I would like to edit files passed in pipeline input using vim in non-interactive way or edit files in-place (similar to sed).

Few examples using sed:

$ sed -i'.bak' s/foo/test/g file   # Edit file in-place.
$ cat file | sed s/foo/test/g      # Parse file in pipeline.

However I could read in here, that:

sed is a Stream EDitor, not a file editor. Nevertheless, people everywhere tend to abuse it for trying to edit files. It doesn't edit files.

Secondly some options such as in-place editing (-i) is portable.

How the same functionality can be achieved in vim?

  • I think you can drop the second file from your second commandline. Oct 17, 2015 at 14:33
  • @joeytwiddle Done.
    – kenorb
    Oct 17, 2015 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


To edit file non-interactively using ex (vi is the visual mode for ex), you can use +{command} or -c {command} parameters which allows you to execute the vi commands after the first file has been read.

The ex is a standard command-line editor (similar to ed).

There is also vipe (a Vim command pipe editor) should be used which is part of moreutils package and it will allows you to run your editor in the middle of a unix pipeline and edit the data that is being piped between programs.


Simple standard input and output using pipes can be achieved by this shell syntax:

$ ex -sc'%p|q!' <(echo Example)
$ echo Example | ex -sc'%p|q!' /dev/stdin

Here is simple example how to print the file after substitution:

$ ex /etc/hosts +%s/127/128/ge -sc'%p|q!'

More examples for editing files in-place:

$ ex +'%s/127/128/g' -cswq file
$ ex -sc '%s/olddomain\.com/newdomain.com/g|x' file
$ printf '%s\n' 'g/olddomain\.com/s//newdomain.com/g' w q | ex -s file
$ ex -s "$file" <<< $'g/old/s//new/g\nw\nq'
$ ex -sc 'argdo %s/old/new/ge|x' ./**
$ find . -type f -exec ex -sc '%s/old/new/g|x' {} \;

You can also use -s {scriptin} so the commands are loaded from the file, in example:

$ printf "%s\n" '%s/foo/test/ge' 'wq' > cmds.vim
$ vim -s cmds.vim -es file

or using I/O redirection:

$ vim file < cmds.vim

To edit one file and save the changes to another, check the following examples:

$ ex +%s/127/128/g -sc'wq! new_file' /etc/hosts
$ cat /etc/hosts /etc/fstab | vim - -es '+:%s/foo/test/g' '+:wq! file3'

More practical examples.

Real live example from the RPM specification:

vim -E -s Makefile <<-EOF
   :%substitute/CFLAGS = -g$/CFLAGS =-fPIC -DPIC -g/
   :%substitute/CFLAGS =$/CFLAGS =-fPIC -DPIC/
   :%substitute/ADAFLAGS =$/ADAFLAGS =-fPIC -DPIC/

Extracting html tags:

ex -s +'bufdo!/<div.*id=.the_div_id/norm nvatdggdG"2p' +'bufdo!%p' -cqa! *.html

Removing XML tags:

ex -s +'%s/<[^>].\{-}>//ge' +%p +q! file.txt

Removing style tag from the header and print the parsed output:

curl -s http://example.com/ | ex -s +'/<style.*/norm nvatd' +%p -cq! /dev/stdin

Parse html with multiple complex rules:

ex -V1 $PAGE <<-EOF
  " Correcting missing protocol, see: https://github.com/wkhtmltopdf/wkhtmltopdf/issues/2359 "
  " Correcting relative paths, see: https://github.com/wkhtmltopdf/wkhtmltopdf/issues/2359 "
  " Remove the margin on the left of the main block. "
  %s/id="doc_container"/id="doc_container" style="min-width:0px;margin-left : 0px;"/g
  %s/<div class="outer_page/<div style="margin: 0px;" class="outer_page/g
  " Remove useless html elements. "
  /<div.*id="global_header"/norm nvatd
  wq " Update changes and quit.

Even more examples:

See also:

  • 5
    This is a UUOC; simply use vim '+:0,$s/foo/test/g' '+:wq! file2' file1 instead.
    – Doorknob
    Feb 14, 2015 at 12:49
  • 2
    Note that at least some of these examples aren't POSIX-compliant, for instance, bufdo. Even though Vim is what's installed virtually everywhere, it's worth knowing that you can script file editing using only POSIX-compliant features of ex.
    – Wildcard
    Jan 7, 2016 at 9:19
  • This question & answer is what first inspired me to look into ex and really learn it. Thank you. Some further reading on this subject (full disclosure: I wrote these ;) is: reversing every four lines with ex, and using the -c option. You might add them to your link list at the bottom, if you want. :)
    – Wildcard
    Feb 3, 2016 at 20:03

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