Changing Between Normal & Insert Modes

Normal Mode to Insert Mode

Open temp-file.txt:

vim temp-file.txt output

When opening a file, vim defaults to Normal mode.

In Normal mode commands can be given to vim. When content needs to be added the easiest option is to change from Normal mode to Insert mode.

Insert mode will allow us to type directly into the file.

You can enter Insert mode from Normal mode by typing the i key:

vim: i output

Note the text at the bottom of the terminal window changed to:

-- INSERT --

When – INSERT – is seen at the bottom of the terminal window vim is in Insert mode.


While vim is in Insert mode text can be typed directly into the file. This will be demonstrated in the next article.

Insert Mode to Normal Mode

While in Insert mode (and most other modes) you can return back to Normal mode by hitting the escape (esc) key on your keyboard.

Try it out and notice the change to the vim terminal window:

vim: esc output

Take note of the bottom of the vim terminal window, it does display – INSERT – any more indicating vim is back in Normal mode.


There are many modes in vim and it’s easy to wander into a mode you don’t understand when you are learning vim. The escape key is the best way to return back to Normal mode while in another mode. The escape key will cancel any in progress commands.

You may find yourself in an unfamiliar mode in the middle of a command, hitting escape will cancel the command, but you will need to hit escape again to return back to Normal mode. For this reason if you need to return back to Normal mode and are unsure of what’s currently happening you can simply hit the escape key two or three times.