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How to write a plugin

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Tip 147 Printable Monobook Previous Next

created 2001 · complexity advanced · author Charles E. Campbell, Jr. · version 6.0


This tip gives a skeleton for writing a plugin; Vim's help files have plenty of details.

" ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
" Exit when your app has already been loaded (or "compatible" mode set)
if exists("g:loaded_YourAppName") || &cp
  finish
endif
let g:loaded_YourAppName= 123 " your version number
let s:keepcpo           = &cpo
set cpo&vim

" Public Interface:
" AppFunction: is a function you expect your users to call
" PickAMap: some sequence of characters that will run your AppFunction
" Repeat these three lines as needed for multiple functions which will
" be used to provide an interface for the user
if !hasmapto('<Plug>AppFunction')
  map <unique> <Leader>PickAMap <Plug>AppFunction
endif

" Global Maps:
"
map <silent> <unique> <script> <Plug>AppFunction
 \ :set lz<CR>:call <SID>AppFunction<CR>:set nolz<CR>

" ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
" s:AppFunction: this function is available via the <Plug>/<script> interface above
fun! s:AppFunction()
  ..whatever..

  " your script function can set up maps to internal functions
  nmap <silent> <Left> :set lz<CR>:silent! call <SID>AppFunction2<CR>:set nolz<CR>

  " your app can call functions in its own script and not worry about name
  " clashes by preceding those function names with <SID>
  call s:InternalAppFunction(...)

  " or you could call it with
  call s:InternalAppFunction(...)
endfun

" ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
" s:InternalAppFunction: this function cannot be called from outside the
" script, and its name won't clash with whatever else the user has loaded
fun! s:InternalAppFunction(...)

  ..whatever..
endfun

" ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
let &cpo= s:keepcpo
unlet s:keepcpo

With vim 7.0 comes a new feature that strongly affects plugin writing: autoload. This feature reduces the turn-on time for vim; the idea is to split your plugin into two parts, one containing the public interface and one containing the bulk of the script. As always, the plugin portion is always loaded; the autoload portion is loaded only when needed. Functions are written using

fun! NameOfScriptFile#FunctionName()
...
endfun

Thus maps and commands can use the "NameOfScriptFile#FunctionName()" format for their functions in the plugin portion; when the user invokes the command or map, vim will only then load the autoload/NameOfScriptFile.vim script. I heartily recommend that plugin writers avail themselves of this method!

Plugins are intended to be "drop into <.vim/plugin>" and work. The problem that the <Plug>, <SID>, etc stuff is intended to resolve: what to do about functions that have the same names in different plugins, and what to do about maps that use the same sequence of characters? The first problem is solved with <SID> (a script identifier number) that Vim assigns: program with it and your users will be happier when your stuff works with all their other stuff.

The second problem: what to about those maps is addressed with <Plug>, <unique>, etc. Basically the idea is: let the user know that there are clashes and don't overwrite previously existing maps. Use the user's preferred map-introducer sequence (I like the backslash, but there are many keyboards which make producing backslashes unpleasant, and those users usually prefer something else).

What I like to do is to have a pair of start/stop maps to reduce my impact on the namespace. When the starting map is used, it kicks off a starting function that introduces all the maps needed. When the stopping map is used, it not only removes the maps the starter made but restores any maps the user had had that would have clashed. I also use the start/stop pair of functions to set and restore options that cause my scripts difficulties.

Check out DrawIt.vim's SaveMap() function for a way to save user maps. Restoring maps with it is easy:

if b:restoremap != ""
  exe b:restoremap
  unlet b:restoremap
endif

So you can see it sets up a string variable with all the maps that the user had that would have clashed with my application.

One final thing: if your application needs to share information between its various functions, see if you can use s:varname (a variable that only your script's functions can access) or b:varname (a variable that anything associated with the buffer your application is running with can access) instead of using global variables.

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