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Learn Vim at your own pace with my self-study Core Vim Course.

Hard wrapping text


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It is sometimes preferable to format text with hard wrapped lines, for example when writing emails in plaintext. Vim can apply this style of formatting for you. This episode shows some of the options which allow you to customize Vim’s text formatting.


The gq{motion} command will format a section of text. The ip motion selects the current paragraph, so gqip applies formatting to the current paragraph.

Running the gq command moves the cursor to the end of the paragraph. If you want to keep the cursor on the same word, you can instead run the command gw.

The textwidth setting is a number representing the maximum allowed width of a line. When set to zero, which is the default, Vim will use the full width of the window up to a maximum of 80 characters. When set to a value above zero, Vim will format lines of text so as not to exceed the value of textwidth.

The wrapmargin setting can be used to specify the number of characters from the right window border where wrapping begins. This can be useful if you have number or foldcolumn enabled, as both of these use up some of the width of the window. The textwidth setting takes precedence over wrapmargin.

You can influence how Vim applies formatting with the formatoptions setting. This is a string, which may contain any of the flags defined in fo-table. You can set the formatoptions to a string by direct assignment:

:set formatoptions=tcq

You can also add and remove flags from the list, with the following invocations:

:set fo+=a
:set fo-=n

In the video, I demonstrate how Vim behaves when inserting, editing and deleting text with a blank formatoptions string, then with fo=t, and finally with fo=ta.

Note that the gq command will only invoke Vim’s internal formatter if both the formatexpr and formatprg options are blank. On the other hand, the gw command will always invoke Vim’s internal formatting engine, even if one of the alternate formatters is enabled.

Further reading


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