Evil is an extensible vi layer for Emacs. It emulates the main features of Vim, [1] turning Emacs into a modal editor. Like Emacs in general, Evil is extensible in Emacs Lisp.

Installation via package.el

Evil is available as a package from MELPA stable, MELPA unstable and NonGNU ELPA. This is the recommended way of installing Evil.

To set up package.el to work with one of the MELPA repositories, you can follow the instructions on melpa.org.

Alternatively you can use NonGNU ELPA. It is part of the default package archives as of Emacs 28. For older Emacs versions you’ll need to add it yourself:

(add-to-list 'package-archives
             (cons "nongnu" (format "http%s://elpa.nongnu.org/nongnu/"
                                    (if (gnutls-available-p) "s" ""))))

Once that is done, you can execute the following commands:

M-x package-refresh-contents
M-x package-install RET evil RET

Finally, add the following lines to your Emacs init file:

(require 'evil)
(evil-mode 1)

Manual installation

First, install goto-chg and cl-lib. If you have an Emacs version of 24.3 or newer, you should already have cl-lib.

Evil lives in a git repository. To download Evil, do:

git clone --depth 1 https://github.com/emacs-evil/evil.git

Then add the following lines to your Emacs init file:

(add-to-list 'load-path "path/to/evil")
(require 'evil)
(evil-mode 1)

Ensure that your replace path/to/evil with the actual path to where you cloned Evil.

Modes and states

The next time Emacs is started, it will come up in normal state, denoted by <N> in the mode line. This is where the main vi bindings are defined. Note that you can always disable normal state with C-z, which switches to an “Emacs state” (denoted by <E>) in which vi keys are completely disabled. Press C-z again to switch back to normal state.

Evil uses the term state for what is called a “mode” in regular vi usage, because modes are understood in Emacs terms to mean something else.

Evil defines a number of states by default:

normal state (<N>)
This is the default “resting state” of Evil, in which the main body of vi bindings are defined.
insert state (<I>)
This is the state for insertion of text, where non-modified keys will insert the corresponding character in the buffer.
visual state (<V>)
A state for selecting text regions. Motions are available for modifying the selected region, and operators are available for acting on it.
replace state (<R>)
A special state mostly similar to insert state, except it replaces text instead of inserting.
operator-pending state (<O>)
A special state entered after launching an operator, but before specifying the corresponding motion or text object.
motion state (<M>)
A special state useful for buffers that are read-only, where motions are available but editing operations are not.
Emacs state (<E>)
A state that as closely as possible mimics default Emacs behaviour, by eliminating all vi bindings, except for C-z, to re-enter normal state.


[1]Vim is the most popular version of vi, a modal text editor with many implementations. Vim also adds some functions of its own, like visual selection and text objects. For more information see the official Vim website.