Interesting Trends in Vim

January 15, 2012 at 02:31 PM

Something I’ve noticed lately with vim plugins are that miniscripts and smaller vim tweaks, any sort of vim functionality, are being packaged and shared as a proper vim plugins via git, not just big IDE style plugins. This may not be an entirely new idea, but I think it’s becoming more of the norm to use pathogen and git submodules to share everything vim related, rather than copying and pasting actual code, I think the idea of managing everything via git, github, and git submodules is pretty neat.

  • Thanks to Pathogen, plugins can remain separate from your main configuration, which great decreases the friction of trying new plugins and keeping your existing plugins organized.
  • Thanks to git, plugins have revision history and stable versions (tags).
  • Thanks to github, plugins have easy and stable endpoints to install from, to get updates from, and to complain about for bugs. Additionally, forking makes it easy to fix bugs yourself or make any tweaks you want, while still keeping everything in git.
  • Thanks to git submodules, you can store your list of installed vim plugins, update them when necessary, and share them between multiple machines.
  • With vundle or vim-addon-manager, you can search and install new plugins, all from within vim.

The Theory

My dotfiles and vimrc have been in source control for years. I’ve always kept a selection of vim plugins in my dotfiles repo, specific versions of plugins that I know work together. Pathogen was an easy switch and made it much easier to try new plugins and figure out if a new plugin played well with my current configuration.

With git submodules and keeping everything in git, I’ve come to realize, you get all of that and more. Want to try a new plugin? Download it to your vim bundle directory and give it a try. Git status will show you that it’s an untracked directory and you haven’t added it your dotfiles yet. When you decide you like it, you can add it as a submodule and checkout version X, which you know works correctly with your system.

Want to try out the latest dev version? Is there even a newer version to try? Pull latest in that plugin’s git repo and see if there are updates. If you like those updates, commit the latest version in the git submodules, otherwise reset everything to the last known working state.

Want to fix something in the plugin? Like some new features, but want to keep some of the old features? Fork the plugin, delete the official submodule from your dotfiles, and checkout your fork as a submodule. Everything can remain in git still.

The Practice

One of the best examples I’ve seen recently was a Stack Overflow question a few months back. Someone asked how to add highlighting to paired html tags. The answer was a simple plugin that added that exact functionality. Not source code or a link to a vim wiki, but a full plugin, that with the setup I just described, is a one-step process to try out.

I feel plugins have traditionally been complex things in vim, but by having this easy and module process available and understood, more cool plugins will be made. Looks like it’s time to Learn Vimscript the Hard Way and start writing my own plugins now!

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