David Tran

Using Vim for a Week

I have been listening to development podcasts development podcasts for a while now. Once in a while, I hear either a host or a guest mention how great Vim is and how everybody should at least try it.

Well, here I am. A week after trying to use Vim. Emphasis on try because it is, and will always be, a learning process.

Why Vim?

According to legend, things start to happen almost as fast as you can think of them when you use Vim.

Well, I am sold. 🙂

Truthfully, I have only recently begun using integrated development environments (IDEs). Before my current position, I mostly used graphical user interface (GUI) text editors and dabbled in IDEs here and there.

There are three advantages to Vim that caught my attention:

  1. Speed
  2. Versatility
  3. Ubiquity

The load times for Vim are minuscule compared to those of IDEs because there is no GUI overhead. More importantly, the speed at which you can perform operation is mind-blowing with Vim’s key bindings.

Even though Vim is a command-line interface (CLI) editor that lacks built-in features that IDEs or GUI text editors ships with, it is extremely customizable. There are a plethora of plugins and mappings that can be used to do anything your heart desires!

Vim is almost guaranteed to be available on any Unix system so the skills you learn will be portable. The idea of being able to SSH into a server and begin editing files right from the command-line is extremely appealing to me.

All this said, I still love using IDEs and GUI text editors when the situation calls for it. Maybe that will change once I become more proficient in Vim. Nonetheless, having a variety of tools under my belt is fantastic!

As a side note, I have been trying keep my hands on the home row to help improve my typing efficiency.


Since my configuration file is not too long (yet), I can show its entirety here.

I am putting a strict rule on myself that I can only make modifications to the configuration file that I understand.

" Do not try to be vi compatible (use awesome vim settings)
set nocompatible

" =============== Plugins ===============

" Specify a directory for plugins
call plug#begin('~/.vim/plugged')

" Syntax highlighting for Pug files
Plug 'digitaltoad/vim-pug', { 'for': 'pug' }

" Initialize the plugin system
call plug#end()

" =============== General Settings ===============

set number  " Show line numbers
set ruler   " Show file statistics (default to bottom right)
syntax on   " Turn on syntax highlighting

" =============== Indentation ===============

set smartindent     " Auto indent based on code syntax
set shiftwidth=4    " Set the number of columns indented with the reindent operations (<< and >>)
set softtabstop=4   " Set the number of columns indented when the 'Tab' key is pressed in insert mode
set expandtab       " Use spaces instead of tabs

" =============== File Explorer ===============

let g:netrw_banner=0    " Remove the file explorer banner
let g:netrw_winsize=25  " Set the width of the file explorer window to be 25% of the editor's width

" =============== Search ===============

set hlsearch    " Highlight search results
set ignorecase  " Search in a case-insensitive manner
set incsearch   " Search incrementally (show the position of the pattern as typing occurs)

" =============== Mappings ===============

" ===== Navigation =====

" Display error message when arrow keys are used in normal mode
nnoremap <Left> :echoe "Use h"<CR>
nnoremap <Right> :echoe "Use l"<CR>
nnoremap <Up> :echoe "Use k"<CR>
nnoremap <Down> :echoe "Use j"<CR>

" ===== Insertion and Deletion =====

" \d deletes without yanking in normal mode
nnoremap <leader>d "_d

" \d deletes without yanking in visual mode
vnoremap <leader>d "_d

" \p pastes without yanking in visual mode
vnoremap <leader>p "_dP

" ===== File Explorer =====

" Ctrl + e toggles file explorer
nnoremap <C-e> :Lexplore<CR>

I am not going to explain every line as I have comments for pretty much every setting. Furthermore, the documentation is much more precise than I could hope to be.

However, I would like to discuss the thoughts behind some of my choices.

Plugin Manager

I decided to use vim-plug because of its simple setup. Furthermore, it supports lazy loading of plugins for even quicker load times. I am sure that I will come to appreciate vim-plug’s many features when I begin customizing the editor more.

File Explorer

I discovered that newer versions of the netrw plugin that ships with Vim comes with a file explorer feature. This saved me from having to look for a plugin. I want to use plugins only when it is necessary to cut down on the overhead.

With the settings I have, I can toggle a file explorer window that is 25% of the editor’s width with two key presses.

I have only used the feature a few times because I felt that I could search for and open a file quicker myself. However, I do find it useful for viewing my directory in a tree structure.

My First Mappings

My very first mappings (Insertion and Deletion section) came out of the frustration of having anything I deleted yanked at the same time. Moreover, I found out that I could only paste once because the editor was yanking whatever I was pasting over.

My second adventure with mapping was when I mapped Ctrl + E to toggle the file explorer window instead of having to type :Lexplore.

My most recent mappings (Navigation section) is to force myself to not use the arrow keys in normal mode. I am allowing myself to continue their usage in insert mode for now.

Closing Thoughts

I am absolutely a beginner with Vim so there is so much that I do not know about. If there is anything that I have done that seems counter-intuitive, it probably is. Feel free to point it out so that I can learn and improve my workflow.

Moving forward, I am going to continue to use Vim for personal projects. Even though I spend most of my time in insert mode, I learn a more efficient way of doing things pretty much every day. Looking forward to the day I can use Vim fluidly (possibly as my main editor)!

It would be pretty awesome if my editor produces code as quickly as I think about it!

Are there any key bindings and combinations that I should definitely learn in the beginning phases? What are some of your favorite mappings and why?

Noticed a mistake in this post? Feel free to submit a pull request!