35 useful Nano Commands and Shortcuts for Raspberry Pi users

Yeah! Nano is so powerful when you master the main commands and shortcuts
It can be hard to start as a beginner, but when you master the keys shortcuts you will save many time in files edition
As an old vim user, I know what I’m talking about πŸ™‚ but Raspberry Pi and Raspbian promote nano as the default editor, so it’s better to know how to use it
You’ll like it, I promise you

What are the main nano commands and shortcuts to know?
Nano offers commands and shortcuts for different things you have to know:

  • Directly in the nano command or in editor
  • Shortcuts for file management
  • Search and navigation shortcuts
  • Content edition

We’ll see everything today, so if you remember them and use them as often as possible, you’ll master the main nano commands and shortcuts
I voluntarily removed everything that is not indispensable, so you can focus on the primary shortcuts
At any time, you can check the help in nano to see if a shortcut exists for what you are looking for

Nano commands

Before to open a file and see all the shortcuts available, you have to know that nano offers many options when opening a file
In this first part, I’ll show you what you can do directly in the command line and general shortcuts:

  • Opening nano
    nano <filename>

    The filename can be an existing file or the new filename you want to create
    It can be just the name in the current folder, or a path to the file
    Don’t forget to use sudo if you need root access to edit the file:
    sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config
  • Nano options
    You can start nano with many useful options I will show you here:
    • +line,column: open the file and place the cursor at the specified position
    • -B: create a backup file when saving (backup file starts with a ~)
    • -C <dir>: keep each version of the file in the specified backup directory
    • -Y <language>: force the syntax highlighting for the specified language
      Available languages are located in /usr/share/nano/*.nanorc
    • -l: Shows line numbers in the left column
    • -v: Read only mode
  • Exit nano
    To exit Nano at anytime, you can use CTRL+X
  • Shortcut cancel
    Nano provides many shortcuts and if you type one by error, you can exit the contextual menu with CTRL+C


For file management you don’t have many commands to know, but to be sure you know how to do this, here are the two you need to use:

  • Create a new file
    To create a new file, the easiest way is to tell nano the filename directly when starting it, like this:
    nano /dir/file.txt
    If you just use nano to open it, it will ask you a filename when saving
  • Save a file
    To save a file at anytime you can use CTRL+O
    Don’t ask me how they chose the shortcut key ^^
    CTRL+S ? Nooo, it would have been too easy for us πŸ™‚

Search and in file navigation

Another feature I use a lot with vim and never took the time to master on nano, was the search in file
Here is everything you need to know about this:

  • Search for a string
    To locate a string in a file, you can use CTRL+W
    Then enter the string (or regular expression if you want), and confirm with Enter
    While typing the string, you can use a few options to filter your search results (like case-sensitive search)
  • Next item in the search results
    To move to the next matching result, use ALT+W
  • Go back to the first line of the file
    If you are lost in the file, you can move back to the beginning with ALT+\
  • Go to the end of file
    Same thing, to move directly to the end of the file, use ALT+/
    Please, don’t use the down arrow 58 times to do this πŸ™‚
  • Move one screen up
    For fast scrolling, use CTRL+Y to move to the previous page of the file
  • Move one scree down
    And the opposite, CTRL+V is to move to the next page

Navigation through lines and columns

To move more precisely in a file, here are the keys and shortcut to use:

  • Move on a line or from line to line
    Arrows πŸ™‚
    I don’t really understand why there are so many shortcuts to move from a character or line to another
    For me arrows are the easiest way to do the same
    Arrow up: previous line
    Arrow down: next line
    Arrow left: previous character on the same line
    Arrow right: next character on the same line
    I think it’s a good idea to keep all of this easy when possible
  • Go directly to the beginning of the line
    To go to the first character of the line you can use CTRL+A
  • Go to the end of the line
    And for the last character on the line, use CTRL+E

Content edition

Ok in this part we move to the file-edition process
You can save time by remembering a few shortcuts

  • Undo
    To cancel your last action you can use ALT+U
  • Redo
    If you change your mind, use ALT+E to finally make it
  • Copy and paste strings or lines
    Another thing to keep simple, don’t use shortcuts for this
    When you use nano on your Raspberry Pi you’re probably using SSH, so use your client features to manage copy and paste
    Copy: Select a text or line with the mouse
    Paste: Move to the paste spot and right-click to paste
  • Cut an entire line
    If you want to cut or remove a line, you can use CTRL+K to do this
    I often use this to remove useless lines
  • Paste the line
    To paste the line you just cut, use CTRL+U
  • Editing
    For everything else, use nano like any other text editor
    It’s a nano strength to allow you editing a file directly
    Working keys are for example Backspace to delete a character, TAB to indent, Enter to add a new line, etc.

Nano options

And finally, here are a few other useful shortcuts for Nano I didn’t give you in the previous parts:

  • Remove the help
    To stay focus on your file, you can hide the bottom shortcuts help with ALT+X
    This way you get one or two extra lines of your files on the same screen
    Same shortcut to show it back
  • Disable syntax highlighting
    When syntax highlighting doesn’t help, you can disable it while editing with ALT+Y
    Did you never had the ugly dark blue color exactly where you need to focus? πŸ™‚
  • Enable backup
    If you didn’t set it when starting nano, you can enable backup at anytime while in nano with ALT+B
  • Display the help for all shortcuts
    If one shortcut I give you here was not clear, or if you want to see the long list of not so useful shortcuts, use CTRL+G to display the nano help


That’s it!
We are already at the end of this list of commands and shortcuts to know to use nano like a pro

I hope this post was useful for you, let me know in the comment
If you are nice, I will try to prepare a Cheat Sheet in PDF with everything on one page
So you can print it and keep it close to your Raspberry Pi πŸ™‚

Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

Master your Raspberry Pi - eBook Sale