Many normal mode commands accept a count, which means to repeat the motion count times. For example, 3j moves the cursor 3 lines below the current line and 4w will move the cursor four words forward. Usually, the user-defined mappings can not take a count. Even if they can, they will most probably not work the way you expect them to. In this post, I will describe what I have learned to make a fairly complex mapping repeatable with a count.

# The Problem

I find myself often doing something like adding one or two blank lines below the current line to separate the structure of the code or text. So I created a mapping for this operation after some search:

nnoremap oo :execute "normal! mo\<Esc>"<cr>


Unfortunately, the above mapping does not work1, it will print an error:

E114: Missing quote: “normal! ma\

The above mapping does not work because the way we escape Esc is not correct. When you press oo, it is like we have typed :execute "normal! mo in the command line and then press the Esc key.

You have to use either one of the following mappings to indicate that you want to press the <Esc> key, not type <, E, s, c, > literally:

nnoremap oo :execute "normal! mo\<lt>Esc>"<cr>
nnoremap oo :execute "normal! mo<c-v><Esc>"<cr>
nnoremap oo :execute "normal! mo\e"<cr>


This is becoming too complicated. nnoremap is actually equivalent to normal!. So we can simply the above mappings to avoid complications:

nnoremap oo mo<Esc>


In the above mapping, we first create a mark  for the initial cursor position, the insert a newline, go back to normal mode and restore the cursor position2. Then end result is that we insert a newline and maintain the cursor position.

But this mapping only works once, i.e., it can not take a count. In order to add two lines below, we have to press oo two times, which is not ideal for me.

After searching the Internet, I found this vim cast which address this issue specifically. It introduced two ways to create a mapping which accepts a count.

# Two Solutions

## The imperfect one – using :normal command

The first way is to use :normal command on the right-hand side of the mapping. The :normal {expr} command will execute {expr} as normal mode command just as you have typed them in normal mode. For example, if you execute :normal G in Vim command line, the cursor will be put at the last line of current buffer.

The :normal command will take into account the mappings you have defined. If you have defined G to other command, you may not get what you want. To remedy this, Vim also provides a bang version: :normal!, which will use Vim’s default mapping for the key.

The :normal! command can take an optional {range}, which means to execute the {expr} for current cursor line as well as lines indicated by {range}3.

Combining the above knowledge, we can create the following mapping:

nnoremap oo :normal! mo<Esc>


This mapping can take a count. If you press 2oo in normal mode, two lines will be insert below current line. But you will notice that the position of the cursor is changed because the :normal! command with range will move the cursors:

Before executing the {commands}, the cursor is positioned in the first column of the range, for each line.

There is also a pitfall when using this mapping in the last line of current buffer. If you use a count bigger than one, you will get an error:

E16: Invalid range

since there is no lines below the current line.

## The better – using the expression register @=

Another method is to use expression register4. The expression register can store a command string or store the result of some functions. The mapping we will use is:

nnoremap oo @='mo<C-V><Esc>'<CR>


Here, we define the command we will use in the expression register. Note that to represent Esc, we have to precede it with <C-v>. This mapping can take a count and work as expected (the cursor is moved).

Also note that the below mappings do not work:

nnoremap oo @='mo\<lt>Esc>'<cr>
nnoremap oo @='mo\e'<cr>


I do not know why. But they just do not work any more. If anyone knows the reason, do not hesitate to tell me, please.

Update: 2019-05-12

Note if we change the single quote to double quote, the following mappings using the expression register will work as expected.

nnoremap oo @="mo\<lt>Esc>"<cr>
nnoremap oo @="mo\e"<cr>


It seems like an issue with single quote, where every character inside is interpreted literally.

# The best

Although using the expression register mapping solves the problem, it is error prone when writing such expressions without considerable familarity with the various oddities of Vim.

I posted my question on Reddit and received a few replies. A new solution based on <expr> (see :h map-<expr>) emerged and it seems the best solution ever:

nnoremap <expr> oo 'm' . v:count1 . 'o<Esc>'
nnoremap <expr> OO 'm' . v:count1 . 'O<Esc>'


The expression mapping will evaluate the RHS string before executing it. v:count1 is a special Vim variable which means the count you supplied to this mapping. If no count is given, it has the default value of 1 (see :h v:count1).

This mapping has two benifits. One is that it is clearer. The second is that it executes faster than expression register mappings where the mapping is repeated count times and you can see obvious lags between each mapping.

# A special note about backslash in command line and Vim script

During the process, I have also learned that the meaning of \ may change depending on the B flag in cpoptions.

Suppose that we have defined the following insert mode mapping in command line or in Vim script.

imap <c-a> \<Home>


When you press <C-a> in insert mode, the output will depend on if B flag is in cpoptions.

## with B flag in cpoptions

Backslash is take literally as is. A backslash is inserted and the cursor is moved to the beginning of cursor line.

## without B flag in cpotions

Backlash will escape < the character. When you press <c-a> in insert mode, the 6 characters (i.e., <, H, o, m, e, >) is inserted.

When define mappings, the < should be handled carefully, or you will not get what you want.

# Conclusion

In this post, I have summarized how to define a map which can accept a count. Overall, defining the map via expression register is preferred and works great. But extra care must be paid when you include special keys such as Esc inside the expression register.

# References

1. Note that in command line, :execute "normal! mo\<Esc>" will work, also see :h expr-quote. But it does not work in mappings inside a Vim script. It is f**king complicated! ↩︎

2. M will move the cursor to the position marked by marker M, see :h mark-motions. ↩︎

3. See :h :normal-range for more information. ↩︎

4. see also :h quote_= ↩︎