Vim Tip: Relative line numbers

Introduction to the series: I’m learning vim & documenting any struggles along the way. (I’ve been using it for 3 years now, AND I STILL SUCK AT IT).


By default, in vim, you don’t get any line numbers. To enable this “feature”, you need to put set number into your .vimrc. Or type it in every time you want see what line you’re on ¯\(ツ)/¯. This gives you “absolute line numbers” (the first line is marked as 1, the second line is marked as 2 and so on). Cool.

Once you start to feel, you’re vim-ninja-ness™ is going up, absolute line numbers are no longer an option.

Relative line numbers

First of all, why would you want to use this? Relative line numbers are super useful for jumping around in vim. Say I want to jump 5 lines up. I can do 5k in normal mode. However, how do I know, how many lines to jump? Do you count them by hand? No. You use relative line numbers.

You can enable it by using the set relativenumber command.

This feature marks every line using a relative offset from the current line. Eg. if you are on line 32, line 31 is marked as 1, line 30 is marked as 2 etc. Same goes for the other direction. Line 33 is 1, line 34 is 2.

  5 {
  4     "tabWidth": 4,
  3     "useTabs": false,
  2     "semi": true,
  1     "singleQuote": true,
> 0     "trailingComma": "all",
  1     "bracketSpacing": true,
  2     "arrowParens": "always",
  3     "printWidth": 100
  4 }

In the example above, I’m on line marked as 0. Now let’s say I want to change the value of tabWidth. I see that the line is “4 lines up”, so I can simply do 4k in normal mode and I’m there!

Hybrid mode

If you use set number and set relativenumber at the same time, current line will be marked using absolute position and the rest of the lines will be marked relatively. Resulting in:

  5 {
  4     "tabWidth": 4,
  3     "useTabs": false,
  2     "semi": true,
  1     "singleQuote": true,
6       "trailingComma": "all",
  1     "bracketSpacing": true,
  2     "arrowParens": "always",
  3     "printWidth": 100
  4 }

This way you always know what line you’re on, and can jump around like a true vim-ninja™.

Cheers ✌️

Feel free to reach out to me on twitter.

© 2018 Jerguš Lejko