Writing a vim plugin

David · May 8, 2017

If you’re writing a vim plugin, there are some things you should know and some tricks you can benefit from. I collect my fundamentals here.

I assume your plugin is named wubwub. Replace as appropriate.

Writing a plugin in vimscript

  • Write your API in wubwub/plugin/wubwub.vim and wubwub/ftplugin/wubwub.vim as appropriate:
    • plugin/ for plugins that apply to all buffers (global plugins)
    • ftplugin/ for plugins that apply to specific filetypes (ftplugins)
  • Write the bulk of your code in wubwub/autoload/wubwub.vim
  • Put a load guard in your global API files to prevent reloading and allow users to disable:
if exists('loaded_wubwub') || &cp || version < 700
let loaded_wubwub = 1
  • A few notes about load guards:
    • Your load guard is also a good place to check for vim features you require: !has('timers') || !exists('*json_encode') || !has('patch-8.1.1517'). helpful.vim can help you find the patch version a command was added if it’s not in :help +feature-list or detectable with exists.
    • A user can use let loaded_wubwub = 0 to temporarily or conditionally prevent your plugin from loading.
    • However, you often want code to be loaded multiple times in an ftplugin since many things only apply to the current buffer like buffer/window-local options (:help :setlocal), mappings (:help :map-<buffer>), or commands (:help :command-buffer). But for functions, put them in autoload to avoid redefinition.

Writing a plugin in python

Where do I put my python code?

Vim will include python2/, python3/, or pythonx/ directories in your python path.

mkdir -p ~/.vim/bundle/wubwub/pythonx
echo "print('hi there')" > ~/.vim/bundle/wubwub/pythonx/hello.py
gvim +"pyx import hello"

Where do users put configuration?

Let users store configuration in their vimrc. It’s easy for you to access globals in python:

echo "let g:wubwub_name = 'idbrii'" >> ~/.vimrc
cat << EOF > ~/.vim/bundle/wubwub/pythonx/hello.py
import vim
gvim +"pyx import hello"

You might be tempted to use configparser, but that’s not a vim-friendly way of configuring since people can’t just configure from their pre-existing config files. Also, you would have to figure out where on disk the config file should be located!

Using vim variables for configuration is much more user-friendly.

How can I pass user arguments to python?

This is the trickiest part.

At the first level, we can create a function that takes an argument.

cat << EOF > ~/.vim/bundle/wubwub/pythonx/hello.py
import vim
def f(text):
    print(text +' woohoo')
gvim +"pyx import hello" +"execute printf('pyx hello.f(\"%s\")', g:wubwub_name)"

That’s pretty awkward. It’s even more awkward if your argument may contain quotes! We can avoid the eval-like use by stuffing our args into a global.

# ~/.vim/bundle/wubwub/pythonx/hello.py
def action(args):
    for a in args:

def action_api():
    args = vim.vars["wubwub_args"]
" ~/.vim/bundle/wubwub/plugin/hello.vim
function! Action(...)
    let g:wubwub_args = a:000
    python import hello
    python hello.action_api()
command! -nargs=* Action call Action(<f-args>)
gvim +"pyx import hello" +"Action do some stuff"

That’s pretty awkward. It’s even more awkward if your argument may contain quotes! I don’t know the best way to call python functions with arguments. It’s probably best to try to make your interface as tight as possible and only pass args when necessary.

If you know any good python plugins that provide commands, you should have a look at how they work (I can’t think of any).

How can I get data from python?

Fortunately this is easy: pass them in global variables.

vim.vars["wubwub_statusline"] = get_statusline()

How do I …

Try reading through all of :help if_pyth.


You could use snake to make pythonic vim plugins (with less vimscript required), but it’s mostly aimed at extending your vimrc.

Creating mappings for your plugin

Give power to the people

Let your users control whether mappings are defined and help them define their own.

  • Always wrap mappings in regular buffers with no_plugin_maps and wubwub_no_mappings:
if (! exists("no_plugin_maps") || ! no_plugin_maps) &&
        \ (! exists("g:wubwub_no_mappings") || ! g:wubwub_no_mappings)
  • This doesn’t include special buffers that don’t have editable text (like the Gstatus and Gblame buffers in fugitive).
  • These options make it easier for users who prefer to have complete control over their mappings.
  • The wubwub_no_mappings option is especially useful when you define multiple mappings and a user only wants to use one of them.

  • Use <Plug> to expose your mappings so users can customize them. This is not required in special buffers that don’t have editable text.
  • Parenthesize <Plug> map names to prevent delays.

Use C-u for mappings to ex commands

Visual mode maps to ex commands will automatically have the line numbers for the visual selection applied. These prepended markers undesirable when using another method to get the visual selection (normal! gv inside a function, <line1> and <line2>, etc). You can prefix ex commands with <C-u> to clear out the range:

:xnoremap % :<C-u>call Percent_nextline()<CR>

Doing so will make your map run like this:

:call Percent_nextline()<CR>

Instead of this:

:'<,'>call Percent_nextline()<CR>

Similarly, normal mode maps to ex commands will have line numbers for the count applied. If you’re using another method to get the count (v:count) or want to ignore the count, then use <C-u>:

:nnoremap % :<C-u>call Percent_nextline()<CR>

Doing so will make your map run like this:

:call Percent_nextline()<CR>

Instead of this:

:.,.+4call Percent_nextline()<CR>


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