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Keep your vimrc file clean

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Tip 1510 Printable Monobook Previous Next

created 2007 · complexity basic · author Datagrok · version 7.0

Many tips that you find on this site and others will tell you to add some code to your .vimrc file. (Or on Windows, your _vimrc file.) :help vimrc-intro

Once you do this a few times, it can get pretty big and confusing, especially if the bits of configuration you are adding are each specific to a single language. Worse, some settings might be incompatible with others.

Happily, Vim has a very nice built-in way to organize and manage language-specific options by breaking them out into files and directories. You can learn all about it by reading :help vimfiles, :help ftplugin-overrule, :help after-directory.

The quick way to get started is to move all the language-specific stuff from your .vimrc file into a file named .vim/ftplugin/language.vim (or $HOME/vimfiles/ftplugin/language.vim on Windows).

This turns a .vimrc that looks like this:

autocmd FileType * set tabstop=2|set shiftwidth=2|set noexpandtab
autocmd FileType python set tabstop=4|set shiftwidth=4|set expandtab
au BufEnter *.py set ai sw=4 ts=4 sta et fo=croql

Into this:

" File ~/.vimrc
" ($HOME/_vimrc on Windows)
" Global settings for all files (but may be overridden in ftplugin).
set tabstop=2
set shiftwidth=2
set noexpandtab

" File ~/.vim/ftplugin/python.vim
" ($HOME/vimfiles/ftplugin/python.vim on Windows)
" Python specific settings.
setlocal tabstop=4
setlocal shiftwidth=4
setlocal expandtab
setlocal autoindent
setlocal smarttab
setlocal formatoptions=croql

If there is a filetype plugin distributed with Vim that you want to completely disable, make your own (perhaps empty) settings file and adding this line:

let b:did_ftplugin = 1

If you like most of what Vim's filetype plugin is doing, but you want to override something specific, you can place your settings in .vim/after/ftplugin/language.vim ($HOME/vimfiles/after/ftplugin/language.vim on Windows). See :help after-directory

If there is a new file extension that you want Vim to recognize, don't muck about with augroup in your .vimrc, put the settings in the right place. See :help ftdetect

There is a lot more you can do with your ~/.vim directory ($HOME/vimfiles on Windows). ~/.vim/compiler is a good place to keep configuration that gets applied on a per-compiler basis (for example, I might need to use any of javac, jikes, ant, or make to compile and parse the compiler output for a java source file.) I also like to keep a couple color schemes in ~/.vim/colors, and I keep notes in vimhelp format in ~/.vim/doc. Periodically running :helptags ~/.vim/doc lets me jump to a tag in those notes using :h. :help helptags :help vimfiles

This tip suggests moving language-specific settings to a suitable ftplugin file. For that to work, you need to have file type detection enabled. Enter the command :filetype to determine whether detection is enabled on your system. On some Linux distributions, file type detection is disabled, in which case you should add a command like the following to your vimrc:

filetype plugin on
" Alternative: use the following to also enable language-dependent indenting.
filetype plugin indent on


A minor point: It's "recommended" to keep 'tabstop' at 8 when using 'expandtab', since that will ensure that the text or code looks the same way in dumb viewers and when printing. (Spiiph 13:50, 28 July 2009 (UTC))

However, the tabstop = 8 rule is nowhere near universal. For instance, in Java and Python, tabs are usually 4 spaces. Meviin 15:22, June 27, 2012 (UTC)

When using 'expandtab', it should always look the same in "dumb" viewers anyway, since you're inserting spaces instead of tabs. --Fritzophrenic 16:22, June 27, 2012 (UTC)

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