To start off, I’ll write about something I’ve actually seen interest in from people I know – my Vim configuration. I’ll try to explain my personal workflow and maybe share some useful tricks along the way. For now, I’ll limit myself to the basic stuff and exclude plugin-related wizardry, maybe I can devote another blog post to some of the plugins I can’t live without.

Moving within a buffer

The most fundamental of all movements is the holy hjkl. As any permanently vim-damaged person will tell you, this is what you use to move around, not the arrow keys. Unfortunately, I’ve had two annoyances with the default behavior of j and k in particular.

The first one is not going through visual lines. I strongly prefer line wrapping and I always end up trying to go to the next/previous visual line, only to be sent to the next/previous real line and start thinking about how to get back. Since I believe that having to exert conscious thought while moving around is not a very good idea in Vim, overriding this default is one of the more important things in my configuration:

nnoremap j gj
nnoremap k gk
xnoremap j gj
xnoremap k gk

The other one is that they’re really, really slow. I don’t mean response time, it’s just difficult to use them for navigating up and down bodies of code, especially when scrolling is involved, since they only go one line at a time. Some people use the built-in mappings to move up and down by pages, but the rapid jumps tend to confuse me. I’d much rather like to be able to move through lines with a bigger step. An obvious mapping to that end (or at least obvious in hindsight) is:

nmap J 5j
nmap K 5k
xmap J 5j
xmap K 5k

This way, whenever I want to jump around more quickly, I just hold down the shift key and when I want to slow down and be more precise, I let go of it. Note that I’m using nmap, not nnoremap, since I want to keep the mappings for the visual lines that I explained above.

This one is a lot more intrusive, though. J is used reasonably often for joining lines together, but instead of that, I just use :join. As for K, it’s mapped to showing the manual for the word under the buffer, but it really doesn’t seem like something that’s used often enough to warrant a single key on the home row (and I usually prefer googling anyway).

Moving around buffers

To move efficiently between splits, I use these simple mappings:

nmap gh <C-w>h
nmap gj <C-w>j
nmap gk <C-w>k
nmap gl <C-w>l

Nothing fancy, but much easier on the fingers than the original ones. g might seem like an odd key to use for the combination, but I find it’s been a very good decision. I move through splits a lot, and that key is on the home row on the left hand – the perfect spot in combination with hjkl, since I’m a bit of a touch-typist.

On the other hand, gt and gT (click) are a horrible finger combo to me, since they need to be pressed with the same hand. Adding this mapping was essential for me to be able to whiz through tabs just as easily as with splits:

nmap <C-l> gt
nmap <C-h> gT

Again, nothing fancy, but I did say I’m sticking to my basic moves in this post.

Opening and closing buffers

One thing I find annoying in “normal” editors is opening buffers. Usually, when you open a file in, say, notepad++, it appears in a new tab and all others remain where they are. At some point, I have tons of tabs around for all kinds of files I don’t care about anymore and I can’t locate anything I need. In Vim, I usually maintain a few tabs, each of which has several (usually less than three) horizontal splits, and I know what I have on each one. Whenever I want to open a new buffer, I can replace the current one if I don’t need it, I can pop it up in a split if it’s related to the current file (a test file, for example), or I can open it in a new tab if it’s related to a different context.

My actual interface to doing this is the awesome NERDTree plugin. It’s not without its little flaws, but it’s definitely a life-changer. It has mappings for opening up files in all the ways I described above, and more.

By the way, an interesting (and somewhat amusing) fact is that you can actually write plugins for the NERDTree plugin, so you can add custom menu items and mappings. I have a few experimental ones here – nothing too complicated, but my point is that it’s a fairly extensible tool.

As for closing buffers, something I’ve found particularly useful is this:

nnoremap QQ :QuitTab<cr>
command! QuitTab call s:QuitTab()
function! s:QuitTab()
  catch /E784/ " Can't close last tab

A bit more involved, but actually not that difficult to understand. I use :tabclose to attempt to close the current tab page. If it’s the last one, an error is raised, so I just catch it and quit instead. The particular problem I was trying to solve was having a NERDTree opened on each tab. That meant that even if I have a single buffer in the tab, a simple :q would not be enough. And since :tabc is way too long and doesn’t work for a single page, I just came up with a slightly more elaborate combination that does what I need and mapped it to QQ.

Probably enough for the moment…

I have a ton of small tricks in my vimfiles, but this post’s taken me more than a week of twiddling (did I mention I’m new at this?), so I figure that’s good enough to publish for now. It’s not like I’m in a rush or anything. I’ll (obviously) ask in my vicinity for opinions, but if you’re somebody I haven’t talked to and you happen to have one, feel free to drop a comment.