Closet Coder

I work in my closet. I code. Yep.

Using VIM Fulltime

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I’ve used various IDEs for the last 10 years of development. Started with Eclipse while developing in Java. Switched to TextMate when I moved to a Mac and started developing in Ruby. Eventually, TextMate’s development became stale and things other people were able to do with their editors started to look good. I began searching, and even bought a license for Sublime Text 2. It had a lot of what I was looking for, but what I wanted was an editor that let me never leave my keyboard unless I wanted to and had good integration points. I’d love a good fullscreen mode since I’m a bit of a FullScreen addict on Mac.

Turns out, there’s no such editor.

There’s one that can come close, though; the editor I’ve used for little tasks for over 15 years… VIM.

Just a Text Editor?

VIM isn’t just a text editor. I’ve used it since my sophmore year in college to handle little tasks on servers since it’s ubiquitous and powerful enough. I know my way around without the arrow keys, and how to insert, etc, but I’d never really used Visual mode or tried to handle anything more than one file at a time.

There were a handful of commands, .vimrc configurations, and plugins that helped me get past all that.

Commands I already knew

  1. i/I/a/A - enter insert
  2. o/O - enter insert mode on line below/above
  3. p/P - paste deleted/yanked text on line below/above
  4. Y - Yank the currently selected line(s)
  5. / - search file
  6. :## - go to line
  7. :wq - write and quit
  8. d - delete, dd - delete row. d3 - delete 3 rows
  9. jklh - directions without using arrows. Awesome.

Favorite New Commands

  1. V - Visual Mode

    The VISUAL mode is something I’d seen a lot, but hadn’t really understood. Now it’s invaluable.

  2. Ctrl-V - Vertical Splits

    Vertical splits were something I always wanted, but never quite understood. I ended up with them randomly and then would :q vim to get out. Now I know and master them.

  3. :bd - Delete Buffer

    Delete the current buffer. This lets you close a file quickly.

  4. Ctrl-ww - Change Windows

    Quickly change from one split to another.

  5. :e <file> - create a new file

    Lets me create a new file without leaving vim

  6. :!<command> - execute a shell command and then return.

    Useful for rake tasks, git pushes, etc.

  7. W, w, B, and b - word navigation

    Forward and backward one word or one “programming” word. Can also be combined with d to delete words, etc.


In my .vimrc, I did a handful of things that were helpful to me that I’d never done before:

  1. Turned on the 80 column highlight
  2. Turned on syntax highlighting
  3. Turned on autoindent and :ack
  4. Mapped my LEADER key to ‘,’
  5. Automatically stripped trailing whitespace on save.
  6. And provided a crude tab-complete

Useful Plugins

  1. Pathogen

    A plugin to manage plugins. Makes it easy as long as you have a git repo to clone.

  2. Command-T

    Lets me use <leader>-T to do what I’d do in TextMate/Sublime to find a file in the project

  3. NerdTree

    I needed it at first, but now, not as much. Good to have for periodic filesystem navigation

  4. Fugitive

    A good git plugin that provides the :Gstatus command, which let me quickly stage/unstage files, see diffs, and blame

  5. Ack

    Lets me search the whole project quickly and navigate the results. This was the final “missing piece” to get off of Sublime/TextMate. I would always go back becuase I didn’t want to use a goofy RegEx to do very basic searching in my project–luckily Ack and ack.vim provide it quickly and with great result navigation

Taking the plunge

Ultimately, the things that really helped me were getting to know a few basic commands, installing Command-T and Ack, and tweaking with my VIMRC. I’ve been using VIM for years and never really got it until the last month. Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve actually made it my primary editor and only brought up SublimeText 2 once. Now, all I have to load up to get started is iTerm + vi. Guard runs in a separate pane and everything else can be done from inside VI.

Now I have a long way to go before I become a VIM ninja, but this is what got me started. Maybe it will help you too.