Setting Up VIM

This document details the steps I take to set up my personal VIM environment.


  • First step is to install VIM.
    • On Linux this is usually pre-installed but you can use a package manager like yum or apt-get to update it.
    • On Windows you can install gVim.
  • If the version of VIM on the package manager is very old then you can build it yourself. Or if you need extra features to be built in then you need to do this. The process is relatively straightforward
    • Check out the repository from Github
    • Run ./configure in src if you need to add extra features
    • Run make to build vim
    • Run sudo make install to install VIM to the system directories
    • After this step I needed to run hash -r in the bash shell to force bash to pick up the new VIM.

Vimrc Customisation

  • Create a .vimrc file in your home directory. Any customisations will be put in here. I recommend putting this under source-control. A common practice I've seen is for people to have a dotfiles repository on Github.
  • Use four spaces for tabs
    filetype plugin indent on
    " show existing tab with 4 spaces width
    set tabstop=4
    " when indenting with '>', use 4 spaces width
    set shiftwidth=4
    " On pressing tab, insert 4 spaces
    set expandtab
  • When I updated my VIM I lost syntax highlighting, so to get it back permanently I added syntax enable to my .vimrc
  • Add a shortcut to mimic the escape key - I chose jk for this. This advantage here is that your fingers don't need to leave the home keys to enter normal mode.
  • If you're editing the .vimrc file then an easy command to reload it is :so %


  • Vundle is a package manager for VIM. This should make managing VIM plugins a lot easier.
    • Clone the repository from git
    • Add the required lines from the website to the .vimrc
    • Start VIM and run :PluginInstall. This will install the plugins specified in the .vimrc file.


  • Nerdtree is a useful package to view the directory structure as a tree from inside VIM - guide.
  • You can install it using Vundle by adding Plugin 'scrooloose/nerdtree' to your .vimrc file
  • Now you should bind a key to toggle this on and off. To bind Ctrl-n to this add map <C-n> :NERDTreeToggle<CR> to the .vimrc.
  • If the file that you're currently looking at is modified then NerdTree will open additional files in a new split buffer. Otherwise it will just use the existing buffer.
  • Press r to refresh the current directory listing in Nerdtree.


  • Install ctags on your system
  • There are a number of ways to manage tags files. For example, you can have a global file or have a tags file at each level of the directory structure. I've chosen to have a single file at the root of each project. This is due to dealing with multiple branches - each branch will have mostly the same tags and having them all in one global file would clash with each other.
  • You can manually manage the tags files and rebuilding these. However this can get complicated. I've chosen to use a plugin EasyTags to help with this. This page has more information on using EasyTags.
  • EasyTags will rebuild the tags for the current file when the cursor is inactive for a while.
  • To set it up add these lines to the .vimrc
      Plugin 'xolox/vim-easytags'
      Plugin 'xolox/vim-misc'
  • To force a rebuild of the tags for the current file run UpdateTags
  • For the initial setup you will need to generate tags for the entire codebase so run ctags -R . from the command line at the folder where you want to create the tags file.
  • You want to change where EasyTags searches for tag files using this system. You want it to start in the current folder and then go up until you hit the project tag file.
      set tags=./tags;
      let g:easytags_dynamic_files = 1
  • EasyTags is fairly slow for large projects to to fix this I enabled async mode by adding these lines to my .vimrc
    let g:easytags_async=1
    let g:easytags_auto_highlight = 0


  • TagBar is a plugin to display the tags for that file in a sidebar organsed by scope. It requires ctags
  • Add nmap <F8> :TagbarToggle<CR> to toggle the tagbar by pressing F8


  • Vim has autocomplete for the commands and also the tags pressing U, p, and then tab will fill out the UpdateTags command
  • Similarly if I type :tag R this will start autocompleting the tags beginning with R.


  • Remap F5 to remove trailing whitespace at the end of a file :nnoremap <silent> <F5> :let _s=@/ <Bar> :%s/\s\+$//e <Bar> :let @/=_s <Bar> :nohl <Bar> :unlet _s <CR>
  • There are various options for highlighting and removing whitespace on Vim Wikia.

Line Numbering

  • Hybrid line numbering mode - useful for relative line jumps
    set relativenumber
    set number

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