Try GNU nano, a lightweight alternative to Vim |

Try GNU nano, a lightweight alternative to Vim

Lightweight and straightforward, nano delivers a simple, intuitive editor with no extra fuss.

A pink typewriter
Image credits : 
Original photo by Marco Tedaldi. Modified by Rikki Endsley. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Many Linux distributions bundle Vim as their default text editor. This appeals to many longtime Linux users, and those who don’t like it can change it promptly after install anyway. Vim is a funny editor, though, as it’s one of the few that opens to a mode that doesn’t permit text entry. That’s a puzzling choice for any user, and it’s confusing for a new one.

Thanks to GNU nano, there’s a common alternative to Vim for a lightweight terminal-based text editor, and it’s so easy to use—it has its most important commands listed at the bottom of its window.


On Linux and macOS, you probably already have GNU nano installed. You can verify with the which command:

$ which nano

If you don’t have it installed, you can install it from your software repository, or you can download its source code and compile it yourself.

On Windows, you can install GNU nano using Chocolatey.

Launching nano

Launch nano from the terminal, either alone:

$ nano

Or you can also open a specific file by following your command with a path to a file. If the file you name doesn’t already exist, it’s created:

$ nano example.txt

Using nano

Nano is, with just a little reading, pretty self-explanatory. When you launch it, nano opens to either an empty buffer or the file you opened. At the bottom of the screen, there’s a list of functions and their corresponding keyboard shortcuts. More functions are available by pressing Ctrl+G for Get Help.

Here are the most important application commands:

  • Ctrl+S saves your work
  • Ctrl+W save as
  • Ctrl+R loads a file ("Read")
  • Ctrl+X quits, or exits
  • Ctrl+G get help

Here are the most common editing commands:

  • Alt+A select ("mark") a region
  • Ctrl+K cut marked text
  • Ctrl+U paste ("uncut")
  • Alt+F undo
  • Alt+E redo


Nano isn’t as extensible as Emacs or Vim, but you can make some significant customizations in a file called ~/.nanorc. In this file, you can set global preferences, including word wrap settings, color schemes, line numbering, and more. You can also create your own key bindings, so if you want to use Ctrl+V to paste instead of nano’s default Ctrl+U, you can change the binding assigned to the paste function:

bind ^V paste all

You can get a list of all available functions in the GNU nano documentation.

Simple and effective

GNU nano is a no-nonsense, straightforward text editor. It’s easy to use and provides all the functionality you expect from a text editor. Try it out, and enjoy the simplicity of intuitive editing.

Business woman on laptop sitting in front of window

Vi is the quintessential Unix text editor. Get to know it—or any of its incarnations, Vim, Neovim, gVim, nvi, or Elvis, for Linux, macOS, Windows, or BSD.
Typewriter keys

Vim offers great benefits to writers, regardless of whether they are technically minded or not.
Working from home at a laptop

It's a minimalistic editor that gets the job done, enhanced with great hidden features to make things easier.

About the author

Seth Kenlon
Seth Kenlon - Seth Kenlon is a UNIX geek, free culture advocate, independent multimedia artist, and D&D nerd. He has worked in the film and computing industry, often at the same time. He is one of the maintainers of the Slackware-based multimedia production project Slackermedia.