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A plugin for the Vim editor for handling any interpreter in a Notebook style
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LICENSE.txt Add MIT license Aug 11, 2016 fix typo Jan 20, 2018


A plugin for the Vim editor for handling any interpreter in a Notebook style.

This plugin is intended to create documents with an interpreter running in the background and evaluating some "cells" containing code whenever asked. Of course, it is very easy to execute some code from vim, but the standard way of doing it will involve a new session of the interpreter at each call, losing variables, etc. With this plugin, a single interpreter is waiting in the background with a persistent state between calls.

It follows the philosophy of the Vim editor better than some similar plugins: rather than launching an interactive interpreter within a buffer, it keeps it in the background and makes it write into the buffer when the user needs it.

Since version 1.2.0 the plugin is compatible with the vim-markdown plugin (by Tim Pope). Fenced code blocks are now detected and correctly handled.

Thus, Vim will behave like several well-known "notebook" software:

  • iPython Notebook
  • Maple
  • Mathematica
  • etc.

It has been tested with several interpreters and seems to work well with Julia, Octave, Maxima, GNU APL, J, etc. as well as with some standard tools like bc or sh.

A demo can be seen there (another one which is related to the Julia programming language can also be found there).


The plugin uses Unix background processes, special files, etc. and will only work on Unix-like operating systems; it has been tested under Linux and Mac OS X.

When the kernel is launched, the filetype of the document will be set to "markdown" and the standard syntax file for the Markdown type will be used; syntax highlighting will also be enabled. This standard syntax file defines a "markdownCodeBlock" element made with lines of code beginning with 4 spaces:

this is an example of "markdownCodeBlock"

When the cursor is on such a line, using the NotebookEvaluate command will make the whole block (no matter where the cursor is exactly in the block) be sent to the interpreter and the output will be printed below.

Of course, the document may contain anything else: headers, text, etc. It should follow the Markdown style, though it is not absolutely mandatory.


Just copy the notebook.vim file in your ~/.vim/plugin directory.

By default, the plugin will use sh when launched; you will have to configure it for the interpreter you want to use.

Basic configuration

Several global variables are involved in the configuration of the plugin; you should set them in your ~/.vimrc configuration file.


You should probably map the the NotebookEvaluate command to some convenient key. For instance:

map µ :NotebookEvaluate<CR>

will map the µ key to the function evaluating code blocks.

Various settings

The code block being evaluated can be highlighted until the output has been printed:

let g:notebook_highlight = 1

By default, the cursor is on the last line of the output after evaluation. If you want rather the cursor staying at the initial location, just set:

let g:notebook_resetpos = 1

The previous setting has no effect when evaluating all the cells at a time.

Configuring a kernel

Many famous interpreters are given below; you will find relevant settings for them. However, you may want to configure some settings by yourself; here are the options used by the plugin.

The main option is g:notebook_cmd which contains the command for starting the interpreter. Most of the time it is the name of your interpreter (sometimes you may want to add some "quiet" flags for reducing the output). Sometimes, the interpreter has to be encapsulated in some other command for solving issues (see below).

The g:notebook_sendinit option allows to send some initialization command; for instance it should be used for disabling prompts, removing any escape sequences, etc.

After each block of code sent to the interpreter, an "invisible" command is sent to it for making an arbitrary key being printed; generally some print or echo command will be used for that purpose; that command is in g:notebook_send.

Intercommunication between processes can be easely lost as soon as the previous key isn't detected properly; with many interpreters, each new command will be interpreted even if an error has occured. However an extra command may be sent after the block of code and before the request for the key. If g:notebook_send0 is not an empty string, it is sent to the interpreter before the previous command.

In order to let the plugin know that the evaluation of the block is finished, it has to detect the arbitrary key printed by the interpreter. The g:notebook_detect option must contain the exact line written by the interpreter. Some interpreters add spaces before or after the printed key and they have to be included; such spaces may be difficult to detect when trying to configure the plugin, and it is suggested to study the behaviour of your interpreter in a script session (editing the typescript file after that will allow to see if spaces have been added anywhere).

The plugin is intended to handle the interpreter in the cleanest way; a command has to be provided for closing it properly; it is set in g:notebook_stop.

Using the Notebook plugin

Just start it with:


(or add some shortcut in your configuration file).

Then, a block of code (at the position of the cursor) may be evaluated with:


The whole notebook document may be evaluated with:


The kernel may be stopped with one of the two following commands:


The kernel may be stopped and restarted with:


By default the plugin uses /bin/sh as an internal process; it is known to work also with bash. You may set this with:

let g:notebook_shell_internal = '/bin/sh'
let g:notebook_shell_internal = '/bin/bash'

in your configuration file; it looks like some interpreters work better with bash and you should try it if you encounter some issues.

Configurations for several interpreters

Not all interpreters will work with the plugin, but it is intended to allow many ways of hacking and you should be able to use many different programs anyway. Have a look at different settings in order to understand them.

The interpreter should not use any buffering when writing to the standard output. If it is the case, it should still be possible to use the interpreter with the help of the stdbuf command (see below).

Configuring the sh kernel

This is the default setting:

let g:notebook_cmd = '/bin/sh 2>&1'
let g:notebook_stop = 'exit'
let g:notebook_send = 'echo NOTEBOOK-VIM-INTERNAL-KEY'
let g:notebook_detect = 'NOTEBOOK-VIM-INTERNAL-KEY'
let g:notebook_send0 = ''

The first line is the command to be used for starting the interpreter. In order to catch error messages as well we added 2>&1 to the command. The second line is the command to be sent to the interpreter for leaving. The third line is a command for the interpreter making it print some arbitrary and complicated string. The fourth line is the exact string printed by the interpreter from the previous command. The last line is a hack; here no setting is provided; some more complicated interpreters may need it (see below).

Configuring the bc calculator

let g:notebook_cmd='bc 2>&1'
let g:notebook_stop='quit'
let g:notebook_send='print \"VIMBCNOTEBOOK\n\"'
let g:notebook_detect="VIMBCNOTEBOOK"
let g:notebook_send0=""

The settings are similar to the previous ones.

Configuring the dc calculator

let g:notebook_cmd='dc 2>&1'
let g:notebook_stop='q'
let g:notebook_send='[][VIMDCNOTEBOOK][]pnnpn'
let g:notebook_detect='VIMDCNOTEBOOK'
let g:notebook_send0=''

The settings are similar to the previous ones.

Configuring Julia

let g:notebook_cmd='~/contribs/julia/julia -qi'
let g:notebook_stop='exit()'
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send='println(); println(\"VIMJULIANOTEBOOK\")'
let g:notebook_detect='VIMJULIANOTEBOOK'

Configuring Octave

Ocatve should work with no problem with following settings:

let g:notebook_cmd='octave'
let g:notebook_stop='exit'
let g:notebook_send='printf \"VIMOCTAVENOTEBOOK\n\"'
let g:notebook_detect='VIMOCTAVENOTEBOOK'
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_shell_internal = '/bin/bash'

It looks like the shell sh does not work here.

Configuring Maxima

The plugin was written with Maxima in mind and it should work quite well with it. But since Maxima can be compiled in many different ways, the following settings may have to be adjusted. Here are some working settings:

let g:notebook_cmd='stdbuf -i0 -o0 -e0 /usr/bin/maxima'
   \ . ' --disable-readline --very-quiet'
let g:notebook_stop="quit();"
let g:notebook_send0="\;"
let g:notebook_send='print(\"VIMMAXIMANOTEBOOK\")\$'
let g:notebook_detect='VIMMAXIMANOTEBOOK '

The command is prefixed with stdbuf -i0 -o0 -e0 in order to unbuffer the following command because intercommunication between processes is highly sensitive and the whole system could be stuck otherwise.

The last line contains an espace character in the string; this is because Maxima seems to add an espace when printing the string. If you encounter some issues with these settings, you should carefully study wether your version of Maxima behaves like that or not (you can do it by launching Maxima in a script session and then study the resulting typescript file).

Furthermore, the g:notebook_send0 setting may be used here. It will send some more characters after each command and before asking for the internal key. If this setting is not used, the user should never forget the final ; in the code being evaluated. If the ; (or $ character) is forgotten, the whole session will be lost and the kernel will have to be killed and restarted.

Several hacks can be used; the user can choose to never use the ; but to add it in the g:notebook_send0 variable:

let g:notebook_send0="\;"

Adding ; by mistake will print an error message but the communication between processes will remain alive.

Another strategy can be something like that:

let g:notebook_send0=" 0\$"

Now the user has to use the ; (or $) syntax; a strange error will be printed when forgotten but the communication between processes will remain alive also.

Configuring Pari-GP

The plugin should work well with Pari-GP; however it has been tested with an old out-of-date version of Pari-GP; the settings should be something like:

let g:notebook_cmd='gp -q'
let g:notebook_stop='quit()'
let g:notebook_send='print(\"VIMPARIGPNOTEBOOK\");'
let g:notebook_detect='VIMPARIGPNOTEBOOK'
let g:notebook_send0=''
let g:notebook_sendinit='default(\"readline\",0); default(\"colors\",\"no\");'

Configuring Julia

The julia interpreter seems to work very well with the plugin:

let g:notebook_cmd='julia'
let g:notebook_stop='exit()'
let g:notebook_send0=''
let g:notebook_send='println(\"VIMJULIANOTEBOOK\")'
let g:notebook_detect='VIMJULIANOTEBOOK'

Configuring Scilab

The scilab-cli-bin client has to be installed; then usable settings are:

let g:notebook_cmd = '{ script -qfc scilab-cli-bin /dev/null; }'
    \ . ' | grep --line-buffered -Pv "\x0d$"'
let g:notebook_stop = "quit"
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send = 'disp(\"VIMSCILABNOTEBOOK\")'
let g:notebook_detect = ' VIMSCILABNOTEBOOK   '

Output is not absolutely perfect however.

Configuring Mathematica

It is possible to use the Wolfram engine with the plugin. It has to be launched in a pseudo-terminal with script. Right now, the output contains many escape sequences; how to clean it will be explained later.

let g:notebook_cmd='{ script -c wolfram /dev/null; }'
let g:notebook_stop="Quit"
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send='Print []; Print [ \"VIMWOLFRAMNOTEBOOK\" ]; Print []'
let g:notebook_detect='VIMWOLFRAMNOTEBOOK'

Configuring GNU APL

GNU APL works very well with the following settings:

let g:notebook_cmd = '/home/pi/APL/svn/trunk/src/apl --noSV --rawCIN --noColor'
let g:notebook_stop = ')OFF'
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send = "'VIMGNUAPLNOTEBOOK'"
let g:notebook_detect = 'VIMGNUAPLNOTEBOOK'

Configuring NGN APL

Nick Nickolov, the author of NGN APL, was kind enough to add the ⎕off command in order to make its interpreter compatible with the plugin. Later he also made his interpreter easier to embed in vim-notebook. First check you have the last version of NGN APL. Of course, you must install nodejs in order to make it work. The following settings work very well:

let g:notebook_cmd = 'nodejs ~/APL/apl.js --linewise'
let g:notebook_stop = "⎕off"
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send = "'VIMNGNAPLNOTEBOOK'"
let g:notebook_detect = 'VIMNGNAPLNOTEBOOK'

Configuring Dyalog APL

Dyalog APL works very well with the following settings (tested on a Raspberry Pi):

let g:notebook_cmd = 'dyalog'
let g:notebook_stop = ")off"
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send = "'VIMDYALOGAPLNOTEBOOK'"
let g:notebook_detect = 'VIMDYALOGAPLNOTEBOOK'
let g:notebook_shell_internal = '/bin/sh'

Configuring the J interpreter

The three-spaces prompt may be an issue. A quick fix can be:

let g:notebook_cmd = '~/j/j801/bin/jconsole'
let g:notebook_stop = "exit ''"
let g:notebook_send0="''"
let g:notebook_send = "'VIMJNOTEBOOK'"
let g:notebook_detect = '   VIMJNOTEBOOK'

You have to be careful when copying lines 3 (no-op like) and 5 (with three spaces).

Configuring the R interpreter

The interpreter for the R programming language works very well with the following settings:

let g:notebook_cmd='R --vanilla --no-readline --slave'
let g:notebook_stop='q()'
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send='cat(\"VIMRNOTEBOOK\n\")'
let g:notebook_detect="VIMRNOTEBOOK"

Configuring the kdb+ interpreter (from Kx Systems)

I don't use this interpreter myself, but sinc eI am interested in APL variants, I downloaded the free version and saw if I could make it work. It seems to work very well with the following settings:

let g:notebook_cmd='/home/thomas/q/l32/q'
let g:notebook_stop='\\\\'
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send='\"VIMQNOTEBOOK\"'
let g:notebook_detect='\"VIMQNOTEBOOK\"'

Of course, you will have to change the path of your executable command.

Configuring the FriCAS interpreter

I don't use FriCAS much, but I think the following settings should work fine:

let g:notebook_cmd='{ script -qfc "fricas -nogr -noht -nox -noclef" /dev/null; }'
  \ . '| grep --line-buffered -Pv "\x0d$"'
let g:notebook_stop=')quit'
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send='output \"\"; output \"VIMFRICASNOTEBOOK\"'
let g:notebook_detect='   VIMFRICASNOTEBOOK'

Configuring the OpenAxiom interpreter

I don't use OpenAxiom much, but I think the following settings should work fine:

let g:notebook_cmd='{ script -qfc "open-axiom -nogr -noht -nox -noclef" /dev/null; }'
  \ . '| grep --line-buffered -Pv "\x0d$"'
let g:notebook_stop=')quit'
let g:notebook_send0=""
let g:notebook_send='output \"\"; output \"VIMOPENAXIOMNOTEBOOK\"'
let g:notebook_detect='   VIMOPENAXIOMNOTEBOOK'

Some tricks

Two things may complicate the configuration: buffering and detection of a terminal.

If the interpreter uses buffering when printing to its output stream, the plugin will not be able to detect the key at the end of the evaluation. In some cases you can easely fix it by using stdbuf. For instance with Maxima:

let g:notebook_cmd='stdbuf -i0 -o0 -e0 /usr/bin/maxima'
   \ . ' --disable-readline --very-quiet'

Another issue can result when the interpreter has two different behaviours, one when connected to a terminal (interactive use) or to a pipe (batch use). Whta you want is probably the interactive use; this can be solved with script. For instance you can start bc with

let g:notebook_cmd='{ script -c bc /dev/null; }'

Older versions of NGN APL were needing the following syntax; I leave it here in order to help integrating new interpreters:

let g:notebook_cmd = '{ script -qfc "nodejs ~/Downloads/apl.js" /dev/null; }'
  \ . ' | grep --line-buffered -Pv "\x0d$"'

Adding a menu

In the main video, interpreters are launched from a menu. This menu is not a part of the plugin; however I add my personal mynotebook.vim plugin containing my own settings; you may hack it according to your own needs. This second plugin basically adds a menu configuring vim-notebook for each interpreter.

In my own .vimrc I mapped the menu to the ~ key:

map ² :emenu Notebook.<C-Z>

Other videos

An older demo can be seen there.


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