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Use Vim like an IDE

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created 2006 · complexity intermediate · author Matt Zyzik · version 6.0

I use Vim for all text editing, even software development. At one point I stopped using IDEs. One major reason is that Vim can do all the major things I need from IDEs (tabs, file trees, greping, syntax highlighting, indentation, completion, "quickfix"ing, etc).

Vim PluginsEdit

Still Vim needs plugins to do some IDE-like things that aren't built in. Here are some Vim scripts that make Vim more like an IDE.

Note: You can use pathogen to isolate your plugins and make it easier to experiment with new plugins.

Project/Filetree BrowsingEdit

  • NERDTree is a tree explorer plugin for navigating the filesystem.
  • vtreeexplorer is a tree based file explorer.
  • project gives you a "project" view of files, rather than a straight file system view
  • ide Tracks files status (open/edited/closed/read only) within a project with icons; automatically builds and updates syntax highlight rules based on the project files (C/C++/Java); avoids buffer duplication; see demo.
  • :help netrw for information about the explorer distributed with Vim. It does not display files in a tree by default, but can by using the g:netrw_liststyle option. It also offers useful file-sorting options (by date, size, name).
  • Luc Hermitte's local_vimrc and Markus "embear" Braun's local_vimrc manage projects as files in a same directory tree.
  • Tim Pope's Projectionist #4989 provides granular project configuration using "projections".

Buffer/File BrowsingEdit

  • bufexplorer lets you navigate through open buffers
  • minibufexpl Elegant buffer explorer; takes very little screen space.
  • lookupfile Lookup files using Vim7 ins-completion
  • Command-T plugin, inspired by the "Go to File" window bound to Command-T in TextMate
  • MRU access recently opened files.
  • ctrlp Fuzzy file, buffer, mru, tag, ... finder with regexp support. Written in vim language. Access all the functions with ctrl-p
  • FuzzyFinder same as previous.

Code BrowsingEdit

  • taglist gives you an outline of the source you're viewing
  • Tagbar similar to taglist but can order tags by scope. Recommend for programming languages with classes, e.g. C++, Java, Python.
  • Indexer generates tags for all files in project automatically and keeps tags up-to-date. Using ctags. Works well with project plugin or independently.
  • CCTree is a Call-Tree Explorer, Cscope based source-code browser, and code flow analyzer.
  • exUtility global search, symbol search, tag track...(Like IDE/Source Insight).
  • ShowMarks visually shows the location of marks.
  • lh-tags automatically updates the ctags database, and provides alternatives to `:tselect` to navigate code.

See also Browsing programs with tags and Cscope.

Writing CodeEdit

See also Omni completion and Make Vim completion popup menu work just like in an IDE.

Vim FunctionalityEdit

Compilation Edit

  • Build Tools Wrapper provides ways to compile programs (possibly in background, on several cores, ...), and to test and execute programs. It can also filter compilation outputs on the fly. When compiling projects under CMake care, BTW plugin permits to switch the compilation mode (a directory actually). The current compilation mode (and project name) will be displayed in the statusline of each buffer (the quickfix buffer as well) through airline plugin.
  • (list to be completed)

IDE integrationEdit

You may want to use your IDE for some tasks like debugging, so some integration between Vim and the IDE can be helpful.

Source Control IntegrationEdit

There are many Vim plugins for different source control management systems. Here are a few.

See also Category:VersionControl


There are several projects to add debugging functionality to vim

  • Clewn implements full gdb support in the vim editor: breakpoints, watch variables, gdb command completion, assembly windows, etc.
  • pyClewn like clewn but written in python and also supports pdb.
  • vim-debug, which creates an integrated debugging environment in VIM.
  • gdbvim plugin: Watch in vim what you debug in gdb. And more.
  • vim-lldb: provides lldb debbuging integration.
  • vim-vebugger: debugger front-end for gdb, jdb, Mdbg, pdg, Rdebug
  • vdebug: Multi-language DBGP debugger client for Vim (PHP, Python, Perl, Ruby, etc.)



When using Visual Studio, see ViEmu.

Code navigation in vi offers much more than a standard IDE, because of the ability to execute the desired combination of commands. Generate an index much more rapidly than an IDE with a heavy GUI interface:

For example, one can take advantage of the tag stack:

For C++, follow the instructions: on using OmniCpp Define a custom .ctags file


From a console (the exclude options may vary) generate the tags file as follows:

ctags --exclude=.svn --exclude=target -R .

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