41Write a Vim script

The Vim script language is used for the startup vimrc file, syntax files, and many other things. This chapter explains the items that can be used in a Vim script. There are a lot of them, thus this is a long chapter.

    Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Variables
  3. Expressions
  4. Conditionals
  5. Executing an expression
  6. Using functions
  7. Defining a function
  8. Lists and Dictionaries
  9. Exceptions
  10. Various remarks
  11. Writing a plugin
  12. Writing a filetype plugin
  13. Writing a compiler plugin
  14. Writing a plugin that loads quickly
  15. Writing library scripts
  16. Distributing Vim scripts


Your first experience with Vim scripts is the vimrc file. Vim reads it when it starts up and executes the commands. You can set options to values you prefer. And you can use any colon command in it (commands that start with a :; these are sometimes referred to as Ex commands or command-line commands).

Syntax files are also Vim scripts. As are files that set options for a specific file type. A complicated macro can be defined by a separate Vim script file. You can think of other uses yourself.

Let's start with a simple example:

:let i = 1
:while i < 5
:  echo "count is" i
:  let i += 1

The : characters are not really needed here. You only need to use them when you type a command. In a Vim script file they can be left out. We will use them here anyway to make clear these are colon commands and make them stand out from Normal mode commands. Note: You can try out the examples by yanking the lines from the text here and executing them with :@"

The output of the example code is:

count is 1
count is 2
count is 3
count is 4

In the first line the :let command assigns a value to a variable. The generic form is:

:let {variable} = {expression}

In this case the variable name is i and the expression is a simple value, the number one.

The :while command starts a loop. The generic form is:

:while {condition}
:  {statements}

The statements until the matching :endwhile are executed for as long as the condition is true. The condition used here is the expression "i < 5". This is true when the variable i is smaller than five.

If you happen to write a while loop that keeps on running, you can interrupt it by pressing CTRL‑C (CTRL‑Break on MS-Windows).

The :echo command prints its arguments. In this case the string "count is" and the value of the variable i. Since i is one, this will print:

count is 1

Then there is the :let i += 1 command. This does the same thing as :let i = i + 1. This adds one to the variable i and assigns the new value to the same variable.

The example was given to explain the commands, but would you really want to make such a loop, it can be written much more compact:

:for i in range(1, 4)
:  echo "count is" i

We won't explain how :for and range() work until later. Follow the links if you are impatient.

#Four kinds of numbers

Numbers can be decimal, hexadecimal, octal or binary. A hexadecimal number starts with 0x or 0X. For example 0x1f is decimal 31. An octal number starts with a zero. 017 is decimal 15. A binary number starts with 0b or 0B. For example 0b101 is decimal 5. Careful: don't put a zero before a decimal number, it will be interpreted as an octal number!

The :echo command always prints decimal numbers. Example:

:echo 0x7f 036
127 30 ~

A number is made negative with a minus sign. This also works for hexadecimal, octal and binary numbers. A minus sign is also used for subtraction. Compare this with the previous example:

:echo 0x7f -036
97 ~

White space in an expression is ignored. However, it's recommended to use it for separating items, to make the expression easier to read. For example, to avoid the confusion with a negative number above, put a space between the minus sign and the following number:

:echo 0x7f - 036


A variable name consists of ASCII letters, digits and the underscore. It cannot start with a digit. Valid variable names are:


Invalid names are foo+bar and 6var.

These variables are global. To see a list of currently defined variables use this command:


You can use global variables everywhere. This also means that when the variable count is used in one script file, it might also be used in another file. This leads to confusion at least, and real problems at worst. To avoid this, you can use a variable local to a script file by prepending s:. For example, one script contains this code:

:let s:count = 1
:while s:count < 5
:  source other.vim
:  let s:count += 1

Since s:count is local to this script, you can be sure that sourcing the other.vim script will not change this variable. If other.vim also uses an s:count variable, it will be a different copy, local to that script. More about script-local variables here: script‑variable.

There are more kinds of variables, see internal‑variables. The most often used ones are:

b:namevariable local to a buffer
w:namevariable local to a window
g:nameglobal variable (also in a function)
v:namevariable predefined by Vim

#Deleting variables

Variables take up memory and show up in the output of the :let command. To delete a variable use the :unlet command. Example:

:unlet s:count

This deletes the script-local variable s:count to free up the memory it uses. If you are not sure if the variable exists, and don't want an error message when it doesn't, append !:

:unlet! s:count

When a script finishes, the local variables used there will not be automatically freed. The next time the script executes, it can still use the old value. Example:

:if !exists("s:call_count")
:  let s:call_count = 0
:let s:call_count = s:call_count + 1
:echo "called" s:call_count "times"

The exists() function checks if a variable has already been defined. Its argument is the name of the variable you want to check. Not the variable itself! If you would do this:

:if !exists(s:call_count)

Then the value of s:call_count will be used as the name of the variable that exists() checks. That's not what you want.

The exclamation mark ! negates a value. When the value was true, it becomes false. When it was false, it becomes true. You can read it as not. Thus "if !exists()" can be read as "if not exists()".

What Vim calls true is anything that is not zero. Zero is false.

Vim automatically converts a string to a number when it is looking for a number. When using a string that doesn't start with a digit the resulting number is zero. Thus look out for this:

	:if "true"
The "true" will be interpreted as a zero, thus as false!

#String variables and constants

So far only numbers were used for the variable value. Strings can be used as well. Numbers and strings are the basic types of variables that Vim supports. The type is dynamic, it is set each time when assigning a value to the variable with :let. More about types in “Lists and Dictionaries”.

To assign a string value to a variable, you need to use a string constant. There are two types of these. First the string in double quotes:

:let name = "peter"
:echo name
peter ~

If you want to include a double quote inside the string, put a backslash in front of it:

:let name = "\"peter\""
:echo name
"peter" ~

To avoid the need for a backslash, you can use a string in single quotes:

:let name = '"peter"'
:echo name
"peter" ~

Inside a single-quote string all the characters are as they are. Only the single quote itself is special: you need to use two to get one. A backslash is taken literally, thus you can't use it to change the meaning of the character after it.

In double-quote strings it is possible to use special characters. Here are a few useful ones:

\n<NL>, line break
\r<CR>, <Enter>
\b<BS>, backspace
\\\, backslash

The last two are just examples. The \<name> form can be used to include the special key name.

See expr‑quote for the full list of special items in a string.


Vim has a rich, yet simple way to handle expressions. You can read the definition here: expression‑syntax. Here we will show the most common items.

The numbers, strings and variables mentioned above are expressions by themselves. Thus everywhere an expression is expected, you can use a number, string or variable. Other basic items in an expression are:

$NAMEenvironment variable


:echo "The value of 'tabstop' is" &ts
:echo "Your home directory is" $HOME
:if @a > 5

The &name form can be used to save an option value, set it to a new value, do something and restore the old value. Example:

:let save_ic = &ic
:set noic
:/The Start/,$delete
:let &ic = save_ic

This makes sure the "The Start" pattern is used with the ignorecase option off. Still, it keeps the value that the user had set. (Another way to do this would be to add \C to the pattern, see /\C.)


It becomes more interesting if we combine these basic items. Let's start with mathematics on numbers:

a + badd
a - bsubtract
a * bmultiply
a / bdivide
a % bmodulo

The usual precedence is used. Example:

:echo 10 + 5 * 2
20 ~

Grouping is done with parentheses. No surprises here. Example:

:echo (10 + 5) * 2
30 ~

Strings can be concatenated with .. Example:

:echo "foo" . "bar"
foobar ~

When the :echo command gets multiple arguments, it separates them with a space. In the example the argument is a single expression, thus no space is inserted.

Borrowed from the C language is the conditional expression:

a ? b : c

If a evaluates to true b is used, otherwise c is used. Example:

:let i = 4
:echo i > 5 ? "i is big" : "i is small"
i is small ~

The three parts of the constructs are always evaluated first, thus you could see it work as:

(a) ? (b) : (c)


The :if commands executes the following statements, until the matching :endif, only when a condition is met. The generic form is:

:if {condition}

Only when the expression {condition} evaluates to true (non-zero) will the {statements} be executed. These must still be valid commands. If they contain garbage, Vim won't be able to find the :endif.

You can also use :else. The generic form for this is:

:if {condition}

The second {statements} is only executed if the first one isn't.

Finally, there is :elseif:

:if {condition}
:elseif {condition}

This works just like using :else and then if, but without the need for an extra :endif.

A useful example for your vimrc file is checking the term option and doing something depending upon its value:

:if &term == "xterm"
:  " Do stuff for xterm
:elseif &term == "vt100"
:  " Do stuff for a vt100 terminal
:  " Do something for other terminals

#Logic operations

We already used some of them in the examples. These are the most often used ones:

a == bequal to
a != bnot equal to
a > bgreater than
a >= bgreater than or equal to
a < bless than
a <= bless than or equal to

The result is one if the condition is met and zero otherwise. An example:

:if v:version >= 700
:  echo "congratulations"
:  echo "you are using an old version, upgrade!"

Here v:version is a variable defined by Vim, which has the value of the Vim version. 600 is for version 6.0. Version 6.1 has the value 601. This is very useful to write a script that works with multiple versions of Vim. v:version

The logic operators work both for numbers and strings. When comparing two strings, the mathematical difference is used. This compares byte values, which may not be right for some languages.

When comparing a string with a number, the string is first converted to a number. This is a bit tricky, because when a string doesn't look like a number, the number zero is used. Example:

:if 0 == "one"
:  echo "yes"

This will echo yes, because one doesn't look like a number, thus it is converted to the number zero.

For strings there are two more items:

a =~ bmatches with
a !~ bdoes not match with

The left item a is used as a string. The right item b is used as a pattern, like what's used for searching. Example:

:if str =~ " "
:  echo "str contains a space"
:if str !~ '\.
: echo "str does not end in a full stop" :endif

Notice the use of a single-quote string for the pattern. This is useful, because backslashes would need to be doubled in a double-quote string and patterns tend to contain many backslashes.

The ignorecase option is used when comparing strings. When you don't want that, append # to match case and ? to ignore case. Thus ==? compares two strings to be equal while ignoring case. And !~# checks if a pattern doesn't match, also checking the case of letters. For the full table see expr‑==.

#More looping

The :while command was already mentioned. Two more statements can be used in between the :while and the :endwhile:

:continueJump back to the start of the while loop; the loop continues.
:breakJump forward to the :endwhile; the loop is discontinued.


:while counter < 40
:  call do_something()
:  if skip_flag
:    continue
:  endif
:  if finished_flag
:    break
:  endif
:  sleep 50m

The :sleep command makes Vim take a nap. The 50m specifies fifty milliseconds. Another example is :sleep 4, which sleeps for four seconds.

Even more looping can be done with the :for command, see below in “Lists and Dictionaries”.

41.5Executing an expression

So far the commands in the script were executed by Vim directly. The :execute command allows executing the result of an expression. This is a very powerful way to build commands and execute them.

An example is to jump to a tag, which is contained in a variable:

:execute "tag " . tag_name

The . is used to concatenate the string "tag " with the value of variable tag_name. Suppose tag_name has the value get_cmd, then the command that will be executed is:

:tag get_cmd

The :execute command can only execute colon commands. The :normal command executes Normal mode commands. However, its argument is not an expression but the literal command characters. Example:

:normal gg=G

This jumps to the first line and formats all lines with the = operator.

To make :normal work with an expression, combine :execute with it. Example:

:execute "normal " . normal_commands

The variable normal_commands must contain the Normal mode commands.

Make sure that the argument for :normal is a complete command. Otherwise Vim will run into the end of the argument and abort the command. For example, if you start Insert mode, you must leave Insert mode as well. This works:

:execute "normal Inew text \<Esc>"

This inserts "new text " in the current line. Notice the use of the special key \<Esc>. This avoids having to enter a real <Esc> character in your script.

If you don't want to execute a string but evaluate it to get its expression value, you can use the eval() function:

:let optname = "path"
:let optval = eval('&' . optname)

A & character is prepended to path, thus the argument to eval() is &path. The result will then be the value of the path option.

The same thing can be done with:

:exe 'let optval = &' . optname

41.6Using functions

Vim defines many functions and provides a large amount of functionality that way. A few examples will be given in this section. You can find the whole list here: functions.

A function is called with the :call command. The parameters are passed in between parentheses separated by commas. Example:

:call search("Date: ", "W")

This calls the search() function, with arguments "Date: " and W. The search() function uses its first argument as a search pattern and the second one as flags. The W flag means the search doesn't wrap around the end of the file.

A function can be called in an expression. Example:

:let line = getline(".")
:let repl = substitute(line, '\a', "*", "g")
:call setline(".", repl)

The getline() function obtains a line from the current buffer. Its argument is a specification of the line number. In this case . is used, which means the line where the cursor is.

The substitute() function does something similar to the :substitute command. The first argument is the string on which to perform the substitution. The second argument is the pattern, the third the replacement string. Finally, the last arguments are the flags.

The setline() function sets the line, specified by the first argument, to a new string, the second argument. In this example the line under the cursor is replaced with the result of the substitute(). Thus the effect of the three statements is equal to:


Using the functions becomes more interesting when you do more work before and after the substitute() call.



There are many functions. We will mention them here, grouped by what they are used for. You can find an alphabetical list here: functions. Use CTRL‑] on the function name to jump to detailed help on it.

String manipulation: *string-functions*

nr2char()get a character by its number value
list2str()get a character string from a list of numbers
char2nr()get number value of a character
str2list()get list of numbers from a string
str2nr()convert a string to a Number
str2float()convert a string to a Float
printf()format a string according to % items
escape()escape characters in a string with a '\'
shellescape()escape a string for use with a shell command
fnameescape()escape a file name for use with a Vim command
tr()translate characters from one set to another
strtrans()translate a string to make it printable
tolower()turn a string to lowercase
toupper()turn a string to uppercase
match()position where a pattern matches in a string
matchend()position where a pattern match ends in a string
matchstr()match of a pattern in a string
matchstrpos()match and positions of a pattern in a string
matchlist()like matchstr() and also return submatches
stridx()first index of a short string in a long string
strridx()last index of a short string in a long string
strlen()length of a string in bytes
strchars()length of a string in characters
strwidth()size of string when displayed
strdisplaywidth()size of string when displayed, deals with tabs
substitute()substitute a pattern match with a string
submatch()get a specific match in :s and substitute()
strpart()get part of a string using byte index
strcharpart()get part of a string using char index
strgetchar()get character from a string using char index
expand()expand special keywords
expandcmd()expand a command like done for :edit
iconv()convert text from one encoding to another
byteidx()byte index of a character in a string
byteidxcomp()like byteidx() but count composing characters
repeat()repeat a string multiple times
eval()evaluate a string expression
execute()execute an Ex command and get the output
win_execute()like execute() but in a specified window
trim()trim characters from a string

List manipulation: *list-functions*

get()get an item without error for wrong index
len()number of items in a List
empty()check if List is empty
insert()insert an item somewhere in a List
add()append an item to a List
extend()append a List to a List
remove()remove one or more items from a List
copy()make a shallow copy of a List
deepcopy()make a full copy of a List
filter()remove selected items from a List
map()change each List item
sort()sort a List
reverse()reverse the order of a List
uniq()remove copies of repeated adjacent items
split()split a String into a List
join()join List items into a String
range()return a List with a sequence of numbers
string()String representation of a List
call()call a function with List as arguments
index()index of a value in a List
max()maximum value in a List
min()minimum value in a List
count()count number of times a value appears in a List
repeat()repeat a List multiple times

Dictionary manipulation: *dict-functions*

get()get an entry without an error for a wrong key
len()number of entries in a Dictionary
has_key()check whether a key appears in a Dictionary
empty()check if Dictionary is empty
remove()remove an entry from a Dictionary
extend()add entries from one Dictionary to another
filter()remove selected entries from a Dictionary
map()change each Dictionary entry
keys()get List of Dictionary keys
values()get List of Dictionary values
items()get List of Dictionary key-value pairs
copy()make a shallow copy of a Dictionary
deepcopy()make a full copy of a Dictionary
string()String representation of a Dictionary
max()maximum value in a Dictionary
min()minimum value in a Dictionary
count()count number of times a value appears

Floating point computation: *float-functions*

float2nr()convert Float to Number
abs()absolute value (also works for Number)
round()round off
ceil()round up
floor()round down
trunc()remove value after decimal point
fmod()remainder of division
log()natural logarithm (logarithm to base e)
log10()logarithm to base 10
pow()value of x to the exponent y
sqrt()square root
asin()arc sine
acos()arc cosine
atan()arc tangent
atan2()arc tangent
sinh()hyperbolic sine
cosh()hyperbolic cosine
tanh()hyperbolic tangent
isnan()check for not a number

Other computation: *bitwise-function*

and()bitwise AND
invert()bitwise invert
or()bitwise OR
xor()bitwise XOR
sha256()SHA-256 hash

Variables: *var-functions*

type()type of a variable
islocked()check if a variable is locked
funcref()get a Funcref for a function reference
function()get a Funcref for a function name
getbufvar()get a variable value from a specific buffer
setbufvar()set a variable in a specific buffer
getwinvar()get a variable from specific window
gettabvar()get a variable from specific tab page
gettabwinvar()get a variable from specific window & tab page
setwinvar()set a variable in a specific window
settabvar()set a variable in a specific tab page
settabwinvar()set a variable in a specific window & tab page
garbagecollect()possibly free memory
Cursor and mark position:*cursor-functions* *mark-functions*
col()column number of the cursor or a mark
virtcol()screen column of the cursor or a mark
line()line number of the cursor or mark
wincol()window column number of the cursor
winline()window line number of the cursor
cursor()position the cursor at a line/column
screencol()get screen column of the cursor
screenrow()get screen row of the cursor
screenpos()screen row and col of a text character
getcurpos()get position of the cursor
getpos()get position of cursor, mark, etc.
setpos()set position of cursor, mark, etc.
byte2line()get line number at a specific byte count
line2byte()byte count at a specific line
diff_filler()get the number of filler lines above a line
screenattr()get attribute at a screen line/row
screenchar()get character code at a screen line/row
screenchars()get character codes at a screen line/row
screenstring()get string of characters at a screen line/row
Working with text in the current buffer:*text-functions*
getline()get a line or list of lines from the buffer
setline()replace a line in the buffer
append()append line or list of lines in the buffer
indent()indent of a specific line
cindent()indent according to C indenting
lispindent()indent according to Lisp indenting
nextnonblank()find next non-blank line
prevnonblank()find previous non-blank line
search()find a match for a pattern
searchpos()find a match for a pattern
searchpair()find the other end of a start/skip/end
searchpairpos()find the other end of a start/skip/end
searchdecl()search for the declaration of a name
getcharsearch()return character search information
setcharsearch()set character search information

Working with text in another buffer:

getbufline()get a list of lines from the specified buffer
setbufline()replace a line in the specified buffer
appendbufline()append a list of lines in the specified buffer
deletebufline()delete lines from a specified buffer

System functions and manipulation of files:

glob()expand wildcards
globpath()expand wildcards in a number of directories
glob2regpat()convert a glob pattern into a search pattern
findfile()find a file in a list of directories
finddir()find a directory in a list of directories
resolve()find out where a shortcut points to
fnamemodify()modify a file name
pathshorten()shorten directory names in a path
simplify()simplify a path without changing its meaning
executable()check if an executable program exists
exepath()full path of an executable program
filereadable()check if a file can be read
filewritable()check if a file can be written to
getfperm()get the permissions of a file
setfperm()set the permissions of a file
getftype()get the kind of a file
isdirectory()check if a directory exists
getfsize()get the size of a file
getcwd()get the current working directory
haslocaldir()check if current window used :lcd or :tcd
tempname()get the name of a temporary file
mkdir()create a new directory
chdir()change current working directory
delete()delete a file
rename()rename a file
system()get the result of a shell command as a string
systemlist()get the result of a shell command as a list
environ()get all environment variables
getenv()get one environment variable
setenv()set an environment variable
hostname()name of the system
readfile()read a file into a List of lines
readdir()get a List of file names in a directory
writefile()write a List of lines or Blob into a file

Date and Time: *date-functions* *time-functions*

getftime()get last modification time of a file
localtime()get current time in seconds
strftime()convert time to a string
strptime()convert a date/time string to time
reltime()get the current or elapsed time accurately
reltimestr()convert reltime() result to a string
reltimefloat()convert reltime() result to a Float

Buffers, windows and the argument list:

argc()number of entries in the argument list
argidx()current position in the argument list
arglistid()get id of the argument list
argv()get one entry from the argument list
bufadd()add a file to the list of buffers
bufexists()check if a buffer exists
buflisted()check if a buffer exists and is listed
bufload()ensure a buffer is loaded
bufloaded()check if a buffer exists and is loaded
bufname()get the name of a specific buffer
bufnr()get the buffer number of a specific buffer
tabpagebuflist()return List of buffers in a tab page
tabpagenr()get the number of a tab page
tabpagewinnr()like winnr() for a specified tab page
winnr()get the window number for the current window
bufwinid()get the window ID of a specific buffer
bufwinnr()get the window number of a specific buffer
winbufnr()get the buffer number of a specific window
listener_add()add a callback to listen to changes
listener_flush()invoke listener callbacks
listener_remove()remove a listener callback
win_findbuf()find windows containing a buffer
win_getid()get window ID of a window
win_gotoid()go to window with ID
win_id2tabwin()get tab and window nr from window ID
win_id2win()get window nr from window ID
getbufinfo()get a list with buffer information
gettabinfo()get a list with tab page information
getwininfo()get a list with window information
getchangelist()get a list of change list entries
getjumplist()get a list of jump list entries
swapinfo()information about a swap file
swapname()get the swap file path of a buffer

Command line: *command-line-functions*

getcmdline()get the current command line
getcmdpos()get position of the cursor in the command line
setcmdpos()set position of the cursor in the command line
getcmdtype()return the current command-line type
getcmdwintype()return the current command-line window type
getcompletion()list of command-line completion matches

Quickfix and location lists: *quickfix-functions*

getqflist()list of quickfix errors
setqflist()modify a quickfix list
getloclist()list of location list items
setloclist()modify a location list

Insert mode completion: *completion-functions*

complete()set found matches
complete_add()add to found matches
complete_check()check if completion should be aborted
complete_info()get current completion information
pumvisible()check if the popup menu is displayed
pum_getpos()position and size of popup menu if visible

Folding: *folding-functions*

foldclosed()check for a closed fold at a specific line
foldclosedend()like foldclosed() but return the last line
foldlevel()check for the fold level at a specific line
foldtext()generate the line displayed for a closed fold
foldtextresult()get the text displayed for a closed fold
Syntax and highlighting: *syntax-functions* *highlighting-functions*
clearmatches()clear all matches defined by matchadd() and the :match commands
getmatches()get all matches defined by matchadd() and the :match commands
hlexists()check if a highlight group exists
hlID()get ID of a highlight group
synID()get syntax ID at a specific position
synIDattr()get a specific attribute of a syntax ID
synIDtrans()get translated syntax ID
synstack()get list of syntax IDs at a specific position
synconcealed()get info about concealing
diff_hlID()get highlight ID for diff mode at a position
matchadd()define a pattern to highlight (a match)
matchaddpos()define a list of positions to highlight
matcharg()get info about :match arguments
matchdelete()delete a match defined by matchadd() or a :match command
setmatches()restore a list of matches saved by getmatches()

Spelling: *spell-functions*

spellbadword()locate badly spelled word at or after cursor
spellsuggest()return suggested spelling corrections
soundfold()return the sound-a-like equivalent of a word

History: *history-functions*

histadd()add an item to a history
histdel()delete an item from a history
histget()get an item from a history
histnr()get highest index of a history list

Interactive: *interactive-functions*

browse()put up a file requester
browsedir()put up a directory requester
confirm()let the user make a choice
getchar()get a character from the user
getcharmod()get modifiers for the last typed character
getmousepos()get last known mouse position
feedkeys()put characters in the typeahead queue
input()get a line from the user
inputlist()let the user pick an entry from a list
inputsecret()get a line from the user without showing it
inputdialog()get a line from the user in a dialog
inputsave()save and clear typeahead
inputrestore()restore typeahead

GUI: *gui-functions*

getfontname()get name of current font being used
getwinpos()position of the Vim window
getwinposx()X position of the Vim window
getwinposy()Y position of the Vim window
balloon_show()set the balloon content
balloon_split()split a message for a balloon
balloon_gettext()get the text in the balloon

Vim server: *server-functions*

serverlist()return the list of server names
remote_startserver()run a server
remote_send()send command characters to a Vim server
remote_expr()evaluate an expression in a Vim server
server2client()send a reply to a client of a Vim server
remote_peek()check if there is a reply from a Vim server
remote_read()read a reply from a Vim server
foreground()move the Vim window to the foreground
remote_foreground()move the Vim server window to the foreground

Window size and position: *window-size-functions*

winheight()get height of a specific window
winwidth()get width of a specific window
win_screenpos()get screen position of a window
winlayout()get layout of windows in a tab page
winrestcmd()return command to restore window sizes
winsaveview()get view of current window
winrestview()restore saved view of current window

Mappings and Menus: *mapping-functions*

hasmapto()check if a mapping exists
mapcheck()check if a matching mapping exists
maparg()get rhs of a mapping
menu_info()get information about a menu item
wildmenumode()check if the wildmode is active

Testing: *test-functions*

assert_equal()assert that two expressions values are equal
assert_equalfile()assert that two file contents are equal
assert_notequal()assert that two expressions values are not equal
assert_inrange()assert that an expression is inside a range
assert_match()assert that a pattern matches the value
assert_notmatch()assert that a pattern does not match the value
assert_false()assert that an expression is false
assert_true()assert that an expression is true
assert_exception()assert that a command throws an exception
assert_beeps()assert that a command beeps
assert_fails()assert that a command fails
assert_report()report a test failure
test_alloc_fail()make memory allocation fail
test_autochdir()enable autochdir during startup
test_override()test with Vim internal overrides
test_garbagecollect_now() free memory right now
test_getvalue()get value of an internal variable
test_ignore_error()ignore a specific error message
test_null_blob()return a null Blob
test_null_channel()return a null Channel
test_null_dict()return a null Dict
test_null_job()return a null Job
test_null_list()return a null List
test_null_partial()return a null Partial function
test_null_string()return a null String
test_settime()set the time Vim uses internally
test_setmouse()set the mouse position
test_feedinput()add key sequence to input buffer
test_option_not_set()reset flag indicating option was set
test_scrollbar()simulate scrollbar movement in the GUI
Inter-process communication: *channel-functions*
ch_canread()check if there is something to read
ch_open()open a channel
ch_close()close a channel
ch_close_in()close the in part of a channel
ch_read()read a message from a channel
ch_readblob()read a Blob from a channel
ch_readraw()read a raw message from a channel
ch_sendexpr()send a JSON message over a channel
ch_sendraw()send a raw message over a channel
ch_evalexpr()evaluates an expression over channel
ch_evalraw()evaluates a raw string over channel
ch_status()get status of a channel
ch_getbufnr()get the buffer number of a channel
ch_getjob()get the job associated with a channel
ch_info()get channel information
ch_log()write a message in the channel log file
ch_logfile()set the channel log file
ch_setoptions()set the options for a channel
json_encode()encode an expression to a JSON string
json_decode()decode a JSON string to Vim types
js_encode()encode an expression to a JSON string
js_decode()decode a JSON string to Vim types

Jobs: *job-functions*

job_start()start a job
job_stop()stop a job
job_status()get the status of a job
job_getchannel()get the channel used by a job
job_info()get information about a job
job_setoptions()set options for a job

Signs: *sign-functions*

sign_define()define or update a sign
sign_getdefined()get a list of defined signs
sign_getplaced()get a list of placed signs
sign_jump()jump to a sign
sign_place()place a sign
sign_placelist()place a list of signs
sign_undefine()undefine a sign
sign_unplace()unplace a sign
sign_unplacelist()unplace a list of signs

Terminal window: *terminal-functions*

term_start()open a terminal window and run a job
term_list()get the list of terminal buffers
term_sendkeys()send keystrokes to a terminal
term_wait()wait for screen to be updated
term_getjob()get the job associated with a terminal
term_scrape()get row of a terminal screen
term_getline()get a line of text from a terminal
term_getattr()get the value of attribute {what}
term_getcursor()get the cursor position of a terminal
term_getscrolled()get the scroll count of a terminal
term_getaltscreen()get the alternate screen flag
term_getsize()get the size of a terminal
term_getstatus()get the status of a terminal
term_gettitle()get the title of a terminal
term_gettty()get the tty name of a terminal
term_setansicolors()set 16 ANSI colors, used for GUI
term_getansicolors()get 16 ANSI colors, used for GUI
term_dumpdiff()display difference between two screen dumps
term_dumpload()load a terminal screen dump in a window
term_dumpwrite()dump contents of a terminal screen to a file
term_setkill()set signal to stop job in a terminal
term_setrestore()set command to restore a terminal
term_setsize()set the size of a terminal

Popup window: *popup-window-functions*

popup_create()create popup centered in the screen
popup_atcursor()create popup just above the cursor position, closes when the cursor moves away
popup_beval()at the position indicated by v:beval_ variables, closes when the mouse moves away
popup_notification()show a notification for three seconds
popup_dialog()create popup centered with padding and border
popup_menu()prompt for selecting an item from a list
popup_hide()hide a popup temporarily
popup_show()show a previously hidden popup
popup_move()change the position and size of a popup
popup_setoptions()override options of a popup
popup_settext()replace the popup buffer contents
popup_close()close one popup
popup_clear()close all popups
popup_filter_menu()select from a list of items
popup_filter_yesno()blocks until 'y' or 'n' is pressed
popup_getoptions()get current options for a popup
popup_getpos()get actual position and size of a popup

Timers: *timer-functions*

timer_start()create a timer
timer_pause()pause or unpause a timer
timer_stop()stop a timer
timer_stopall()stop all timers
timer_info()get information about timers

Tags: *tag-functions*

taglist()get list of matching tags
tagfiles()get a list of tags files
gettagstack()get the tag stack of a window
settagstack()modify the tag stack of a window

Prompt Buffer: *promptbuffer-functions*

prompt_setcallback()set prompt callback for a buffer
prompt_setinterrupt()set interrupt callback for a buffer
prompt_setprompt()set the prompt text for a buffer

Various: *various-functions*

mode()get current editing mode
visualmode()last visual mode used
exists()check if a variable, function, etc. exists
has()check if a feature is supported in Vim
changenr()return number of most recent change
cscope_connection()check if a cscope connection exists
did_filetype()check if a FileType autocommand was used
eventhandler()check if invoked by an event handler
getpid()get process ID of Vim
libcall()call a function in an external library
libcallnr()idem, returning a number
undofile()get the name of the undo file
undotree()return the state of the undo tree
getreg()get contents of a register
getregtype()get type of a register
setreg()set contents and type of a register
reg_executing()return the name of the register being executed
reg_recording()return the name of the register being recorded
shiftwidth()effective value of shiftwidth
wordcount()get byte/word/char count of buffer
luaeval()evaluate Lua expression
mzeval()evaluate MzScheme expression
perleval()evaluate Perl expression (+perl)
py3eval()evaluate Python expression (+python3)
pyeval()evaluate Python expression (+python)
pyxeval()evaluate python_x expression
debugbreak()interrupt a program being debugged

41.7Defining a function

Vim enables you to define your own functions. The basic function declaration begins as follows:

:function {name}({var1}, {var2}, ...)
:  {body}

Function names must begin with a capital letter.

Let's define a short function to return the smaller of two numbers. It starts with this line:

:function Min(num1, num2)

This tells Vim that the function is named Min and it takes two arguments: num1 and num2.

The first thing you need to do is to check to see which number is smaller:

:  if a:num1 < a:num2

The special prefix a: tells Vim that the variable is a function argument. Let's assign the variable smaller the value of the smallest number:

:  if a:num1 < a:num2
:    let smaller = a:num1
:  else
:    let smaller = a:num2
:  endif

The variable smaller is a local variable. Variables used inside a function are local unless prefixed by something like g:, a:, or s:.

To access a global variable from inside a function you must prepend g: to it. Thus g:today inside a function is used for the global variable today, and today is another variable, local to the function.

You now use the :return statement to return the smallest number to the user. Finally, you end the function:

:  return smaller

The complete function definition is as follows:

:function Min(num1, num2)
:  if a:num1 < a:num2
:    let smaller = a:num1
:  else
:    let smaller = a:num2
:  endif
:  return smaller

For people who like short functions, this does the same thing:

:function Min(num1, num2)
:  if a:num1 < a:num2
:    return a:num1
:  endif
:  return a:num2

A user defined function is called in exactly the same way as a built-in function. Only the name is different. The Min function can be used like this:

:echo Min(5, 8)

Only now will the function be executed and the lines be interpreted by Vim. If there are mistakes, like using an undefined variable or function, you will now get an error message. When defining the function these errors are not detected.

When a function reaches :endfunction or :return is used without an argument, the function returns zero.

To redefine a function that already exists, use the ! for the :function command:

:function!  Min(num1, num2, num3)

#Using a range

The :call command can be given a line range. This can have one of two meanings. When a function has been defined with the range keyword, it will take care of the line range itself.

The function will be passed the variables a:firstline and a:lastline. These will have the line numbers from the range the function was called with. Example:

:function Count_words() range
:  let lnum = a:firstline
:  let n = 0
:  while lnum <= a:lastline
:    let n = n + len(split(getline(lnum)))
:    let lnum = lnum + 1
:  endwhile
:  echo "found " . n . " words"

You can call this function with:

:10,30call Count_words()

It will be executed once and echo the number of words.

The other way to use a line range is by defining a function without the range keyword. The function will be called once for every line in the range, with the cursor in that line. Example:

:function  Number()
:  echo "line " . line(".") . " contains: " . getline(".")

If you call this function with:

:10,15call Number()

The function will be called six times.

#Variable number of arguments

Vim enables you to define functions that have a variable number of arguments. The following command, for instance, defines a function that must have 1 argument (start) and can have up to 20 additional arguments:

:function Show(start, ...)

The variable a:1 contains the first optional argument, a:2 the second, and so on. The variable a:0 contains the number of extra arguments.

For example:

:function Show(start, ...)
:  echohl Title
:  echo "start is " . a:start
:  echohl None
:  let index = 1
:  while index <= a:0
:    echo "  Arg " . index . " is " . a:{index}
:    let index = index + 1
:  endwhile
:  echo ""

This uses the :echohl command to specify the highlighting used for the following :echo command. :echohl None stops it again. The :echon command works like :echo, but doesn't output a line break.

You can also use the a:000 variable, it is a List of all the ... arguments. See a:000.

#Listing functions

The :function command lists the names and arguments of all user-defined functions:

function Show(start, ...) ~
function GetVimIndent() ~
function SetSyn(name) ~

To see what a function does, use its name as an argument for :function:

:function SetSyn
1     if &syntax == '' ~
2       let &syntax = a:name ~
3     endif ~
   endfunction ~


The line number is useful for when you get an error message or when debugging. See debug‑scripts about debugging mode.

You can also set the verbose option to 12 or higher to see all function calls. Set it to 15 or higher to see every executed line.

#Deleting a function

To delete the Show() function:

:delfunction Show

You get an error when the function doesn't exist.

#Function references

Sometimes it can be useful to have a variable point to one function or another. You can do it with the function() function. It turns the name of a function into a reference:

:let result = 0		" or 1
:function! Right()
:  return 'Right!'
:function! Wrong()
:  return 'Wrong!'
:if result == 1
:  let Afunc = function('Right')
:  let Afunc = function('Wrong')
:echo call(Afunc, [])
Wrong! ~

Note that the name of a variable that holds a function reference must start with a capital. Otherwise it could be confused with the name of a builtin function.

The way to invoke a function that a variable refers to is with the call() function. Its first argument is the function reference, the second argument is a List with arguments.

Function references are most useful in combination with a Dictionary, as is explained in the next section.

41.8Lists and Dictionaries

So far we have used the basic types String and Number. Vim also supports two composite types: List and Dictionary.

A List is an ordered sequence of things. The things can be any kind of value, thus you can make a List of numbers, a List of Lists and even a List of mixed items. To create a List with three strings:

:let alist = ['aap', 'mies', 'noot']

The List items are enclosed in square brackets and separated by commas. To create an empty List:

:let alist = []

You can add items to a List with the add() function:

:let alist = []
:call add(alist, 'foo')
:call add(alist, 'bar')
:echo alist
['foo', 'bar'] ~

List concatenation is done with +:

:echo alist + ['foo', 'bar']
['foo', 'bar', 'foo', 'bar'] ~

Or, if you want to extend a List directly:

:let alist = ['one']
:call extend(alist, ['two', 'three'])
:echo alist
['one', 'two', 'three'] ~

Notice that using add() will have a different effect:

:let alist = ['one']
:call add(alist, ['two', 'three'])
:echo alist
['one', ['two', 'three']] ~

The second argument of add() is added as a single item.

#For loop

One of the nice things you can do with a List is iterate over it:

:let alist = ['one', 'two', 'three']
:for n in alist
:  echo n
one ~
two ~
three ~

This will loop over each element in List alist, assigning the value to variable n. The generic form of a for loop is:

:for {varname} in {listexpression}
:  {commands}

To loop a certain number of times you need a List of a specific length. The range() function creates one for you:

:for a in range(3)
:  echo a
0 ~
1 ~
2 ~

Notice that the first item of the List that range() produces is zero, thus the last item is one less than the length of the list.

You can also specify the maximum value, the stride and even go backwards:

:for a in range(8, 4, -2)
:  echo a
8 ~
6 ~
4 ~

A more useful example, looping over lines in the buffer:

:for line in getline(1, 20)
:  if line =~ "Date: "
:    echo matchstr(line, 'Date: \zs.*')
:  endif

This looks into lines 1 to 20 (inclusive) and echoes any date found in there.


A Dictionary stores key-value pairs. You can quickly lookup a value if you know the key. A Dictionary is created with curly braces:

:let uk2nl = {'one': 'een', 'two': 'twee', 'three': 'drie'}

Now you can lookup words by putting the key in square brackets:

:echo uk2nl['two']
twee ~

The generic form for defining a Dictionary is:

{<key> : <value>, ...}

An empty Dictionary is one without any keys:


The possibilities with Dictionaries are numerous. There are various functions for them as well. For example, you can obtain a list of the keys and loop over them:

:for key in keys(uk2nl)
:  echo key
three ~
one ~
two ~

You will notice the keys are not ordered. You can sort the list to get a specific order:

:for key in sort(keys(uk2nl))
:  echo key
one ~
three ~
two ~

But you can never get back the order in which items are defined. For that you need to use a List, it stores items in an ordered sequence.

#Dictionary functions

The items in a Dictionary can normally be obtained with an index in square brackets:

:echo uk2nl['one']
een ~

A method that does the same, but without so many punctuation characters:

:echo uk2nl.one
een ~

This only works for a key that is made of ASCII letters, digits and the underscore. You can also assign a new value this way:

:let uk2nl.four = 'vier'
:echo uk2nl
{'three': 'drie', 'four': 'vier', 'one': 'een', 'two': 'twee'} ~

And now for something special: you can directly define a function and store a reference to it in the dictionary:

:function uk2nl.translate(line) dict
:  return join(map(split(a:line), 'get(self, v:val, "???")'))

Let's first try it out:

:echo uk2nl.translate('three two five one')
drie twee ??? een ~

The first special thing you notice is the dict at the end of the :function line. This marks the function as being used from a Dictionary. The self local variable will then refer to that Dictionary.

Now let's break up the complicated return command:


The split() function takes a string, chops it into whitespace separated words and returns a list with these words. Thus in the example it returns:

:echo split('three two five one')
['three', 'two', 'five', 'one'] ~

This list is the first argument to the map() function. This will go through the list, evaluating its second argument with v:val set to the value of each item. This is a shortcut to using a for loop. This command:

:let alist = map(split(a:line), 'get(self, v:val, "???")')

Is equivalent to:

:let alist = split(a:line)
:for idx in range(len(alist))
:  let alist[idx] = get(self, alist[idx], "???")

The get() function checks if a key is present in a Dictionary. If it is, then the value is retrieved. If it isn't, then the default value is returned, in the example it's '???'. This is a convenient way to handle situations where a key may not be present and you don't want an error message.

The join() function does the opposite of split(): it joins together a list of words, putting a space in between.

This combination of split(), map() and join() is a nice way to filter a line of words in a very compact way.

#Object oriented programming

Now that you can put both values and functions in a Dictionary, you can actually use a Dictionary like an object.

Above we used a Dictionary for translating Dutch to English. We might want to do the same for other languages. Let's first make an object (aka Dictionary) that has the translate function, but no words to translate:

:let transdict = {}
:function transdict.translate(line) dict
:  return join(map(split(a:line), 'get(self.words, v:val, "???")'))

It's slightly different from the function above, using 'self.words' to lookup word translations. But we don't have a self.words. Thus you could call this an abstract class.

Now we can instantiate a Dutch translation object:

:let uk2nl = copy(transdict)
:let uk2nl.words = {'one': 'een', 'two': 'twee', 'three': 'drie'}
:echo uk2nl.translate('three one')
drie een ~

And a German translator:

:let uk2de = copy(transdict)
:let uk2de.words = {'one': 'eins', 'two': 'zwei', 'three': 'drei'}
:echo uk2de.translate('three one')
drei eins ~

You see that the copy() function is used to make a copy of the transdict Dictionary and then the copy is changed to add the words. The original remains the same, of course.

Now you can go one step further, and use your preferred translator:

:if $LANG =~ "de"
:  let trans = uk2de
:  let trans = uk2nl
:echo trans.translate('one two three')
een twee drie ~

Here trans refers to one of the two objects (Dictionaries). No copy is made. More about List and Dictionary identity can be found at list‑identity and dict‑identity.

Now you might use a language that isn't supported. You can overrule the translate() function to do nothing:

:let uk2uk = copy(transdict)
:function! uk2uk.translate(line)
:  return a:line
:echo uk2uk.translate('three one wladiwostok')
three one wladiwostok ~

Notice that a ! was used to overwrite the existing function reference. Now use uk2uk when no recognized language is found:

:if $LANG =~ "de"
:  let trans = uk2de
:elseif $LANG =~ "nl"
:  let trans = uk2nl
:  let trans = uk2uk
:echo trans.translate('one two three')
one two three ~

For further reading see Lists and Dictionaries.


Let's start with an example:

:   read ~/templates/pascal.tmpl
:catch /E484:/
:   echo "Sorry, the Pascal template file cannot be found."

The :read command will fail if the file does not exist. Instead of generating an error message, this code catches the error and gives the user a nice message.

For the commands in between :try and :endtry errors are turned into exceptions. An exception is a string. In the case of an error the string contains the error message. And every error message has a number. In this case, the error we catch contains E484:. This number is guaranteed to stay the same (the text may change, e.g., it may be translated).

When the :read command causes another error, the pattern E484: will not match in it. Thus this exception will not be caught and result in the usual error message.

You might be tempted to do this:

:   read ~/templates/pascal.tmpl
:   echo "Sorry, the Pascal template file cannot be found."

This means all errors are caught. But then you will not see errors that are useful, such as "E21: Cannot make changes, modifiable is off".

Another useful mechanism is the :finally command:

:let tmp = tempname()
:   exe ".,$write " . tmp
:   exe "!filter " . tmp
:   .,$delete
:   exe "$read " . tmp
:   call delete(tmp)

This filters the lines from the cursor until the end of the file through the filter command, which takes a file name argument. No matter if the filtering works, something goes wrong in between :try and :finally or the user cancels the filtering by pressing CTRL‑C, the "call delete(tmp)" is always executed. This makes sure you don't leave the temporary file behind.

More information about exception handling can be found in the reference manual: exception‑handling.

41.10Various remarks

Here is a summary of items that apply to Vim scripts. They are also mentioned elsewhere, but form a nice checklist.

The end-of-line character depends on the system. For Unix a single <NL> character is used. For MS-Windows and the like, <CR><LF> is used. This is important when using mappings that end in a <CR>. See :source_crnl.

#White space

Blank lines are allowed and ignored.

Leading whitespace characters (blanks and TABs) are always ignored. The whitespaces between parameters (e.g. between the set and the cpoptions in the example below) are reduced to one blank character and plays the role of a separator, the whitespaces after the last (visible) character may or may not be ignored depending on the situation, see below.

For a :set command involving the = (equal) sign, such as in:

:set cpoptions    =aABceFst

the whitespace immediately before the = sign is ignored. But there can be no whitespace after the = sign!

To include a whitespace character in the value of an option, it must be escaped by a \ (backslash) as in the following example:

:set tags=my\ nice\ file

The same example written as:

:set tags=my nice file

will issue an error, because it is interpreted as:

:set tags=my
:set nice
:set file


The character " (the double quote mark) starts a comment. Everything after and including this character until the end-of-line is considered a comment and is ignored, except for commands that don't consider comments, as shown in examples below. A comment can start on any character position on the line.

There is a little catch with comments for some commands. Examples:

:abbrev dev development		" shorthand
:map <F3> o#include		" insert include
:execute cmd			" do it
:!ls *.c			" list C files

The abbreviation 'dev' will be expanded to 'development " shorthand'. The mapping of <F3> will actually be the whole line after the 'o# ....' including the '" insert include'. The execute command will give an error. The ! command will send everything after it to the shell, causing an error for an unmatched '"' character.

There can be no comment after :map, :abbreviate, :execute and ! commands (there are a few more commands with this restriction). For the :map, :abbreviate and :execute commands there is a trick:

:abbrev dev development|" shorthand
:map <F3> o#include|" insert include
:execute cmd			|" do it

With the '|' character the command is separated from the next one. And that next command is only a comment. For the last command you need to do two things: :execute and use '|':

:exe '!ls *.c'			|" list C files

Notice that there is no white space before the '|' in the abbreviation and mapping. For these commands, any character until the end-of-line or '|' is included. As a consequence of this behavior, you don't always see that trailing whitespace is included:

:map <F4> o#include

To spot these problems, you can set the list option when editing vimrc files.

For Unix there is one special way to comment a line, that allows making a Vim script executable:

#!/usr/bin/env vim -S
echo "this is a Vim script"

The # command by itself lists a line with the line number. Adding an exclamation mark changes it into doing nothing, so that you can add the shell command to execute the rest of the file. :#! ‑S


Even bigger problem arises in the following example:

:map ,ab o#include
:unmap ,ab

Here the unmap command will not work, because it tries to unmap ",ab ". This does not exist as a mapped sequence. An error will be issued, which is very hard to identify, because the ending whitespace character in :unmap ,ab is not visible.

And this is the same as what happens when one uses a comment after an 'unmap' command:

:unmap ,ab     " comment

Here the comment part will be ignored. However, Vim will try to unmap ',ab ', which does not exist. Rewrite it as:

:unmap ,ab|    " comment

#Restoring the view

Sometimes you want to make a change and go back to where the cursor was. Restoring the relative position would also be nice, so that the same line appears at the top of the window.

This example yanks the current line, puts it above the first line in the file and then restores the view:

map ,p ma"aYHmbgg"aP`bzt`a

What this does:

ma			set mark a at cursor position
  "aY			yank current line into register a
     Hmb		go to top line in window and set mark b there
	gg		go to first line in file
	  "aP		put the yanked line above it
	     `b		go back to top line in display
	       zt	position the text in the window as before
		 `a	go back to saved cursor position


To avoid your function names to interfere with functions that you get from others, use this scheme:

41.11Writing a plugin


You can write a Vim script in such a way that many people can use it. This is called a plugin. Vim users can drop your script in their plugin directory and use its features right away add‑plugin.

There are actually two types of plugins:

global plugins: For all types of files. filetype plugins: Only for files of a specific type.

In this section the first type is explained. Most items are also relevant for writing filetype plugins. The specifics for filetype plugins are in the next section write‑filetype‑plugin.


First of all you must choose a name for your plugin. The features provided by the plugin should be clear from its name. And it should be unlikely that someone else writes a plugin with the same name but which does something different. And please limit the name to 8 characters, to avoid problems on old MS-Windows systems.

A script that corrects typing mistakes could be called typecorr.vim. We will use it here as an example.

For the plugin to work for everybody, it should follow a few guidelines. This will be explained step-by-step. The complete example plugin is at the end.


Let's start with the body of the plugin, the lines that do the actual work:

14iabbrev teh the
15iabbrev otehr other
16iabbrev wnat want
17iabbrev synchronisation
18\ synchronization
19let s:count = 4

The actual list should be much longer, of course.

The line numbers have only been added to explain a few things, don't put them in your plugin file!

You will probably add new corrections to the plugin and soon have several versions lying around. And when distributing this file, people will want to know who wrote this wonderful plugin and where they can send remarks. Therefore, put a header at the top of your plugin:

1" Vim global plugin for correcting typing mistakes
2" Last Change: 2000 Oct 15
3" Maintainer: Bram Moolenaar <Bram@vim.org>

About copyright and licensing: Since plugins are very useful and it's hardly worth restricting their distribution, please consider making your plugin either public domain or use the Vim license. A short note about this near the top of the plugin should be sufficient. Example:

4 " License: This file is placed in the public domain.

#Line continuation, avoiding side effects


In line 18 above, the line-continuation mechanism is used line‑continuation. Users with compatible set will run into trouble here, they will get an error message. We can't just reset compatible, because that has a lot of side effects. To avoid this, we will set the cpoptions option to its Vim default value and restore it later. That will allow the use of line-continuation and make the script work for most people. It is done like this:

11let s:save_cpo = &cpo
12set cpo&vim
42let &cpo = s:save_cpo
43unlet s:save_cpo

We first store the old value of cpoptions in the s:save_cpo variable. At the end of the plugin this value is restored.

Notice that a script-local variable is used s:var. A global variable could already be in use for something else. Always use script-local variables for things that are only used in the script.

#Not loading

It's possible that a user doesn't always want to load this plugin. Or the system administrator has dropped it in the system-wide plugin directory, but a user has his own plugin he wants to use. Then the user must have a chance to disable loading this specific plugin. This will make it possible:

6if exists(g:loaded_typecorr)
7 finish
9let g:loaded_typecorr = 1

This also avoids that when the script is loaded twice it would cause error messages for redefining functions and cause trouble for autocommands that are added twice.

The name is recommended to start with loaded_ and then the file name of the plugin, literally. The g: is prepended just to avoid mistakes when using the variable in a function (without g: it would be a variable local to the function).

Using finish stops Vim from reading the rest of the file, it's much quicker than using if-endif around the whole file.


Now let's make the plugin more interesting: We will add a mapping that adds a correction for the word under the cursor. We could just pick a key sequence for this mapping, but the user might already use it for something else. To allow the user to define which keys a mapping in a plugin uses, the <Leader> item can be used:

22 map <unique> <Leader>a <Plug>TypecorrAdd

The <Plug>TypecorrAdd thing will do the work, more about that further on.

The user can set the mapleader variable to the key sequence that he wants this mapping to start with. Thus if the user has done:

let mapleader = "_"

the mapping will define _a. If the user didn't do this, the default value will be used, which is a backslash. Then a map for \a will be defined.

Note that <unique> is used, this will cause an error message if the mapping already happened to exist. :map-<unique>

But what if the user wants to define his own key sequence? We can allow that with this mechanism:

21if !hasmapto('<Plug>TypecorrAdd')
22 map <unique> <Leader>a <Plug>TypecorrAdd

This checks if a mapping to <Plug>TypecorrAdd already exists, and only defines the mapping from <Leader>a if it doesn't. The user then has a chance of putting this in his vimrc file:

map ,c  <Plug>TypecorrAdd

Then the mapped key sequence will be ,c instead of _a or \a.


If a script gets longer, you often want to break up the work in pieces. You can use functions or mappings for this. But you don't want these functions and mappings to interfere with the ones from other scripts. For example, you could define a function Add(), but another script could try to define the same function. To avoid this, we define the function local to the script by prepending it with s:.

We will define a function that adds a new typing correction:

30function s:Add(from, correct)
31 let to = input("type the correction for " . a:from . : )
32 exe :iabbrev . a:from . " " . to

Now we can call the function s:Add() from within this script. If another script also defines s:Add(), it will be local to that script and can only be called from the script it was defined in. There can also be a global Add() function (without the s:), which is again another function.

<SID> can be used with mappings. It generates a script ID, which identifies the current script. In our typing correction plugin we use it like this:

24noremap <unique> <script> <Plug>TypecorrAdd <SID>Add
28noremap <SID>Add :call <SID>Add(expand(<cword>), 1)<CR>

Thus when a user types \a, this sequence is invoked:

\a  ->  <Plug>TypecorrAdd  ->  <SID>Add  ->  :call <SID>Add()

If another script would also map <SID>Add, it would get another script ID and thus define another mapping.

Note that instead of s:Add() we use <SID>Add() here. That is because the mapping is typed by the user, thus outside of the script. The <SID> is translated to the script ID, so that Vim knows in which script to look for the Add() function.

This is a bit complicated, but it's required for the plugin to work together with other plugins. The basic rule is that you use <SID>Add() in mappings and s:Add() in other places (the script itself, autocommands, user commands).

We can also add a menu entry to do the same as the mapping:

26noremenu <script> Plugin.Add\ Correction <SID>Add

The Plugin menu is recommended for adding menu items for plugins. In this case only one item is used. When adding more items, creating a submenu is recommended. For example, Plugin.CVS could be used for a plugin that offers CVS operations Plugin.CVS.checkin, Plugin.CVS.checkout, etc.

Note that in line 28 :noremap is used to avoid that any other mappings cause trouble. Someone may have remapped :call, for example. In line 24 we also use :noremap, but we do want <SID>Add to be remapped. This is why <script> is used here. This only allows mappings which are local to the script. :map-<script> The same is done in line 26 for :noremenu. :menu-<script>

<SID> AND <Plug> *using-<Plug>*

Both <SID> and <Plug> are used to avoid that mappings of typed keys interfere with mappings that are only to be used from other mappings. Note the difference between using <SID> and <Plug>:

<Plug> is visible outside of the script. It is used for mappings which the

user might want to map a key sequence to.  <Plug> is a special code
that a typed key will never produce.
To make it very unlikely that other plugins use the same sequence of
characters, use this structure: <Plug> scriptname mapname
In our example the scriptname is "Typecorr" and the mapname is "Add".
This results in "<Plug>TypecorrAdd".  Only the first character of
scriptname and mapname is uppercase, so that we can see where mapname

<SID> is the script ID, a unique identifier for a script.

Internally Vim translates <SID> to "<SNR>123_", where "123" can be any
number.  Thus a function "<SID>Add()" will have a name "<SNR>11_Add()"
in one script, and "<SNR>22_Add()" in another.  You can see this if
you use the ":function" command to get a list of functions.  The
translation of <SID> in mappings is exactly the same, that's how you
can call a script-local function from a mapping.

#User command

Now let's add a user command to add a correction:

38if !exists(:Correct)
39 command -nargs=1 Correct :call s:Add(<q-args>, 0)

The user command is defined only if no command with the same name already exists. Otherwise we would get an error here. Overriding the existing user command with :command! is not a good idea, this would probably make the user wonder why the command he defined himself doesn't work. :command

#Script variables

When a variable starts with s: it is a script variable. It can only be used inside a script. Outside the script it's not visible. This avoids trouble with using the same variable name in different scripts. The variables will be kept as long as Vim is running. And the same variables are used when sourcing the same script again. s:var

The fun is that these variables can also be used in functions, autocommands and user commands that are defined in the script. In our example we can add a few lines to count the number of corrections:

19let s:count = 4
30function s:Add(from, correct)
34 let s:count = s:count + 1
35 echo s:count . " corrections now"

First s:count is initialized to 4 in the script itself. When later the s:Add() function is called, it increments s:count. It doesn't matter from where the function was called, since it has been defined in the script, it will use the local variables from this script.

#The result

Here is the resulting complete example:

1" Vim global plugin for correcting typing mistakes
2" Last Change: 2000 Oct 15
3" Maintainer: Bram Moolenaar <Bram@vim.org>
4" License: This file is placed in the public domain.
6if exists(g:loaded_typecorr)
7 finish
9let g:loaded_typecorr = 1
11let s:save_cpo = &cpo
12set cpo&vim
14iabbrev teh the
15iabbrev otehr other
16iabbrev wnat want
17iabbrev synchronisation
18\ synchronization
19let s:count = 4
21if !hasmapto('<Plug>TypecorrAdd')
22 map <unique> <Leader>a <Plug>TypecorrAdd
24noremap <unique> <script> <Plug>TypecorrAdd <SID>Add
26noremenu <script> Plugin.Add\ Correction <SID>Add
28noremap <SID>Add :call <SID>Add(expand(<cword>), 1)<CR>
30function s:Add(from, correct)
31 let to = input("type the correction for " . a:from . : )
32 exe :iabbrev . a:from . " " . to
33 if a:correct | exe "normal viws\<C-R>\" \b\e" | endif
34 let s:count = s:count + 1
35 echo s:count . " corrections now"
38if !exists(:Correct)
39 command -nargs=1 Correct :call s:Add(<q-args>, 0)
42let &cpo = s:save_cpo
43unlet s:save_cpo

Line 33 wasn't explained yet. It applies the new correction to the word under the cursor. The :normal command is used to use the new abbreviation. Note that mappings and abbreviations are expanded here, even though the function was called from a mapping defined with :noremap.

Using unix for the fileformat option is recommended. The Vim scripts will then work everywhere. Scripts with fileformat set to dos do not work on Unix. Also see :source_crnl. To be sure it is set right, do this before writing the file:

:set fileformat=unix



It's a good idea to also write some documentation for your plugin. Especially when its behavior can be changed by the user. See add‑local‑help for how they are installed.

Here is a simple example for a plugin help file, called typecorr.txt:

1 *typecorr.txt* Plugin for correcting typing mistakes


3If you make typing mistakes, this plugin will have them corrected
6There are currently only a few corrections. Add your own if you like.
9<Leader>a or <Plug>TypecorrAdd
10Add a correction for the word under the cursor.
13:Correct {word}
14Add a correction for {word}.
17This plugin doesn't have any settings.

The first line is actually the only one for which the format matters. It will be extracted from the help file to be put in the "LOCAL ADDITIONS:" section of help.txt local‑additions. The first * must be in the first column of the first line. After adding your help file do :help and check that the entries line up nicely.

You can add more tags inside ** in your help file. But be careful not to use existing help tags. You would probably use the name of your plugin in most of them, like typecorr-settings in the example.

Using references to other parts of the help in || is recommended. This makes it easy for the user to find associated help.

#Filetype detection


If your filetype is not already detected by Vim, you should create a filetype detection snippet in a separate file. It is usually in the form of an autocommand that sets the filetype when the file name matches a pattern. Example:

au BufNewFile,BufRead *.foo			set filetype=foofoo

Write this single-line file as ftdetect/foofoo.vim in the first directory that appears in runtimepath. For Unix that would be ~/.vim/ftdetect/foofoo.vim. The convention is to use the name of the filetype for the script name.

You can make more complicated checks if you like, for example to inspect the contents of the file to recognize the language. Also see new‑filetype.



Summary of special things to use in a plugin:

s:name Variables local to the script.

<SID> Script-ID, used for mappings and functions local to

the script.
hasmapto()Function to test if the user already defined a mapping for functionality the script offers.

<Leader> Value of mapleader, which the user defines as the

keys that plugin mappings start with.

:map <unique> Give a warning if a mapping already exists.

:noremap <script> Use only mappings local to the script, not global

exists(:Cmd)Check if a user command already exists.

41.12Writing a filetype plugin


A filetype plugin is like a global plugin, except that it sets options and defines mappings for the current buffer only. See add‑filetype‑plugin for how this type of plugin is used.

First read the section on global plugins above “Writing a plugin”. All that is said there also applies to filetype plugins. There are a few extras, which are explained here. The essential thing is that a filetype plugin should only have an effect on the current buffer.


If you are writing a filetype plugin to be used by many people, they need a chance to disable loading it. Put this at the top of the plugin:

" Only do this when not done yet for this buffer
if exists("b:did_ftplugin")
let b:did_ftplugin = 1

This also needs to be used to avoid that the same plugin is executed twice for the same buffer (happens when using an :edit command without arguments).

Now users can disable loading the default plugin completely by making a filetype plugin with only this line:

let b:did_ftplugin = 1

This does require that the filetype plugin directory comes before $VIMRUNTIME in runtimepath!

If you do want to use the default plugin, but overrule one of the settings, you can write the different setting in a script:

setlocal textwidth=70

Now write this in the after directory, so that it gets sourced after the distributed vim.vim ftplugin after‑directory. For Unix this would be ~/.vim/after/ftplugin/vim.vim. Note that the default plugin will have set b:did_ftplugin, but it is ignored here.


To make sure the filetype plugin only affects the current buffer use the


command to set options. And only set options which are local to a buffer (see the help for the option to check that). When using :setlocal for global options or options local to a window, the value will change for many buffers, and that is not what a filetype plugin should do.

When an option has a value that is a list of flags or items, consider using += and -= to keep the existing value. Be aware that the user may have changed an option value already. First resetting to the default value and then changing it is often a good idea. Example:

:setlocal formatoptions& formatoptions+=ro


To make sure mappings will only work in the current buffer use the

:map <buffer>

command. This needs to be combined with the two-step mapping explained above. An example of how to define functionality in a filetype plugin:

if !hasmapto('<Plug>JavaImport')
  map <buffer> <unique> <LocalLeader>i <Plug>JavaImport
noremap <buffer> <unique> <Plug>JavaImport oimport ""<Left><Esc>

hasmapto() is used to check if the user has already defined a map to <Plug>JavaImport. If not, then the filetype plugin defines the default mapping. This starts with <LocalLeader>, which allows the user to select the key(s) he wants filetype plugin mappings to start with. The default is a backslash. <unique> is used to give an error message if the mapping already exists or overlaps with an existing mapping. :noremap is used to avoid that any other mappings that the user has defined interferes. You might want to use :noremap <script> to allow remapping mappings defined in this script that start with <SID>.

The user must have a chance to disable the mappings in a filetype plugin, without disabling everything. Here is an example of how this is done for a plugin for the mail filetype:

" Add mappings, unless the user didn't want this.
if !exists("no_plugin_maps") && !exists("no_mail_maps")
  " Quote text by inserting "> "
  if !hasmapto('<Plug>MailQuote')
    vmap <buffer> <LocalLeader>q <Plug>MailQuote
    nmap <buffer> <LocalLeader>q <Plug>MailQuote
  vnoremap <buffer> <Plug>MailQuote :s/^/> /<CR>
  nnoremap <buffer> <Plug>MailQuote :.,$s/^/> /<CR>

Two global variables are used:

no_plugin_mapsdisables mappings for all filetype plugins
no_mail_mapsdisables mappings for the mail filetype

#User commands

To add a user command for a specific file type, so that it can only be used in one buffer, use the -buffer argument to :command. Example:

:command -buffer  Make  make %:r.s


A filetype plugin will be sourced for each buffer of the type it's for. Local script variables s:var will be shared between all invocations. Use local buffer variables b:var if you want a variable specifically for one buffer.


When defining a function, this only needs to be done once. But the filetype plugin will be sourced every time a file with this filetype will be opened. This construct makes sure the function is only defined once:

:if !exists("*s:Func")
:  function s:Func(arg)
:    ...
:  endfunction



When the user does :setfiletype xyz the effect of the previous filetype should be undone. Set the b:undo_ftplugin variable to the commands that will undo the settings in your filetype plugin. Example:

let b:undo_ftplugin = "setlocal fo< com< tw< commentstring<"
	\ . "| unlet b:match_ignorecase b:match_words b:match_skip"

Using :setlocal with < after the option name resets the option to its global value. That is mostly the best way to reset the option value.

This does require removing the C flag from cpoptions to allow line continuation, as mentioned above use‑cpo‑save.

For undoing the effect of an indent script, the b:undo_indent variable should be set accordingly.

#File name

The filetype must be included in the file name ftplugin‑name. Use one of these three forms:


stuff is the filetype, foo and bar are arbitrary names.



Summary of special things to use in a filetype plugin:

<LocalLeader> Value of maplocalleader, which the user defines as

the keys that filetype plugin mappings start with.

:map <buffer> Define a mapping local to the buffer.

:noremap <script> Only remap mappings defined in this script that start

with <SID>.
:setlocalSet an option for the current buffer only.
:command -bufferDefine a user command local to the buffer.
exists(*s:Func)Check if a function was already defined.

Also see plugin‑special, the special things used for all plugins.

41.13Writing a compiler plugin


A compiler plugin sets options for use with a specific compiler. The user can load it with the :compiler command. The main use is to set the errorformat and makeprg options.

Easiest is to have a look at examples. This command will edit all the default compiler plugins:

:next $VIMRUNTIME/compiler/*.vim

Use :next to go to the next plugin file.

There are two special items about these files. First is a mechanism to allow a user to overrule or add to the default file. The default files start with:

:if exists("current_compiler")
:  finish
:let current_compiler = "mine"

When you write a compiler file and put it in your personal runtime directory (e.g., ~/.vim/compiler for Unix), you set the current_compiler variable to make the default file skip the settings.


The second mechanism is to use :set for :compiler! and :setlocal for :compiler. Vim defines the :CompilerSet user command for this. However, older Vim versions don't, thus your plugin should define it then. This is an example:

if exists(:CompilerSet) != 2

command -nargs=* CompilerSet setlocal <args>


CompilerSet errorformat&" use the default errorformat
CompilerSet makeprg=nmake

When you write a compiler plugin for the Vim distribution or for a system-wide runtime directory, use the mechanism mentioned above. When current_compiler was already set by a user plugin nothing will be done.

When you write a compiler plugin to overrule settings from a default plugin, don't check current_compiler. This plugin is supposed to be loaded last, thus it should be in a directory at the end of runtimepath. For Unix that could be ~/.vim/after/compiler.

41.14Writing a plugin that loads quickly


A plugin may grow and become quite long. The startup delay may become noticeable, while you hardly ever use the plugin. Then it's time for a quickload plugin.

The basic idea is that the plugin is loaded twice. The first time user commands and mappings are defined that offer the functionality. The second time the functions that implement the functionality are defined.

It may sound surprising that quickload means loading a script twice. What we mean is that it loads quickly the first time, postponing the bulk of the script to the second time, which only happens when you actually use it. When you always use the functionality it actually gets slower!

Note that since Vim 7 there is an alternative: use the autoload functionality “Writing library scripts”.

The following example shows how it's done:

" Vim global plugin for demonstrating quick loading
" Last Change:	2005 Feb 25
" Maintainer:	Bram Moolenaar <Bram@vim.org>
" License:	This file is placed in the public domain.
if !exists("s:did_load")
	command -nargs=* BNRead  call BufNetRead(<f-args>)
	map <F19> :call BufNetWrite('something')<CR>
	let s:did_load = 1
	exe 'au FuncUndefined BufNet* source ' . expand('<sfile>')
function BufNetRead(...)
	echo 'BufNetRead(' . string(a:000) . ')'
	" read functionality here
function BufNetWrite(...)
	echo 'BufNetWrite(' . string(a:000) . ')'
	" write functionality here

When the script is first loaded s:did_load is not set. The commands between the if and endif will be executed. This ends in a :finish command, thus the rest of the script is not executed.

The second time the script is loaded s:did_load exists and the commands after the endif are executed. This defines the (possible long) BufNetRead() and BufNetWrite() functions.

If you drop this script in your plugin directory Vim will execute it on startup. This is the sequence of events that happens:

  1. The BNRead command is defined and the <F19> key is mapped when the script is sourced at startup. A FuncUndefined autocommand is defined. The :finish command causes the script to terminate early.

  2. The user types the BNRead command or presses the <F19> key. The BufNetRead() or BufNetWrite() function will be called.

  3. Vim can't find the function and triggers the FuncUndefined autocommand event. Since the pattern BufNet* matches the invoked function, the command "source fname" will be executed. fname will be equal to the name of the script, no matter where it is located, because it comes from expanding <sfile> (see expand()).

  4. The script is sourced again, the s:did_load variable exists and the functions are defined.

Notice that the functions that are loaded afterwards match the pattern in the FuncUndefined autocommand. You must make sure that no other plugin defines functions that match this pattern.

41.15Writing library scripts


Some functionality will be required in several places. When this becomes more than a few lines you will want to put it in one script and use it from many scripts. We will call that one script a library script.

Manually loading a library script is possible, so long as you avoid loading it when it's already done. You can do this with the exists() function. Example:

if !exists('*MyLibFunction')
   runtime library/mylibscript.vim
call MyLibFunction(arg)

Here you need to know that MyLibFunction() is defined in a script library/mylibscript.vim in one of the directories in runtimepath.

To make this a bit simpler Vim offers the autoload mechanism. Then the example looks like this:

call mylib#myfunction(arg)

That's a lot simpler, isn't it? Vim will recognize the function name and when it's not defined search for the script autoload/mylib.vim in runtimepath. That script must define the mylib#myfunction() function.

You can put many other functions in the mylib.vim script, you are free to organize your functions in library scripts. But you must use function names where the part before the '#' matches the script name. Otherwise Vim would not know what script to load.

If you get really enthusiastic and write lots of library scripts, you may want to use subdirectories. Example:

call netlib#ftp#read('somefile')

For Unix the library script used for this could be:


Where the function is defined like this:

function netlib#ftp#read(fname)
	"  Read the file fname through ftp

Notice that the name the function is defined with is exactly the same as the name used for calling the function. And the part before the last '#' exactly matches the subdirectory and script name.

You can use the same mechanism for variables:

let weekdays = dutch#weekdays

This will load the script autoload/dutch.vim, which should contain something like:

let dutch#weekdays = ['zondag', 'maandag', 'dinsdag', 'woensdag',
	\ 'donderdag', 'vrijdag', 'zaterdag']

Further reading: autoload.

41.16Distributing Vim scripts


Vim users will look for scripts on the Vim website: http://www.vim.org. If you made something that is useful for others, share it!

Vim scripts can be used on any system. There might not be a tar or gzip command. If you want to pack files together and/or compress them the zip utility is recommended.

For utmost portability use Vim itself to pack scripts together. This can be done with the Vimball utility. See vimball.

It's good if you add a line to allow automatic updating. See glvs‑plugins.