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Cover image for 1 Month Vim Only Challenge - Weeks 2 and 3
Mateusz Podlasin
Mateusz Podlasin

Posted on • Originally published at mpodlasin.com

1 Month Vim Only Challenge - Weeks 2 and 3

This article is part of my series "1 Month Vim Only Challenge", where I force myself to use vim for 1 month and, at the same time, create articles talking about my progress, challenges, and frustrations.

You can read the two previous articles here and here.

Note that this article is not a tutorial or anything like that. It's just a collection of my purely subjective experiences while doing the challenge.

Crisis in Vim City

The two previous articles in the series were very optimistic. I was motivated to do the challenge and the first week went shockingly smooth.

However, it's probably not a surprise that in the second and third weeks everything started becoming more challenging. Energy and attitude from the first week slowly disappeared. I lost my rose-colored glasses and started noticing more and more problems with my workflow and setup.

The thing is, the two past weeks were extremely busy for me, both at work as well as in private life. At work, we are getting close to finishing an important project, so I had to stay focused on that. And on top of that, I decided to travel to Turkey for one week, in order to meet my coworkers.

Lack of free time, combined with pressures of delivering the project, made using vim very difficult for me. In fact, I was close to giving up multiple times. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that I framed this whole thing as a "challenge".

I didn't do that by accident when I was starting this series. I knew that there will be moments when using vim will become difficult, especially at work. So I decided to do it as a challenge, in order to literally force myself to go through the toughest times.

And it worked. As of now, I still haven't reinstalled VSCode and haven't used it even once. Yes, I am still writing this article in vim.:w

So what exactly were the problems? Let's mention some stuff, in no particular order.

Working On Multiple Files

For the longest time, I didn't know that vim has tabs functionality. I just used windows, which splits your view into multiple subwindows, effectively giving each file less and less space on the screen.

In the beginning, using windows was good enough for me. However, even this simple setup was awkward, because default keyboard shortcuts to navigate between windows are very, very uncomfortable. Pressing Ctrl+W while staying in the home row gives a solid stretch to your fingers... Try it!

Currently, I am trying to force myself to use tabs more. They are much better than windows - including better navigation shortcuts. And yet, for some bizarre reason, I still fall back to using windows again and again. I am not sure why.

Maybe it's the weird way directories are abbreviated in the name of the tab? Or the fact that the project tree disappears when you open a new tab because it operates on a tab per-tab basis?

Or perhaps, like most things in vim, it's really just a matter of getting used to. But as it stands, I still do feel a certain "awkwardness" when working with projects that require me to have multiple files open at the same time.

Navigating Large Projects

NERDTree, which I am using as my filesystem tree plugin, is very pleasant to work with and well documented. However, I still find it awkward to use the keyboard for navigating large directory structures. I believe I was much faster with a mouse.

To give you some context, the repositories I am currently working in can be massive. Those are often monorepos, containing multiple separate packages.

Perhaps this is just a matter of time, but for now, I feel that this way of navigating files inhibits me, especially when I have to find a file fast.

What would help me would be also some kind of global file search. Vim has some built-in stuff for that, like :grep command, but... I never really got it to work.

And even if I did, the UX of that command is frankly horrible, requiring you to type the command with a searched phrase and then type a second command, which shows you the search results. Why? Just give me a command where I can write something like :gs "some searched term" and see all the results immediately, preferably with a "jump to file" functionality.

Now, I have seen some plugins doing that, which looked extremely promising, but the installation and/or setup turned out to be a bit trickier than I expected. So this is also something I would have to devote some time to.

Working With TS Tooling

In the last article, I was very positive about the TypeScript tooling that I started using.

However, I started discovering some limitations fairly quickly. Those limitations led me to install another plugin - coc.nvim.

This extension is very interesting because it promises to "Make your Vim/Neovim as smart as VSCode."

It's a more general plugin, that - rather than supporting a single language or functionality - allows you to extend vim in a very similar way as you would extend VSCode. As far as I understand it, underneath it uses the same tooling that VSCode uses. Because of that, support for - let's say - TypeScript is virtually the same in vim and VSCode. Autocomplete works the same way, autoimports work the same way, etc.

This is an amazing idea because it utilizes the great and battle-tested work that was already done for VSCode.

As I've said, the installation itself is very simple. But - as the authors of the extension themselves recommend - you still have to do some keybindings configuration, in order to get the most out of it.

Because of that, I still don't really know how to achieve certain results using this plugin. I don't know for example how to check the inferred type of an expression. I also have trouble with identifying if my file has currently any TS errors because it is presented on a per-line basis and I can't see all the lines in the file at the same time.

Funnily enough, I still have the previous TS plugin installed. Mostly because I got used to how well some stuff worked there. On the flip side, the plugin started acting crazy in some (admittedly rare) cases. Presumably, because it didn't successfully detect which TypeScript version I am using in each package of the multirepo (?).

So even though both of those tools are very impressive and mature, even here I will have to do additional work of learning and configuring stuff, in order to make the workflow perfect.

Working With Eslint

There are still more things that I need to somehow solve. Because at work we are working on a pretty big multirepo, even the linting command runs very long. Of course most of my coworkers mitigate that by using a VSCode with an extension that lints a specific file during editing.

There exist of course some vim (or coc.nvim!) plugins that do the same thing, I just didn't put aside some time to try one out.

And my fear - based on the TypeScript plugins that I talked about - would be that even after installation, I would have to do some additional configuration work just to make everything work seamlessly.

Yes, It's All My Fault

At this point, I know what you are thinking. "Well, what's the problem? You just have to properly set up the plugins or add new ones and everything will work just as you would like it!".

And that's true. It's all my fault. But that's exactly the whole point of my article. If I had even a little bit of free time, setting up the workflow with vim would be simply fun.

But when you have to balance work and private life at the same time, it's surprisingly difficult to devote even twenty minutes to set up a particular plugin.

What keeps happening is that I start setting something up - say, I install a specific plugin. But then there is still a some configuration that I should do. And how to configure those plugins is often a bit poorly documented and/or just simply looks intimidating for a newcomer.

This makes it difficult to assess how long a certain configuration will take. It might be a breeze and take ten minutes, or it might turn out that things are more complex than expected, and you will have to spend a whole day, trying to get some plugin to work.

And yes, I know that most of the time, it will just take ten to twenty minutes. Those plugins are well maintained and have solid communities behind them. But when you have tasks at work that you need to execute ASAP, it's super difficult to make a rational decision and devote some time to configure your tooling.

On top of that, this ten to twenty minutes involves only one plugin. And, as you've seen before, I have problems involving at least few of them. So it would take me even more time to configure everything the way I'd like to.

The ultimate point here is simple - if you are going to take a deep dive into vim, make sure that you have enough free time to really learn and configure it properly. If you reserve some time, this process will be much more enjoyable. But if you are speeding through plugin documentation, because you have work that needs to get done, using vim might become challenging, and simply unpleasant.

It just isn't a "plug and play" tool. It gives you lots of freedom regarding configurability, remapping keybindings, etc. But this power comes also with a more demanding setup process.

With great power comes great responsibility, I guess.

PS

It is now the end of the weekend, as I am writing this last paragraph.

Just to be fair to the vim community, I need to mention that I have finally set aside some time to do more configuration work.

Most of the problems I've mentioned were easily solvable. It took me not more than 2 hours to solve around 80% of my issues

So the fear and anxiety were mostly unwarranted.

This however further emphasizes my ultimate point of the article - make sure to set aside some time devoted to configuring your vim setup. Don't tell yourself that you will "do it during work hours" etc. Devote solid 2, 3 hours in the week and put actual effort into reading docs and figuring out how the tooling works.

This will make using vim during actual work hours much more seamless and pleasant.

Cover Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Top comments (2)

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vonheikemen profile image
Heiker

Working with multiple files "the vim way" is kind of tricky. I took me a long time finding how people did it... and then some more to get used to it.

Apparently the secret is the set hidden option and the buffer list. The :ls command will show you the list of open files. And you can navigate to any of those files with the :buffer command.

The cool thing about the :buffer command is that it can autocomplete using the paths of the opened files. So if you write something like :buffer main.js and then press Tab, vim will show you the completion list with the files that contain main.js. Accept the completion, press Enter and you're there.

The other piece of the puzzle will be the "alternate file", which is basically the most recently used file. If you use :buffer # you'll get there. Vim has a built-in shortcut for this: <C-^>, that is Ctrl + ^, which in QWERTY layouts is Ctrl + 6.

Additionally you could "chain" ls and buffer inside a keymap.

nnoremap <Leader>bb :ls<CR>:buffer<Space>
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

If this is still not enough for your workflow you can check out fzf and the companion plugin fzf.vim. (I'm almost certain you knew about this one).

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mpodlasin profile image
Mateusz Podlasin Author

Thanks for the tips!

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