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Scratch notes in vim

Igor Irianto
Vim, Rails, cheesy puns
Originally published at irian.to Updated on ・3 min read

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While coding, sometimes I need to quickly take notes to capture random thoughts. Mac's Notes used to be my default go-to app. However, wouldn't it be nice if I can take scratch notes inside Vim so it won't disrupt my flow?

Well devs, if you're wondering the same thing, you're in for a treat! Vim has a built-in ability to write scratch notes and here is how you can do it too!

Taking notes

Before we start, let's make sure we are on the same page. In my ideal world, a scratch note needs to:

  1. Not be saved into our directory (otherwise we are creating new file)
  2. Not get lost when hidden
  3. Be quick to access

Powered by :new

Vim's scratch note starts from :new command (:vnew works too), a command to create new window.

Once a new window is generated, we need to add additional setups:

:setlocal buftype=nofile
:setlocal bufhidden=hide
:setlocal noswapfile
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I will explain what they do:

  1. setting buftype=nofile will tell vim that this newly-created buffer should be considered nofile type. If you noticed in buffers list (:buffers), originally our new file is listed as "[No Name]". After adding :setlocal buftype=nofile, it will now be listed as "[Scratch]"! This means Vim categorizes any nofiles as scratch file type.

  2. Adding bufhidden=hide will keep it persistent when the buffer is hidden. Without this setting, if your current scratch buffer gets hidden by another buffer, it will disappear... forever 😱😱!! Adding bufhidden=hide prevents this so it is accessible until we exit vim.

  3. noswapfile prevents swapfile from being generated.

Improvements

Although I think this capability is great, it is still not quick to access. We have to call 3 setlocals each time we generate new scratch notes. Wouldn't it be nice if we can setup our vim to automatically perform those setups?

After playing around a bit, here's an example script I came up to address that issue. Add this inside your .vimrc:

function! s:ScratchGenerator()
  echom "Creating scratchy..."
  exe "new" . "__Scratchy__"
  echom "Scratchy created!"
endfunction

function! s:ScratchMarkBuffer()
  setlocal buftype=nofile
  setlocal bufhidden=hide
  setlocal noswapfile
endfunction

autocmd BufNewFile __Scratchy__ call s:ScratchMarkBuffer()
command! Scratchy call s:ScratchGenerator()
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What's going on here? I'll start from the end:

command! Scratchy call s:ScratchGenerator()
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This adds a new command :Scratchy. When we invoke it, it calls ScratchGenerator function, which creates a new file named "__Scratchy__".

autocmd BufNewFile __Scratchy__ call s:ScratchMarkBuffer()
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This is an autocommand that gets invoked if new buffer file (BufNewFile) is created and that buffer is named exactly "__Scratchy__".

Source your .vimrc. You can now create a scratch note by typing command :Scratchy from normal mode!

To access it even quicker, you can add shortcut.

I like to keep it memorable, so my shortcut choice is Ctrl+s (for scratch). The mapping is:

nnoremap <C-s> :Scratchy<CR>
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Now every time I have an itch for scratch notes (pun intended 😃), I can just press Ctrl+s!

Alternatively, there is a vim plugin called scratch.vim with more feature. Experiment to create your perfect scratch note!

That's it! Now you can scratch that off your list!

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