How to learn Spacemacs as a vim/emacs newbie?

I have used Sublime Text for a long time now. (Before that, I used Notepad++ for an equally long time. When I was still using Windows.)

However, I have seen many people on this forum talk very enthusiastically about Spacemacs, and I really like the idea of being able to control all of my computer without touching my mouse. I love the idea of key bindings. These last three years, I have been depending on the terminal for more and more of my daily tasks.

Therefore, I decided that I wanted to learn how to use Spacemacs.
So, I installed it and tried to learn it. However:

  • The emacs starting tutorial is hard to follow, as spacemacs has rebound nearly all of even the most basic commands.
  • The evil-mode starting tutorial presumes that you have a background in vim, emacs or both.
  • When I try to perform some emacs command, it turns out I am actually in some weird vim-mode and the keypresses do not do what I think they should be doing.
  • None of my prior knowledge of keybindings (Ctrl+C to copy, Ctrl+X to cut, Ctrl+V to paste, Ctrl+Z to undo, Ctrl+Y to redo, Ctrl with arrow keys to move between words, Shift with arrow keys to select larger portions of text, etc) applies here.

So, in summary: Help!

I feel like this is a very powerful tool, but I have absolutely no idea how to get started.
What would be a good way to learn Spacemacs, as someone who knows their way around the terminal and Sublime Text, but has no clue about both Vim and Emacs?

Thank you :slight_smile:


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If you have no background on vim, choose the emacs mode on first install, this way you have only to learn emacs bindings, and you can ignore all that edit/read-mode stuff, that in my opinion often confuses. As I do read your history in editors, you are used to type, not to mode-switching.

After you have choosen the emacs-flavored spacemacs, you can safely follow the emacs tutorials.

And you will get used to the context-switching between emacs and the outer world, when it comes to bindings. You will totally not realize the popping “save as…” window of your browser when you want to search something, you just hit cancel without even noticing. It will feel some day as if C-s ESC C-f is the native keybinding for searching on the current website :wink:

You will also get used to all the other key bindings and you will be able to switch back and forth depending on the active application.


It’s a bit rough but I went cold turkey to vanilla EMACS (VIM just didn’t gel with me).

Basically make a cheat sheet with your most common editing tasks (like on a note on your smart phone or the like) and google all the emacs equivalent steps (install all the modes you need by whatever means necessary - the “all-in-one packages” tend to be a bit overwhelming, so I’d go one at a time as you need them).

And then basically stay away from any other editor for a long while (while continually updating your cheat sheet and configuration). It’s a bit painful in the beginning but after a while the pace picks up a bit.


Don’t play down how useful VIM modes are, it simplifies a lot of work and a lot of commands. ^.^

/me is a heavy vim user


I would say for the vim part try in your terminal the vimtutor. It will show you what vim is about. That knowledge is mostly transferable to spacemacs evil mode.

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I would advice to install Atom and use the proton plugin (github) it mimics spacemacs/vim inside Atom (also plugins for any other stuff/languages you might want). This will be a smooth transition from Sublime Text as sublime and Atom are very similar and you will still be able to use mouse, multiple cursors and other stuff like you are used to. Once you feel more familiar with using just the keyboard you can move to the real thing!

Also whenever you find yourself in the terminal and want to edit something fast just use vim. This will help you get familiar with the vim way of things.
Being a former vimer myself I find the vim editing style superior, however I might just be used to it.

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I learned by building up my own vimrc adding one plug at a time, looking at the key maps that went with them and exploring the functionality each plug offered. I still have about two dozen pages of handwritten notes about how to do a certain things in vim. Afterwards Spacemacs started making a lot more sense. Only had to add two more pages to my notes about org mode :wink:

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If you want to use it in evil mode, there is a game to learn the key bindings

Practice, it’s super cool to use only your keyboard :slight_smile:


I want to thank you again for all your replies!

As soon as I’d followed a few tutorials on Vim and Emacs, I was amazed how fast it’s possible to learn the basic keybindings.

I’m far from ‘fluent’ in Spacemacs, but I now feel confident enough to use it in my daily routine. The thing that has impressed me the most so far, is org-mode. Mind = Blown.

Still need to get used to hjkl instead of ← ↑ ↓→, though :sweat_smile:

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Hi Qqwy! I’m in the same boat you were in when you posted in September 2016! I’m trying to decide how to get started with emacs/spacemacs, coming from Notepad++ and Sublime Text. My main motivation is based on being excited by what I’ve read of org-mode… can’t wait to try it! :slight_smile:

It looks like by October that you were happy with Spacemacs. I’m going to to this way, too.

My question is: upon first installation, you are asked whether to use full vim/evil mode (default) or the emacs/evil hybrid mode. Which did you use? What would you recommend, two and a half years later?


Just as yesterday, I was cleaning my computer to try to learn once and from all the vim way, becuase I’m tired of going to mouse to do stuff on vscode. So any prompts will be nice to me too, also I have a question for the vim users. How do you move to the right of the ending parenthesis when typing ?

Example: def hello(myarg|) how do I get out of parenthesis and keep typing without using arrow keys?

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If you have a plugin that autocompletes parenthesis then just typing ) would move it over, or hit the ‘end’ key if that’s the end of the line, etc… What are you wanting/expecting?

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Since we’re talking about Spacemacs running evil-mode (and currently in insert mode), I just hit Ctrl+f (which is a standard Emacs keybinding)

Edit: And I actually program in the same binding into my .vimrc when I use vim

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Oh right! I think my muscle memory was going for tab because of IntelliJ, then my brain crashed, going to arrow keys again :smile:

Lol, <tab>, like if it’s a snippet, the snippet plugins do that if it was a snippet that was put in. ^.^

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I went full-on vim, and are very happy with that choice.

The one disadvantage that has is that when faced with emacs or vim on another computer, I only know some vim- and some emacs-keybindings. But working with it is a blast!

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Thanks–I think I’ll dive in the same way you did! Re-reading the full thread, I see you wrote:

As soon as I’d followed a few tutorials on Vim and Emacs, I was amazed how fast it’s possible to learn the basic keybindings.
The thing that has impressed me the most so far, is org-mode. Mind = Blown.

Is there any chance you remember which tutorial(s) was/were most helpful in your earliest days?

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I did the included Vim-tutorial to get up to speed with the basics. Besides this, I looked up some common keybindings for the mayor modes (= the integrations for programming languages) I was using. Using SPC SPC gives you a list of all commands that you can search/filter through, with for each command listing the shortcut as well. That is how I learned the rest.