In vim :make makes it easy to build and fix errors, and :grep and :vimgrep behaves like :make. But why do you need these two commands? Why not just search for the pattern and just press n? What are the advantages of them over just searching?

4 Answers 4


As the doc say:

Vim has two ways to find matches for a pattern: Internal and external.

In a nutshell, :vimgrep uses Vim's grep mechanism to read and find in files. :grep uses an external commands to achieve the same job.

The / search is for the current buffer only, whereas :[vim]grep search through a pattern of files, allowing you to search in an entire project at once.

Have a look at :h grep for more information.


One benefit of :[vim]grep over /? is that the results get put into the quickfix list (or location list if you use :l[vim]grep), this means that you can pull up a list of all matches using :cl. You can then use a number to go directly to the result you want from the list.

It also means that you can use the same command for searching the current buffer :[vim]grep pattern % as for searching your entire code base :[vim]grep pattern path so there's some nice symmetry to it.

Further to this you can then branch out and use the Silver Surfer / Ripgrep to give you very powerful searching. These can be mapped to the :[vim]grep command.


/? only search the current buffer but :grep and :vimgrep take arbitrary files/patterns/globs as arguments.


There are 3 primary advantages I see

  1. Use a consistent regex engine/syntax: Using :grep/vimgrep allows you to define a grepprg, which can be defined to grep/ack/ag etc. Using this you can search the current buffer or multiple buffers/files, using a consistent regex engine. On the other hand, if you use vim’s/pattern option, you are stuck on vim’s default regex engine, which has a different syntax compared to extended regular expression syntax. So, anytime you have to search for an expression, you will have to think/remember whether you should use \) or just ) and other differences. This can be very annoying (https://stackoverflow.com/questions/3864467/whats-the-difference-between-vim-regex-and-normal-regex)

  2. vimgrep populates a quickfix/location list: using :grep/vimgrep allows you to populate a search list. (https://medium.com/@lakshmankumar12/quickfix-and-location-list-in-vim-ca0292ac894d).

    If you do want to use the location list, you can use ]q shortcut to navigate it if you have Tim-Popes unimpaired plugin (https://github.com/tpope/vim-unimpaired)

  3. complicated searches while within vim: typically if you have to do complicated searches you may have to use the command line. However, if you define the greprg properly and use a command such as [1]

    :vim /pattern1/ find . -type f

    You can do very complicated searches and display the search results in your location list or quickfix list.

[1] http://vimcasts.org/episodes/search-multiple-files-with-vimgrep/

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