Recursive Macros in Vim

Rich Rines

Macros in vim can be a huge time saver, especially if they apply to a large number of lines. A trick I’ve been using recently is to use recursive macros to format large chunks of a file.

Let’s say we have the following list of thousands of dates:


And we want to change each to the following:

10/30/2013 : 10-30-2013
11/30/2013 : 11-30-2013
12/30/2013 : 12-30-2013

Macro Recording Time

Let’s create the macro:

qqq             #clear out anything that may already be in the q register
qq              #start recording a macro and store it in the q register
y$              #copy to the end of the current line
A               #append the end of the current line
<Space>:<Space> #add a colon surrounded by spaces
<Escape>        #return to visual mode
p               #paste the date from the buffer
F/              #find the last instance of /
r-              #replace the / with a -
;.              #repeat the last find and replace
^               #go to the front of the line
j               #move down one line
@q              #make the macro recursive by having it invoke itself
q               #stop recording the macro

Now when you run @q vim will run the macro on every line until it finishes while you sit back and relax. I like using recursive macros because the loop will be exited if it fails to execute on a line. This improves the speed of making changes without risking applying it incorrectly throughout the file, provided you write your macros carefully.

What’s next

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