Tag Archives: vi

WASD is the new HJKL


I was showing some students the vi editor recently. One can, of course, use the arrow keys to move around the screen, but HJKL can be used without moving the hands from the home row. (For those who are unfamiliar with vi, H will move left, J down, K up, and L right.)H J K L keys on a keyboard

They commented that HJKL seemed like a strange choice. Why not the more intuitive WASD?

I’m not a gamer. WASD isn’t in my muscle memory. The adoption of WASD as movement keys is a much, much more recent development than vi. Once you see the ADM-3A terminal it was created on, it’s easy to understand why HJKL was used. Nevertheless, an era before first-person shooters was clearly the Dark Ages of computing.


The next time you’re using an application or a website that uses keyboard shortcuts, such as Boston Globe’s The Big Picture or Trello, take at look at what the navigation keys are. If they are H, J, K, and L, you can bet it was developed by an old-fogey vi user like me.