Can I substitute multiple items in a single regular expression in VIM or Perl?

You can do this in vim using a Dictionary:


This will change the following text:

The quick brown fox ran quickly next to the lazy brook.


The slow brown fox ran slowly next to the energetic brook.

To see how this works, see :help sub-replace-expression and :help Dictionary. In short,

  • \= lets you substitute in the result of a vim expression.
  • {'quick':'slow', 'lazy':'energetic'} is a vim dictionary (like a hash in perl or ruby, or an object in javascript) that uses [] for lookups.
  • submatch(0) is the matched string

This can come in handy when refactoring code – say you want to exchange the variable names for foo, bar, and baz changing

  • foobar
  • barbaz
  • bazfoo

Using a sequence of %s/// commands would be tricky, unless you used temporary variable names – but you’d have to make sure those weren’t hitting anything else. Instead, you can use a Dictionary to do it in one pass:


Which changes this code

int foo = 0;
float bar = pow(2.0, (float) foo);
char baz[256] = {};

sprintf(baz,"2^%d = %f\n", foo, bar);


int bar = 0;
float baz = pow(2.0, (float) bar);
char foo[256] = {};

sprintf(foo,"2^%d = %f\n", bar, baz);

If you find yourself doing this a lot, you may want to add the following to your ~/.vimrc:

" Refactor the given lines using a dictionary
" replacing all occurences of each key in the dictionary with its value
function! Refactor(dict) range
  execute a:firstline . ',' . a:lastline .  's/\C\<\%(' . join(keys(a:dict),'\|'). '\)\>/\='.string(a:dict).'[submatch(0)]/ge'

command! -range=% -nargs=1 Refactor :<line1>,<line2>call Refactor(<args>)

This lets you use the :Refactor {'frog':'duck', 'duck':'frog'} command, and is slightly
less repetitive than creating the regex for the dict manually.

Leave a Comment