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Programming uses many tools to design, build and execute programs. Text editors are essential tools that help create complex code, edit hypertexts, and build webpages. There are different types of text editors depending on the operating system. For instance, WindowOS uses Notepad or Wordpad to create and edit text files. Unix OS uses Emacs and Vim as the main text editors. So it’s imperative to comprehensively understand the differences between Emacs vs. Vim to make the best choice possible.

The two editors have been used for a long time, and most developers find them the best. However, there has been a constant debate among Linux developers about which one reigns supreme. We’ll compare Emacs vs. Vim to establish the difference between the two text editors to help you choose the best.

Emacs vs. Vim: Side-By-Side Comparison

Initial release  19761991
Command SyntaxEmacs uses Lisp-like syntax for commandsVim uses keyboard shortcuts and modes for commands
Learning CurveSteep learning curve but highly customizable with Emacs LispA steep learning curve, but highly efficient once mastered
ModesHas various modes, such as text, programming, and shell modesHas different modes, such as insert, normal, and visual modes
CustomizationHighly customizable with built-in Emacs Lisp programming languageCustomizable with configuration files and plugins
User InterfaceGraphical and text-based interfaceText-based interface
Operating System SupportLinux, macOS, and WindowsLinux, macOS, and Windows
Editing CapabilitiesAdvanced editing capabilities, including macros and extensive key bindingsAdvanced editing capabilities, including macros and extensive key bindings
PerformanceSlower startup time and memory usage due to extensive customization optionsFaster startup time and low memory usage
CommunityActive community with extensive documentation and supportActive community with comprehensive documentation and support

Emacs vs. Vim: What’s the Difference?

Both Emacs and Vim offer great features that leave users torn between which one to use or which is better. However, with comprehensive research comparing each text editor’s features, you can decide which one to go with at the end of the day. The two text editors differ in language, customizability, ease of use, and productivity. So, let’s look at each difference in detail.


Vim features different modes, including insert, normal and visual. The normal mode is the base or the default mode for Vim. It mainly controls the editing process, while insert mode incorporates the keystrokes in the document. The visual mode allows you to select text. The three modes allow you to create and edit the text to completion. 

Conversely, Emacs’ display editor does more than a standard text editor. Text editing is just part of what Emac does. Other functions include acting as a document browser, electronic mail client, and integrated development environment. In context, Emac is a powerful LISP (List Processor) system that you can customize with various text editing features.

Ease of Use

Every developer wants a text editor that is fast and easy to use. Vim boasts these qualities with extreme versatility, load speed, and availability. It is usually preinstalled in most Unix operating systems. Therefore, most users find it the best option. As a proprietary for most operating systems, it’s easy to learn. With a good grasp of keystrokes, users can get going quickly.

Unlike Vim, Emacs does not come preinstalled. Nevertheless, it is widely used in major operating systems, including macOS, Linux, and Windows. It allows users to edit texts, browse, create files, listen to music, and take notes.

Unix with Ken Thompson
Unix was developed in 1970 at AT&T Bell laboratories by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie.


Vim is known for being optimized for repetition, making it highly efficient for editing tasks that involve repeating actions. The editor tracks your most recent actions, allowing you to easily repeat the last change with a single keystroke. However, mastering Vim’s commands and crafting your actions can be challenging, and there is a steep learning curve. But once you have invested time and effort in learning Vim, it can be a powerful tool for editing text.

On the other hand, Emacs also has a rich set of commands for altering text, but its strength lies in its customizability. With Emacs, you can customize commands anytime, and the editor offers a wide range of customizable settings. Essentially, Emacs is an execution environment for the LISP programming language, which is Touring complete, making the capabilities of Emacs virtually limitless. This means that with Emacs, you can tailor the editor to your specific needs and workflows, making it highly efficient and versatile.

Vim’s strength lies in its efficiency for repetitive editing tasks, while Emacs is highly customizable, making it a versatile and powerful editing tool. Ultimately, the choice between Vim vs Emacs depends on personal preference and the user’s needs.


Vim and Emacs have different programming languages at their core, which affects how customizable and extensible they are. Vim’s core is written in C, and its user interface is based on the decades-old vi editor. However, Vim has evolved with many new features, and you can now extend it using plugins written in VimScript. VimScript is a built-in interface that allows developers to enhance the capabilities of Vim, but it is not as powerful or flexible as other programming languages.

On the other hand, Emacs is written in a subset of Lisp called ELisp, which gives users unparalleled control over every aspect of the editor. Lisp has a minimal, regular syntax that makes it easy to learn and use. Emacs users can use ELisp to customize everything from the GUI to the underlying code of the editor. This control level means you can tailor  Emacs to individual users’ needs and preferences.

Overall, while Vim offers a powerful and efficient editing experience, its customization options are limited compared to Emacs. With its ELisp programming language and granular level of control, Emacs offers a highly customizable and extensible editor that can be tailored to individual workflows and preferences.


Vim is known for its speed and efficiency, as it opens instantly and presents users with two modes: insert mode and command mode. In insert mode, users can type text directly into the editor, while in command mode, users can execute various commands using keyboard shortcuts. Different modes can be initially confusing, but it helps streamline editing tasks once users become familiar with them. Vim is highly customizable, with many plugins and configuration options available.

On the other hand, Emacs takes slightly longer to start up than Vim, but it offers a modeless interface similar to most text editors. However, Emacs is highly extensible and can run various programming and shell modes. Emacs’ shell mode, for example, allows users to run shell commands within Emacs, which is helpful for multitasking and staying within the same environment. Emacs can be highly customizable, with its built-in Emacs Lisp programming language, allowing users to create and customize commands.

While Vim is generally faster for pure text editing, Emacs’ customization options and extensibility make it a powerful tool for improving workflow and productivity. However, getting sidetracked by Emacs’ various features and customization options is easy and can be both a blessing and a curse. Again, the choice between Vim and Emacs depends on personal preference and workflow needs.

John McCarthy Lisp
Emacs is written in a subset of Lisp called ELisp. The founder of Lisp, John McCarthy, created it for practical mathematical notation.

Emacs vs. Vim: 8 Must-Know Facts

  • Vim features different modes, including insert, normal and visual.
  • Both text editors are available on all major operating systems, including Linux, macOS, and Windows.
  • Emacs may take longer to launch than Vim, but it provides a model interface similar to many other text editors.
  • Vim offers a powerful and efficient editing experience, but its customization options are limited compared to Emacs.
  • Vim and Emacs have different programming languages at their core, impacting their adaptability and expandability.
  • They are available in English, Chinese, French, Italian, Polish, and Russian.
  • Emacs was initially released in 1976, while Vims came in 1991.
  • Both editors are supported in the command line and graphical user interface.

Emacs vs. Vim: Which One Is Better?

Essentially, Emacs is a text editor that goes beyond its basic functionality. It can also act as an electronic mail client, an integrated development environment, a document browser, and more. Unlike Vim, Emacs is a powerful and highly customizable text editor that allows users to customize its features and extend its capabilities using the Lisp programming language. This unique feature of online extensibility is unavailable in Vim, and it allows users to write new commands or override existing ones, providing virtually limitless possibilities. 

While Vim remains one of the most popular and widely used text editors in almost every Unix-based system, on the other hand, Emacs offers a unique and powerful editing experience with its extensive customization options and diverse functionality. Overall both text editors offer great features, and now that you understand the differences, you can make the best choice based on your needs.

Emacs vs. Vim: What’s the Difference? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are the differences between Vim and Emacs?

Vim’s design philosophy revolves around minimizing keystrokes, inherited from vi’s origins as a text editor for slow terminals. In contrast, Emacs employs modifier keys for shortcuts that require pressing multiple keys simultaneously for a single function.



Why do people use Emacs or Vim?

Emacs and Vim are two text editors widely used in programming, editing, and system administration. Emacs is known for its complexity and extensive customization options, while Vim offers an efficient arrow-controlled universe of keyboard shortcuts.

What is so special about Emacs?

Emacs appears to be a standard text editor, but its core functionality runs on a live Lisp interpreter, allowing for highly customizable keyboard shortcuts and a vast range of plugins. Each keystroke is bound to a Lisp function, making it a powerful and flexible tool for text editing and customization.



What are the disadvantages of Emacs?

Customizing Emacs requires learning Emacs Lisp, which can be a significant learning curve. Additionally, if you need to edit files on a system where Emacs is not installed, and you do not have root access, Vim may be the default editor.

What are the three modes of Vim?

Vim offers three modes: Command mode for issuing commands, Execute mode for executing commands, and Insert mode for inserting text. Each mode has its own set of keyboard shortcuts and commands, allowing for efficient text editing.

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