Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

DesktopBSD day 25 – ee, the commandline editor

One of the running gags in the realm of Linux is “vi or emacs?”. Apparently there once was a time this question could turn a room into cinders. Now, it may be a good example of the freedom of choice open source software provides and that it is useless to become dogmatic or zealously fanatic about either choice. Still, the type of discussion still comes up now and then. One day I noticed a post in a Linux forum, where someone got the suggestion to use gedit to edit a file. Immediately another jumped on the thread, stating that nano was a much better tool for the job. Who cares? As long as it get’s the job done for you.

Why the need for a commandline editor?

Open source desktops have progressed to a point that an average user will often not need commandline tools. Ubuntu 7.10 now even has a graphical tool to channge xorg.conf settings and as time progresses most open source desktops will often graphical tools for most, if not all tasks a user has to do. For the time being there will be times an editor comes in handy and maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to educate users in commandline tools and troubleshooting anyway. Part of the charm of open source is the freedom it provides to grow and learn.


The FreeBSD handbook mentions ee as an easy to use editor.

The easiest and simplest editor to learn is an editor called ee, which stands for easy editor. To start ee, one would type at the command line ee filename where filename is the name of the file to be edited. For example, to edit /etc/rc.conf, type in ee /etc/rc.conf. Once inside of ee, all of the commands for manipulating the editor’s functions are listed at the top of the display. The caret ^ character represents the Ctrl key on the keyboard, so ^e expands to the key combination Ctrl+e. To leave ee, hit the Esc key, then choose leave editor. The editor will prompt you to save any changes if the file has been modified.

Without desiring to start a new editor war, I have to admit the handbook is right. ee is a very accessible editor. It reminds me of Wordstar, back in the late 1980s.


With ^[ (Ctrl + [ ) a menu appears, where you can find various other functions, but basically you can start editing a file without learning any obscure key combinations (like in Vi). The fact that you have undelete and restore options right in front of you should be comforting to quite a group of novice users. I liked ee so much I installed it on my Ubuntu box as well.



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