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Now that you have a solid understanding of core Vim functionality and behavior, as well as how to configure Vim to your liking, it's time to kick things up a notch with plugins. Plugins are packages of Vim config code that can add functionality, mappings, and commands to your Vim as well as add support for new programming languages.

Installing & Managing Plugins


To start, you'll want to know how to install a plugin. We recommend Vundle which manages both the installation and activation of your plugins. You can read about the base configuration in their Quick Start guide.

Vundle is a vast improvement over the default mechanism of simply adding a plugin's files to your Vim directory. With Vundle both adding, and perhaps even more importantly removing plugins is extremely easy.

In order to add a plugin using Vundle, you only need to add a simple line to your vimrc like the following:

Plugin 'tpope/vim-rails'

With that line in your vimrc and your vimrc loaded (:source $MYVIMRC<cr>), you can run :PluginInstall<cr> in Vim to instruct Vim to download and activate the new plugin.

Tracking in Git

Since Vundle only requires a single line in your vimrc to use a plugin, it end ups working much like the Gemfile in a bundler managed ruby app. We don't have to worry about keeping a full copy of each plugin's source code in our dotfiles, but can instead simply track the Plugin lines added to our vimrc.

Vim-Plug Vundle Alternative

Although both Ben and Chris continue to be happy users of Vundle, there is an alternative plugin manager called Vim-Plug which has been gaining popularity of late, including being recently set as the plugin manager in the thoughtbot dotfiles.

It has some stated benefits over Vundle including parallel installation and updating, shallow cloning for smaller install footprint, and on demand loading of plugins for faster startup time.

Vim-Scripts Github Mirror

By default Vundle (and vim-plug) both expect the Plugin reference to point to a repository on Github. Generally this is fine, but in some cases a plugin will only exist in the script archive and not on Github.

Luckily there is a project aptly name Vim-Scripts that mirrors all scripts on to a Github repository. In those cases, you can simply point at the vim-scripts repo like Plugin "vim-scripts/ReplaceWithRegister" and you're back up and running!

CtrlP Fuzzy File Finder

Plugin 'ctrlpvim/ctrlp.vim'

CtrlP is a fuzzy file finder that allows you to very rapidly find a file without needing to type out (or even know) the full path to the file. After learning it you'll never want to travel without it!

CtrlP Keybindings

The main CtrlP window can be started with, perhaps unsurprisingly, <C-p>. From there, you can type any portion of the desired file path to filter down the file list. In addition, a number of mappings are available when CtrlP is active:

Mapping Operation
<C-k>, <C-j> Move up or down in the CtrlP results list
<C-p>, <C-n> Cycle through previous CtrlP searches (<C-n> goes forward
<C-t> Open the highlighted file in a new tab
<C-s> Open the highlighted file in a new split
<C-v> Open the highlighted file in a new vertical split

The above list is only a sample of all the mappings CtrlP provides. Check out :h ctrlp-mappings for the full list and details.

Faster Finding with The Silver Searcher

By default CtrlP will cache the file listing it uses to display results. This improves the speed of matching but means that the file listing can become stale and show incorrect results.

Instead, we recommend using the following configuration to instruct CtrlP to use ag, aka the silver searcher, to populate the file list and to never cache the results. This is both amazingly fast, will always be up to date since is does not cache, and will respect your .gitignore file to ignore build and tmp files.

" Make CtrlP use ag for listing the files. Way faster and no useless files.
let g:ctrlp_user_command = 'ag %s -l --hidden --nocolor -g ""'
let g:ctrlp_use_caching = 0

You'll also need to add .git to your ~/.agignore to keep CtrlP from displaying results from your git repo.

See this pull request to the thoughtbot dotfiles for more detail.


Plugin 'tpope/vim-surround'

Surround.vim is a plugin by the amazingly prolific plugin author tpope. It extends Vim's command language to add new "verbs" for operating on surroundings like braces, parenthesis, quotes, etc. It provides mappings for adding, changing, and removing surrounding pairs that use Vim's powerful command language syntax and text-objects.

Primary Mappings

In the following mappings, <character> can be any of [, [, (, ), ", ', `, {, }.

Mapping Operation
ds<character> Delete surrounding <character>
cs<character><new character> Replace surrounding <character> with <new character>
ys<text-obj><character> Surround text-object with <character>
dst Delete surround tag (works on HTML tags)

Note Surround.vim can even change surrounding HTML tags. The syntax begins with cst, then waits for you to specify a tag (including the open angle bracket). So a complete command might look like cst<h3> to change the surrounding tag to an <h3> tag.


Plugin 'tpope/vim-repeat'

Another tpope original, Repeat.vim, supercharges Vim's . command (. repeats the last change you made) and allows for plugins to hook into the . command.

As an example, say you've just used Surround.vim to surround a word in a <strong> tag with ysiw<strong>. Without Repeat.vim you'd have to type all that out again to strongify another word, but with Repeat.vim you can just hit . and Vim will happily repeat the surrounding change on the new word. Amazing!


Plugin 'tpope/vim-rails'

Continuing with the tour-de-tpope, we now come to Rails.vim. This is a huge plugin with a ton of functionality, but one that is critical if you're working on Rails apps. It provides a number of commands you can use to rapidly navigate and work on your app. Some examples:

Mapping Operation
:A Open the "alternate" file of the current (spec for model, etc)
:AV Open the "alternate" file in a vertical split
:RModel <tab> Tab complete to open models by name
:RController <tab> Tab complete to open models by name
:Rextract (visual) Extract visual selection to a partial, replace with render

In addition to the above commands, Rails.vim has a number of other tricks up it's sleeve including updating Vim's file lookup path to support navigating to views with gf, Rails specific syntax highlighting, and a host more. Check out :h rails<cr> for a more complete listing.


Plugin 'tpope/vim-commentary'

Rounding out the tpope-apalooza we come to Commentary.vim. Commentary teaches Vim another new verb, this one for commenting out a line or multiple lines, using the command language of Vim. It's mapped to gc (think "go comment") and works on any text-object or motion, as you'd expect. Some sample usages are:

Mapping Operation
gc2j Comment down two lines
gcc Comment out the current line
gcip Comment out the current paragraph


Plugin 'thoughtbot/vim-rspec'

Rspec.vim is a thoughtbot original plugin that automates defining the Rspec command needed to run the current file or even current spec (based on the current line). This is amazingly handy when you're trying to optimize your TDD loop for rapid feedback.

Typically you'll map <leader>t to run the current spec, and <leader>a to run the whole spec file. Rspec.vim will even remember that last spec you ran so you can jump over to an implementation file, make a quick change, and then immediately re-run the spec from there.

Rspec.vim focuses on defining the spec command but allows you to specify the way in which you would like the spec run. In the video Ben demonstrates using another plugin, Dispatch.vim, but there are many other methods you can use to run the spec command.

You Don't Need a File Explorer

Many users coming from other editors want something like a Project Explorer or directory tree. If your determined to get one, then NerdTree is likely what you want. That said, we recommend against installing NerdTree or similar plugins that attempt to provide an almost GUIlike directory tree.

Instead, we recommend using CtlrP most of the time, and Vim's builtin Netrw directory explorer for viewing the files in a directory. Use :e . to open Netrw on Vim's current working directory, and then all your normal motions apply. Use <cr> to edit the file under your cursor.

Plugin Advice

Plugins are a great way to enhance your Vim, but like with all things in Vim, an incremental approach is recommended. Try to only add one or two plugins at a time to allow you to focus on and learn them. Evaluate your plugins regularly and get rid of any you aren't using anymore.