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Let's assume there is a macro stored in register 'r'

I can obtain the contents of this register by executing getreg('r'), but if I print this then it can often be unreadable.

I noticed though that if I execute :registers that the contents of the 'r' register is displayed in a readable format.

Is there a way to do this without calling :registers?

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Assuming you want to put the register contents in a buffer use Normal mode command sequence "rp. That'll produce the same thing as you'd see with :reg r.

The thing with getreg() is that it doesn't attempt to output printable characters. For example, if register "r" contains a backspace and you send getreg('r') output to a buffer (e.g. with <C-R>=getreg('r') while in Insert mode) then the backspace will actually move the cursor back. But if you paste the register directly you'll see printable translations of everything. (Example: for me backspace is displayed as <80>kb.)

Note that there is a function that does similar translation to printable characters on whatever you pass to it called strtrans(). Modifying the Insert mode command mentioned above to be <C-R>=strtrans(getreg('r')) will display the same thing as "rp.

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    Sorry for the confusion, but yes you are right, the strtrans function is exactly what I was looking for :) – Steve Vermeulen Dec 15 '19 at 0:01
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    No worries. It seemed at first like you were looking for "rp but everyone beyond beginner knows that, right? Remembering strtrans(), though, and I was pretty sure I had what you were looking for one way or the other. – B Layer Dec 15 '19 at 0:40

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