Nate Eagle

Front-End Developer

Sharpening the Vim

I’m somewhat ambivalent about Franklin Covey in general, but I must acknowledge that using the metaphor sharpening the saw to describe the vital habit of self-improvement is pretty awesome, largely because it implies that the most important thing in life is going around with a sharp-ass saw.

I’ve been a happy Vim user since Ian McCracken introduced me to it a couple years ago. I’m not really sure it makes me a better programmer or person, especially since I’m not really sure that editor speed is the limiting factor in my work productivity. (I can type much, much faster than I can usefully think. As Douglas Crockford said at the recent Capitol JS Conference (paraphrased), “Most of the time you spend programming isn’t spent coding: it’s spent staring into the abyss saying, ‘My God, what have I done?’”)

That said, Vim makes entering and editing text feel effortless and elegant rather than frustrating. And, really, if you enter/edit text for a living, priority number one is making it an enjoyable or at least endurable task. For me, the big thing is that I don’t have to switch back and forth between a mouse and the keyboard.

The best intro to Vim is probably just to pull up your terminal and type vimtutor, an interactive tutorial that takes maybe twenty to thirty minutes. It’ll teach you everything you need to know to get started. But as Yann Esposito says in his excellent Learn Vim Progressively entry: “Learning vim will be painful at first. It will take time. It will be a lot like playing a music instrument.”

I’ve used Vim for, I dunno, two years now, and it’s easy to settle into ruts. I’ve got ways of accomplishing everything I need, but they’re not all elegant. Last week, Dave Artz, the AOLer who hired me (high five, Dave!) started trying out Vim. The last few days, he’s IMed me repeatedly asking about different ways to do things, plenty of which I had to look up. It was a good reminder that there’s lots I have yet to effectively learn or internalize, and that my ability to play this particular instrument still has plenty of room to grow.

Which is awesome. So: that lengthy introduction aside, these are a few of the things I’ve had to look up that I want to write down so that I can remember them for the future.

Vim & pbcopy on OS X

pbcopy and pbpaste are the bees’ knees: they’re commands that use OS X’s system clipboard (“paste board” is the OS X name, I guess) via terminal.

Adding this mapping to your .vimrc will let you use ctrl-x and ctrl-c to cut/copy the current visual selection to OS X’s pasteboard.

vmap <C-x> :!pbcopy<CR>
vmap <C-c> :w !pbcopy<CR><CR>


Change the Colorscheme

This one’s super dumb, but when I was trying to find a decent colorscheme for Vim (I’m using desert), I kept closing Vim, editing my .vimrc, and reopening Vim. LIKE A CHUMP.

:colorscheme desert

Using the Leader

I’ve been pretty resistant to customizing Vim. I don’t like reassigning default functionality till I’m really sure I understand it. What if I break a feature I haven’t discovered yet because of today’s shortsightedness?

But Vim has a leader key, the entire role of which is to give you a whole bunch of blank namespace to create custom commands. The default is \, but Steve Losh (the dude who wrote the article I just linked to) argues (to me persuasively) that , (the comma) is easier to reach and not used for anything else. Nice: the freedom to make useful custom stuff without worrying about messing things up for myself later on.

And, actually, that whole article is worth reading. He explains his whole .vimrc file in the most detail I’ve encountered. Well, maybe I should say that he explains it with the fewest assumptions about existing knowledge on the part of his reader. Which I appreciate.


jsBeautify will clean up messy, inconsistently formatted JavaScript file with a single command. Awesome, but I need to figure out how much work would be involved in modifying it to follow the jQuery style guidelines.

Remove Unwanted Whitespace

It’s simple to remove unwanted whitespace:

Delete all trailing whitespace (at the end of each line) with:


More rarely, a user might want to delete whitespace at the beginning of each line:


Comment Out a Range of Lines

Too lengthy to quote, here’s the page.

Wrap visual selection in an HTML tag.

vmap <Leader>w <Esc>:call VisualHTMLTagWrap()<CR>
function! VisualHTMLTagWrap()
  let tag = input("Tag to wrap block: ")
  if len(tag) > 0
    normal `>
    if &selection == 'exclusive'
      exe "normal i</".tag.">"
      exe "normal a</".tag.">"
    normal `<
    exe "normal i<".tag.">"
    normal `<

Put it in ~/.vim/scripts/wrapwithtag.vim and enable in ~/.vimrc

:au Filetype html,xml source ~/.vim/scripts/wrapwithtag.vim

When editing HTML file, visually highlight text and press {Leader} w, enter tag name.

Scrolling Quickly

I tend to move quickly around a file either by typing a linenumber + G (which is awesome but too precise to be useful, many times) or holding down j or k. (LIKE A CHUMP.)

Scrolling is easy. The most useful, IMHO, is:

^D ^U  scroll half a page up, down

But there are others.

Adjust Window Size

vsplit is basically the killer feature of Vim. When I showed Dave that he could split, vsplit, and resplit any number of windows he chose on to infinity he basically flipped. I always keep my windows equally sized with C-W + =, but he wanted to adjust the sizes.

For vertically split windows, use C-W + < to decrease the current window’s size and C-W + > to increase it.

For horizintally split windows, use C-W + plus to make the window taller. (That just broke my typographic convention. It’s control-w plus the, uh, plus key.) Use C-W + - to make the window shorter. (That wasn’t much better, was it?)

Clear Search Results with Leader + Space

I usually clear search results by typing / plus a furious smattering of random letters. Crudely effective. But with the new leader key, I was willing to bind leader + space to accomplish this more elegantly.

nnoremap <leader><space> :noh<cr>

Add a line of equal signs for documentation

Lines of equal signs look awesome. Proof:

Lines of Equal Signs Look Awesome

Bind leader + 1 (or, you know, leader + ANYTHING) to create a new line below your current line of the same length of equal signs. Nice!

nnoremap <leader>1 yypVr=

More Later

I’ll add more to another entry whenever I’ve got too many Vim-related tabs open in Chrome.