Elvis (text editor)

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Original author(s) Steve Kirkendall
Stable release 2.2 / 2003-10-21
Written in C
Platform Cross-platform,including Unix, Linux and Microsoft Windows
Available in English
Type Text editor
License Clarified Artistic License
Website http://elvis.the-little-red-haired-girl.org

Elvis is a vi/ex clone, i.e. it resembles the Unix text editor "vi" very much but adds quite a few commands and features. Elvis is written by Steve Kirkendall and is distributed under the Clarified Artistic License which is used by Perl and is a GPL-compatible free software license.

Elvis is the version of vi that comes with Slackware, Frugalware, KateOS, and MINIX 3.


Elvis was the pioneering vi clone, widely admired in the 1990s for its conciseness, and many features.[1][2] It influenced the development of Vim until about 1997.[3][4]

It was the first to provide color syntax highlighting (and to generalize syntax highlighting to multiple file types), first to provide highlighted selections via keyboard.

Elvis's built-in nroff (early) and (later) html displays gave it unusual WYSIWYG features.

Example of Elvis' hypertext help screen.

Elvis recognizes binary files, as well and provides a split screen for editing them.

Example of Elvis' hexadecimal editing mode.

jelvis, a Japanese variant, is available, based on work by Jun-ichiro itojun Hagino up until 1998.[5] His more recent work in this area has been distributed as patches against nvi. A Korean variant helvis is also available, originally by Park Chong-Dae.[6][7] These variants were modifications of elvis 1.8 (July 10, 1994).[8] The nvi editor is based on an older version of elvis 1.5 (April 2, 1992).[9]


Elvis is an enhanced clone of vi. To understand the full context in which Elvis was created, readers should consider the history of vi. In this section we examine the version history of Elvis almost exclusively.

Steve Kirkendall posted the first version of Elvis to the Usenet newsgroup comp.os.minix in early January, 1990, intending it to be a more complete and faithful clone of Vi than Tim Thompson's Stevie (ST editor for VI enthusiasts), released three years previously.[10][11] Kirkendall outlined several ways in which Elvis was different from Stevie, namely:

  • The text is stored in a temporary file, just like the real vi, and unlike stevie. Because of this, you can edit files that are larger than a single process' data space. Also, you can recover your file after a crash or power failure.
  • Arrow keys work in input mode. In fact, if you invoke the editor via the name "input", then it will start editing in input mode. You can make your changes, and then exit by hitting Control-Z twice, and NEVER go into visual command mode. In other words, elvis can act pretty much like a normal editor -- something that the real vi certainly can't do.
  • Long lines are displayed differently. Where vi and stevie wrap the line onto several rows of the screen, elvis displays it on one row and allows you to scroll sideways.

In addition, Elvis almost all ex/vi commands worked (except  :@, :abbr, and :preserve in ex mode and @ in visual mode and appending to named buffers).[12]

It quickly attracted considerable interest in a number of enthusiast communities.[13] Andrew Tanenbaum quickly asked the community to decide one of these two editors to be the vi clone in Minix;[12] Elvis was chosen, and remains the vi clone for Minix today.

In 1989, Lynne Jolitz and William Jolitz began porting BSD Unix to run on 386 class processors, but to create a free distribution they needed to avoid any AT&T-contaminated code, including Joy's vi. To fill the void left by removing vi, their 1992 386BSD distribution adopted Elvis as its vi replacement. But at UC Berkeley, Keith Bostic wanted a “bug for bug compatible” replacement for Joy's vi for BSD 4.4 Lite. Using Kirkendall's Elvis (version 1.8) as a starting point, Bostic created nvi, releasing it in Spring of 1994.[14][14]

In August 1994, Kirkendall announced that he was working on a major rewrite of Elvis,[15] and in October 1996, it was ready for release.[16] The new version had a number of new features, including

  • Multiple edit buffers, so you can edit several files at the same time.
  • Multiple windows, so those edit buffers can share screen space.
  • Multiple display modes, including...
    • "normal" which looks like the traditional vi screen
    • "hex" which is good for viewing binary files
    • "syntax" which supports syntax coloring (configurable)
    • "man" which formats Unix man-pages like nroff
    • "html" which formats Web pages
  • Online hypertextual help
  • A variety of user interfaces, including...
    • "termcap" which uses text screens like the traditional vi
    • "x11" which provides a GUI interface for Unix/X Window users
    • Compiling: elvis can parse error messages, and move to source of error
  • WYSIWYG printing, with drivers for most printer types
  • Built-in calculator with a C-like syntax
  • Extreme customizability
  • "Open" mode, for one-line-at-a-time editing even on very dumb terminals

In December 1998, Kirkendall released Elvis 2.1,[17] with added features, including name completion, via the <Tab> key, network protocols (allowing can reading/writing via Web URLs), and a "tex" display mode. Kirkendall maintained the 2.1 release with bugfixes and minor enhancements as 2.1_1, 2.1_2, 2.1_3, and culminating in 2.1_4, released in October 1999.[18]

In October 2003, four years after the previous release, Kirkendall released Elvis 2.2,[19] which added a number of new features, including a built-in context-sensitive spell checker, text folding, region highlighting, and user-definable URL protocols. In addition, it adopted a number of ideas from Vim.

As of November 2015, there has been no official new release of Elvis since 2.2.


  1. ^ "editor-faq/Editor_List". Newsgroupcomp.editors. August 13, 1992. 
  2. ^ "Editors available on central UNIX platforms". 1994-09-21. Archived from the original on 2008-05-20. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  3. ^ "VIM - Wishlist". Retrieved 2008-05-22. 
  4. ^ "Wishlist for vim 6.0". 1998. Retrieved 2008-05-22. 
  5. ^ Jun-ichiro Hagino, KAME Project; and Yoshitaka Tokugawa, WIDE Project (June 6–11, 1999). "1999 USENIX Annual Technical Conference". USENIX.  |contribution= ignored (help)
  6. ^ "FreshPorts description of helvis". 
  7. ^ "README file for helvis". 
  8. ^ "A clone of vi/ex, the standard UNIX editor, with Japanese patch". 
  9. ^ Thomas E. Dickey (January 23, 2007). "how to draw a line in vi at 80 columns". Newsgroupcomp.unix.programmer. 
  10. ^ Thompson, Tim (2000-03-26). "Stevie". Retrieved 2010-12-29. 
  11. ^ Tim Thompson (1987-06-28). "A mini-vi for the ST". Newsgroupcomp.sys.atari.st. Usenet: 129@glimmer.UUCP. Retrieved 2010-12-29. 
  12. ^ a b Steve Kirkendall (1990-04-20). "A new clone of vi is coming soon: ELVIS". Newsgroupcomp.editors. Usenet: 2719@psueea.UUCP. Retrieved 2010-12-29.  (discusses January comp.os.minix posting, and design goals) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "elvis-usenet" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  13. ^ Usenet, various newsgroups (comp.editors, comp.sys.*, comp.os.*), 1990
  14. ^ a b Robbins, Arnold; Hannah, Elbert; Lamb, Linda (2008). "Chapter 16: nvi: New vi". Learning the vi and vim editors (7th ed.). O'Reilly Media, Inc. pp. 307–308. ISBN 0-596-52983-X. Retrieved 2010-12-29. 
  15. ^ Steve Kirkendall (1994-09-07). "Elvis 2.0 is not released, but...". Newsgroupcomp.editors. Usenet: 324d04$9vh@rigel.cs.pdx.edu. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  16. ^ Steve Kirkendall (1996-10-02). "Second Coming of Elvis (elvis 2.0 released)". Newsgroupcomp.editors. Usenet: 52updt$qhj@rigel.cs.pdx.edu. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  17. ^ Steve Kirkendall (1998-12-09). "It's official: Elvis 2.1 is hereby released". Newsgroupcomp.editors. Usenet: 74n8au$2hh$1@sirius.cs.pdx.edu. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  18. ^ Steve Kirkendall (1999-10-22). "Elvis 2.1_4 is now available". Newsgroupcomp.editors. Usenet: 7uq0ib$lfc$1@sirius.cs.pdx.edu. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  19. ^ Steve Kirkendall (2003-10-20). "Elvis 2.2 is now officially released". Newsgroupcomp.editors. Usenet: 3f949d6b@nntp0.pdx.net. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 

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