Pasting text from long ago in Emacs and Vim


April 19, 2021

I use Vim keybindings in Emacs through Evil Mode and Evil Collection. Often I’ll copy something, make some edits, and then want to paste the text. The problem is that the edits changed what was on the register and I want to recover that text.

In Vim (and Evil mode) I can type :reg to see what’s in the registers, find the value I want to paste, commit the register to memory (for example 8), exit and then paste that register ("8p from normal mode, C-r 8 from insert mode). This is a bit painful and breaks the flow. If I’m copying from in Vim/Emacs and thinking ahead I can copy to a certain register (say a "y<motion>), and then paste back with that same register, but I don’t find that at all natural. To find out more about Vim registers either type :h registers or read Brian Storti’s article on it.

Emacs has a notion of a kill-ring, which contains all the recently killed (Emacs-speak for cut) text. You can then yank (Emacs-speak for paste) the text from the top of the ring (bound to C-y). But then if you wanted something further back you can use yank-pop (bound to M-y) to go back through the kill ring until you find the text that you want. Evil supports this with evil-paste-pop (overwriting the M-y binding by default); you can then paste with p or P (evil-paste-after or evil-paste-before) and then continue pressing M-y until you get back to the text you want. Vim (but not Evil) also supports this through the redo-register; after you paste from the first delete register with "1p you can scroll through the registers with u..

I still find the Vim and Evil mechanisms a bit clunky because it requires switching keybindings. But the Counsel completions for Emacs contains counsel-yank-pop which opens the completions in an Ivy minibuffer. This is great because you can select a completion either by navigating with up and down arrows (or C-p and C-n keys), or by typing a part of the text you want and then selecting it to paste with Enter. I find this a much easier way to retrieve text from long ago. I’ve bound this to gp in normal mode and Ctrl-Shift-r in insert mode.

(use-package counsel
  :demand t
  :bind (:map evil-normal-state-map
         ("gp" . 'counsel-yank-pop)
         :map evil-insert-state-map
         ("C-S-r" . 'counsel-yank-pop))
   ;... Rest of configuration