use "literal strings" to avoid excessive use of escape sequences. Run the following command:

:echom '\n\\'

Vim displays \n\\. Using single quotes tells Vim that you want the string exactly as-is, with no escape sequences. The one exception is that two single quotes in a row will produce one single quote. Try this command:

:echom 'That''s enough.'

Vim will display That's enough.. Two single quotes is the only sequence that has special meaning in a literal string.

We'll revisit literal strings when they become most useful, later in the book (when we dive into regular expressions).


You might be wondering how Vim treats strings when used in an if statement. Run the following command:

:if "foo"
:  echo "yes"
:  echo "no"

Vim will display no. If you're wondering why this happens you should reread the chapter on conditionals, because we talked about it there.


Read :help expr-quote. Review the list of escape sequences you can use in a normal Vim string. Find out how to insert a tab character.

Try to figure out a way to insert a tab character into a string without using an escape sequence. Read :help i_CTRL-V for a hint.

Read :help literal-string.