Unix Guide - OIT Unix Editors

Last Updated: 10/19/2012


Three screen editors are available on OIT Unix systems. They are pico, vi, and emacs.


Pico is the editor that pine uses by default to compose messages. If you use pine, you will find pico very easy to use. Even if you do not use pine, pico is a very simple screen editor to learn. The commands are always listed at the bottom of the screen. If you lack experience with editors, this is probably the one for you.

To view the online manual pages for this edtor, type man pico at the prompt:

spot> man pico


vi (pronounced vee-eye) is a full-screen display editor. Although it is not the most intuitive or easiest editor to learn, knowing it has some advantages. vi is the standard Unix editor; therefore you will find it on virtually any Unix machine you will ever come across, and the key sequences will always be the same. For this reason we recommend that you have at least a casual knowledge of vi. This way, no matter what Unix environment you move into, you will be able to do basic editing.

To view the online manual pages for this editor, type man vi at the prompt:

spot> man vi

A number of books cover basic and advanced editing in vi. The standard Berkeley Unix documentation set also has an introduction to editing with vi. In addition, there is vi documentation on the Web.

OIT offers a quick guide to vi commands.


emacs is a more powerful screen editor than vi and allows you to edit multiple files by dividing the screen into windows. It has many commands and is extendable through a lisp-like language called elisp.

The .emacs file in your home directory is used to configure gnuemacs when you start it up. By default, emacs uses the emacs default key sequences. emacs also provides elisp files that describe specialized editing modes.

Help with emacs

OIT does not support emacs, nor does OIT supply any emacs manuals. However, there is extensive online help and a tutorial within the emacs program. Note that starting emacs without a filename will bring up an opening screen that gives the key sequences for calling up help and the tutorial.