Linux Tutorial Series

Linux Tutorial Series – 89.1 – Text editors

Let’s talk about text editing in Linux.

Resources like (Ward, 2014)⁠ tell you that you should learn how to use either Emacs or vi. I don’t think that you need to know either Emacs or vi if you are a regular Linux user (meaning someone who is using Linux on your desktop machine). You can almost always use your Linux distributions default text editor and that will work great for you.

To argue my point a bit – a regular Linux user, who is just using Linux for activities such as web browsing, reading PDFs, editing Word-like documents etc. will most likely never need to meddle with vi or Emacs. He or she can always use the default text editor for editing the files that have to be edited.

However, here are two scenarios where it will be extremely beneficial for you to know how to use vi or Emacs (more likely vi than Emacs):

  • When you are using a computer that doesn’t have text editors with graphical user interface on it. Then you will, in most cases, have to use vi, because Emacs doesn’t come preinstalled on most distributions.
  • When you encounter a tutorial online about how to do something in Linux and they use either Emacs or vi to edit a certain file. This argument is really meek because you can always do the same change in another text editor, but maybe the tutorial isn’t clearly written and you have a hard time following it without following it to the letter. That way, you don’t really know what is going on and that is almost always bad.

Given the above points, my advice is to learn the basics of both Emacs and vi(especially vi), if and only if you are a person who uses computers professionally (like a software developer). I, as a software developer, have encountered times where I had to use vi, or where knowing the basics of vi would have eased my task at hand tremendously. So it is always a good idea to know how to use vi and you can learn how to use Emacs if you really want to. I would urge you to learn the basics of both Emacs and vi before jumping deep into either one or the other. Once you know both at a basic level, then you can expand to the one you like better (if you want).

I will guide you through the basics of these text editors in the upcoming articles.

Thank you for reading!


Ward, B. (2014). How Linux Works: What Every Superuser Should Know (2nd ed.). No Starch Press. Pages 24-25