Editing Binary Files with Vim

When I saw Tim Pope's excellent vim-afterimage script, it reminded me that Vim is completely capable as a binary file editor. Opening a file with -b or running :set binary makes Vim more suitable for editing binary files:

  • textwidth and wrapmargin are set to 0
  • modeline and expandtab are turned off
  • The fileformat and fileformats options won't be used
  • Files will be written using single line endings


When navigating binary files, [count]go is useful because it moves the cursor to a byte offset. To get the current location, use g CTRL-G which displays the current column, line, word, character and byte.



Another good tip is to convert files to the hexdump format using :%!xxd. It's actually possible to convert a binary to hexdump, edit it, then convert it back to binary using xxd's -r (revert) flag.

Binary Diffs

vimdiff xxd

By using anonymous pipes (supported by bash and zsh), it's fairly easy to get Vim to diff files by redirecting the output of xxd:

vimdiff <(xxd bin_file_1) <(xxd bin_file_2)
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