A Journeyman's Tour of Vim

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  • S5 is a great way to do a slide show ... but the main point here is ... congratulations on being able to read the speaker notes.

A Journeyman's Tour of Vim

The Adventures of an Escape-Hammering Vim Monkey

Giles Orr


  • I use the term "journeyman" in the old traditional sense: you start learning as an apprentice, you become a journeyman, and eventually you become a master
  • to understand where I'm coming from, I'm a mediocre programmer in several languages
  • and I know something about many, many Linux topics
  • I'm a voluntary and happy Jack-of-all-trades
  • with the flip-side being "master of none"
  • I never get bored (that's not meant to imply mastery = boredom, it's a personal choice)

Real Programmers

Real Programmers

Common Unix Editors

Show of hands: what's your primary editor?

  • Emacs users: I will NOT mock you - at least you have a real programming language in your editor
  • go check out github's Atom - seriously: it's massive and graphical only, but it's good and really interesting
  • anyone who answered Pico/Nano: consider learning something with a bit more power, you're missing out

Talk Structure

This will be episodic: I'll be talking about various things related to the editor that people may or may not know about in the hope of expanding your knowledge


  • fully backward-compatible for plugins
  • at version 0.1.5 - very stable
  • it took a major fork to get the Vim maintainers to listen, but it looks like Neovim (all features? some features?) will be merged back into Vim 8!
  • so if you just wait, you'll eventually get all the goodies ... but I recommend jumping ship now


  • The vi installed on Debian-based systems is a subset of Vim, but doesn't offer all the commands available in Vim - so install the "vim" package
  • The CentOS (and possibly Fedora/RedHat) versions apparently have a similar problem: run "yum install vim-enhanced" (not sure it has a dash, not a CentOS user
  • default OSX Vim lacks features that are compiled in on almost all other versions: for me, I found the lack of "tab drop" problematic as I use it in plugins
  • "Cream" provides a single, easy-to-install package and smooths out some of the weirdness that happens (ie. with CTRL-C, CTRL-V), although it also tries to wipe away modal editing - so if you want modal editing you have to choose your troubles (I prefer Cream: it's worked well and you can turn modal editing back on)

What's Right about Vim

What's Wrong with Vim

Classical learning curves for some common editors

What's Wrong with Vim

  • Neovim won't be fixing the horrible programming language: in fact, they're re-implementing it just as it is ...


Let's look at the origins of the power and the pain of Vim:

  • teletypes: you know, on paper?
  • Salus quote per Wikipedia


  • vi: we're talking about a text editor that's older than several of the people in this room


H-J-K-L keys on Lear Siegler ADM-3A terminal with arrow keys

The movement keys J-H-K-L weren't chosen by proximity either: at the time, the terminal Bill Joy was using (Lear Siegler ADM-3A) had the arrow keys on top of those letters - and the Escape Key was where the Tab key currently is (easier to reach).

  • Lear Siegler ADM-3A per Wikipedia ...

Modal Editing

Syntax Highlighting

  • get a show of hands on who's installed non-standard syntax colour schemes

Syntax Highlighting

Vim syntax highlighting is garish

Favourite Colour Schemes

which colour scheme I use is slightly dependent on the phase of the moon, but mostly on what type of code I'm editing.

I've had weird behaviour from "moria:" in the end I edited the moria.vim file to force a dark background at all times.

Colour Scheme Test

web page that shows multiple vim colour schemes side-by-side for the same piece of code (choice of several languages)

To LinuxCon attendees: again, my apologies: the code.google.com link below now hosts only the source code, not an active installation.

If you go to https://code.google.com/p/vimcolorschemetest/ , I recommend Chrome. Don't get me wrong, Firefox is my default browser, but the language tests often choke it.

The Eight Colour Problem

  • not a problem on Macs
  • don't think this is a problem on Windows

The Eight Colour Problem - the Code

    if [ -e /usr/share/terminfo/x/xterm?256color ]
        export TERM='xterm-256color'
        export TERM='xterm-color'
    if &term=="xterm-256color"
        set t_Co=256 " "terminal has 256 colors"
  • the "?" is in the /etc/profile line to address Debian and Ubuntu, as they use different characters

Tab Completion

  • take a look at ":help wildmode" for more information



let mapleader="-"
nnoremap <leader>ev :tab drop $MYVIMRC<CR>
" _R_e_I_ndent whole file:
nnoremap <leader>ri msHmtgg=G'tzt`s

I chose "-" as my leader because it's unused in vim, and very handy if you use the Dvorak keyboard layout. For Qwerty users, ";" is probably the most accessible choice (almost the same location as "-" for Dvorak users).

Tear-down on "-ev": "n" of "nnoremap" means "do this mapping in normal mode." The core is "map," but we also say "noremap" to avoid nasty side effects, ie. "don't interpret other parts through other mappings." Huh? If you've independently mapped a letter but the letter is a part of the new mapping, without "noremap" vim will try to interpret the other letter mapping as well ... It gets very ugly. If that didn't make sense, just trust me and use "noremap" until it becomes clearer.

So I type "-ev" in normal mode to get a response, which is to run the command ":tab drop $MYVIMRC<CR>". That means to type a colon (we're entering ex mode!) followed by "tab drop" (which means "open this file in a new tab, or go to an existing tab if the file is already open"). And finally, a global Vim variable "$MYVIMRC" which is a pointer to ~/.vimrc on a Linux system, or elsewhere if you're on Windows or some non-Unixy system. And close the command with a carriage return.

Getting :help

  • Walk through accessing the help for nnoremap


  • Where <N> is a number


Vim session with mini buffer explorer at the top showing multiple buffers, two tagged as open.


  • Note that you can open a file browser on any folder with ":tabnew <name-of-folder>


Pathogen requires more work on your part creating directories and running "git clone ..." commands. Vundle only needs a pointer to a github (or other) repo and it does the checkouts for you. Although you have to do a git clone for Vundle itself.

"Best" Plugins

  • "Best" is in quotes because these are ones I've tried and liked (mostly on others' recommendations), but there are thousands more out there
  • airline - pretty (and useful!) status bar
  • gitgutter - shows changes to the current file with "+", "-" or "~" in a left-hand gutter
  • signify - same as gitgutter, but handles other VCSes as well
  • fugitive - do most things git inside Vim
  • taglist - requires ctags, shows tags for the current program

"Best" Plugins Continued

  • openrel - "gf" can be used to follow a link from one file to another ... but often doesn't work - particularly with HTML - because absolute links on the webserver are different from those on the local file system: this can help with that
  • Ctrl-P - fuzzy file/buffer/tag finder
  • There are LOTS of language-specific plugins. I mention Python specifically because I've been using it a lot lately.
  • jedi-vim - completion for Python

"Best" Plugins Continued

  • Superman - read your man pages in Vim
  • vimwiki - a personal wiki entirely inside Vim
  • Conque Shell - because what you really need is a shell inside Vim - somewhat buggy, Neovim's builtin terminal is far superior
  • Terminus - terminal integration: does a number of things, but for me the win is mouse integration in Vim in terminal windows - again, Neovim covers all this


airline status bar
airline status bar showing git changes
airline status bar in insert mode

"Programmer Fonts"

  • When I did this talk, I asked who used the GUI version of Vim - no one. Despite nearly everyone present being a Vim user.
  • So it's worth talking about "Programmer Fonts"
  • There are a million recommendations online: the most popular fonts are Anonymous Pro, Droid Sans, Inconsolata, Liberation Mono, and a few others
  • The previously mentioned Airline plugin was based on another plugin called "Powerline," and they both use slightly modified fonts to look their prettiest
  • The Powerline font repository includes all of the "greatest hits" of programmer fonts, all modified for Powerline: so save time searching the web and just go to that repo ... and you get the free bonus of being ready for Airline.

XTerm and Scalable Fonts

  • Most modern terminal emulators have full support for TTF and OTF fonts built in, with a GUI font selection system
  • XTerm has no such conveniences
  • But it has command line parameters to use any of these fonts - write scripts to start what you want, because otherwise it's a lot of typing

VimScript, aka VimL

  • They're not paying me and I don't know the author
  • I was using it online so much I bought two copies and gave one to a friend

Behaviour Dependent on User Settings

Truly: if you do a document search, VimScript will respect the case sensitivity setting set by the user. To do it your way you're forced to grab the setting, reset it the way you want it, do your search, and restore the setting (and that's only if you remember ... it's a helluva gotcha)

  • This of course applies to all settings - whether you know they exist or not

~/.vim/ Directory Structure

  • There are quite a few more, but these are the ones I've used and think I might actually be able to correctly explain ...
  • autoload - functions used by plugins and for general use that will be loaded when the function is invoked.
  • bundle - where Vundle (and, I think, other package management arrangements) put their unpacked software
  • colors - holds user syntax highlighting files for use with the :colorscheme command
  • ftdetect - files here are used to detect filetypes that vim doesn't know about by some other method (":help ftdetect")

~/.vim/ Directory Structure

  • ftplugin - filetype plugins, which are used to define the behaviour of Vim for specific filetypes, automatically loaded when that filetype is recognized (filenames are things like "html.vim" and "python.vim")
  • plugin - files in this folder are automatically loaded when Vim starts
  • spell - files related to spelling: primarily (that I've noticed) user additions to the dictionary
  • syntax - syntax definition files: these don't (usually!) define the syntax colours, but rather how to determine if a word in a file is a "noun" or a "verb" so that the colors files can be applied to each word type

Change, Select or Delete Blocks of Text

  • change/select/delete
  • this - like so many things Vim - is all about muscle memory - start using it, try combinations that work for you
  • it's important to notice that the movement commands are significantly different between "just" movement and movement in the contect of object selection
  • "w" is "word" in both cases, but "}" is a paragraph for movement, "p" is a paragraph for text object selection, and "}" is a brace for text object selection


  • there are many Vim blogs: this is one of the best
  • there are millions of Vim "cheatsheets:" I haven't found a lot of value in them, but they may suit other learning styles than mine and this one is definitely the best I've seen
  • "Folding" is the process of compressing some part of your code into a single line - usually (but not always) a function. This makes it easy to look at the code you're currently interested in while ignoring that which is feature-complete.
  • six different fold methods: manual, indent, expr, syntax, diff, marker

Tabs or Spaces

cartoon: another holy war gets ugly

Bibliography - and Questions