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SoyWiki

SoyWiki turns Vim into a powerful, lean, and fast wiki. It's got all the protein of a more conventional wiki, but less saturated fat and no cholesterol.

A quick overview of SoyWiki's characteristics and features:

  • flat text files
  • maximum data portability
  • high interoperability with Unix tools
  • Vim text editing power
  • super-efficient modes of wiki traversal
  • Git for versioning, distributed workflows, and blaming
  • CamelCase wiki words
  • namespaced wiki words
  • autocompletion of wiki words
  • automated global renaming of wiki words
  • syntax colored wiki words
  • can open web hyperlinks in external browser or inside Vim
  • outliner-like capability with expansion commands
  • operates on all POSIX systems (e.g. OS X, Linux, FreeBSD)

SoyWiki builds on Vim's strengths as a text editor and interface to the Unix operating system, SoyWiki's primary goal is to make it possible to create, navigate, and refactor wiki content at the speed of thought.

SoyWiki is good for tracking projects, contacts, ideas, and collecting and organizing research. SoyWiki combines the affordances of notebooks, index cards, and Post-it notes, and adds to them the power of hyperlinks, search, revision history, automated refactoring, and more.

SoyWiki makes a good writing aid, especially if you do your writing in Vim. You can have SoyWiki open in multiple Vim windows, tabs, and buffers, alongside any number of regular Vim windows. Throw in a bunch of Vim abbreviations (:help abbreviations), a large monitor, and a teapot, and you'll have a powerful toolkit for writing your paper, essay, book, or screenplay.

SoyWiki is free and open source.

Prerequisites

  • a recent version of Vim (SoyWiki is developed against Vim 7.2 and 7.3)
  • a recent version of Ruby: Ruby 1.9.2 is recommended
  • RubyGems (if Ruby version is older than 1.9)
  • a recent version of Git (1.7.0.4 or above to be safe)

The current version of SoyWiki assumes a Unix environment.

To use SoyWiki you should be fairly good at using Vim.

To install Ruby 1.9.2, I recommend using the RVM Version Manager.

Most of SoyWiki's commands should work even if you don't have Git installed. But the revision history commands will not.

Installation

gem install soywiki

Test your installation by typing soywiki -h. You should see SoyWiki's help.

If you run into any PATH errors, try the following: Install the RVM Version Manager, then install Ruby 1.9.2 through RVM, and then run gem install soywiki. This should solve any installation issues.

If you ever want to uninstall SoyWiki from your system, execute this command:

gem uninstall soywiki

... and all traces of SoyWiki will removed.

New and improved versions of SoyWiki will be released over time. To install the latest version, just type gem install soywiki again.

Starting SoyWiki

Before you start SoyWiki, create a directory that will hold your wiki files and cd into it. Then you can start SoyWiki with

soywiki

You can make as many SoyWiki wikis on your system as you want just by creating directories for them. It's not a good idea however to nest SoyWiki wiki directories within each other, for reasons that will become clear below.

To use MacVim as your SoyWiki Vim engine, you can run soywiki like this

SOYWIKI_VIM=mvim soywiki

or you can export SOYWIKI_VIM=mvim in your ~/.bash_profile and then just run soywiki.

You can start SoyWiki from within a running Vim session. To set this up, first install or update SoyWiki, and then run

soywiki --install-plugin

Please note that you will need to run this command after each time you update SoyWiki to a newer version.

Assuming the plugin is installed, you can start SoyWiki from within a running Vim session by typing the command

:Soywiki

Make sure when you do this that Vim's working directory is the root of your wiki directory. You can change the working directory for the current Vim window with :lcd. See :help lcd for more info.

Basic usage

For basic use, SoyWiki works exactly like a typical wiki.

You write text, and when you want to create a new wiki page, you come up with a WikiWord for it and format it in CamelCase. Whenever you type a valid WikiLink, it will automatically be syntax-highlighted, and pressing ENTER on it will take you to the new page.

Creating WikiWords and pressing ENTER on them is how you create wiki pages and link them together. You'll be surprised at how powerful this simple mechanism is for organizing your notes.

In SoyWiki, a wiki page is a simple text file that has a WikiWord title on the first line. Beyond that, you can append any text you want. (You may alter the title line at the top, but it helps you see what wiki page you're on.) SoyWiki will create stub WikiPages for you automatically as you traverse WikiLinks that don't yet reference any content.

That's all you need to know to get started.

Namespaced WikiWords

Every WikiWord in SoyWiki is implicitly or explicitly namespaced. SoyWiki's namespaced WikiWords help organize your wiki space conceptually. They also help reduce clutter in your wiki directory.

An explicitly namespaced WikiWord looks like this:

recipes.SoyRaspberrySmoothie

The implicitly namespaced form looks just like a conventional WikiWord:

SoyRaspberrySmoothie

A namespace must start with a lower-case letter and consist only of letters, numbers, and underscore characters.

Within a WikiWord namespace you can use unqualified WikiWords to link pages within that namespace together. For example, if you are editing a page called recipes.SoyMacaroni and you want to link to a page called recipes.SoyRaspberrySmoothie, you can type a link called SoyRaspberrySmoothie. SoyWiki will treat this link as an implicitly namespaced link to another page in the recipes namespace.

SoyWiki wiki pages are stored as text files named by WikiWord within subdirectories named after their namespace. So recipes.SoyRaspberrySmoothie would be written to recipes/SoyRaspberrySmoothie.

You can't chain namespace words together. The maximum nesting level is 1. More nesting would imply hierarchical relationships, and permitting hierarchical nesting goes against the grain of what a wiki is, which is an undirected graph. SoyWiki namespaces are not supposed to represent hierarchies, but domains (e.g., personal, work, project1, project2, etc.). You can easily represent hierarchical relationships within a wiki page. See "Expanding a wiki page" below to see how you can use SoyWiki like an outliner program.

When you start SoyWiki for the first time, the active namespace is the default namespace main. main.HomePage is the first page you will see.

Wiki navigation

You can navigate a SoyWiki wiki very quickly with the following commands:

  • CTRL-j and CTRL-k move the cursor directly to the next or previous WikiLink on the page
  • ENTER follows the WikiLink under the cursor
  • ,f follows the first WikiLink after the cursor
  • CTRL-l opens a WikiLink in a vertical split window; press CTRL-l again while the cursor is on the top line to close the new window
  • CTRL-h does the same, but in a regular split window
  • q closes a split window
  • ,h takes you to the HomePage of the current namespace
  • ,H takes you to main.HomePage

These key mappings may not be very mnemonic, but they are easy to memorize through muscle memory and were chosen to keep the hands stationary and the fingers near home position on a QWERTY keyboard while navigating the wiki.

You can also use Vim's jump motions CTRL-o and CTRL-i to move back and forth in your jump history. See :help jump-motions for more on this. You can press CTRL-^ to toggle between the current page and the last page you looked at.

  • ,m opens the page list
  • ,n opens the namespace list
  • ,M opens the inbound links page list

You can view all the pages in your wiki, most recently modified first, by pressing ,m. This opens both a page list and autocompletion window. You can use the standard Vim autocompletion commands here to find the page you want and call it up. See Vim's :help ins-completion-menu for further instructions.

When you're on a wiki page and you want to see all the other wiki pages that link in to it, press ,M. If there is only one page that links in, you'll be taken there automatically.

,n lets you select from your namespaces. Choosing one will take you to the HomePage of that namespace.

Opening web hyperlinks

  • ,o opens the first web hyperlink under or after the cursor in the default external web browser
  • ENTER opens the web hyperlink under the cursor in the default external web browser
  • ,O opens the web hyperlink under the cursor in a vertical split window
  • CTRL-w f opens the web hyperlink under the cursor in a normal split window
  • gf opens the web hyperlink under the cursor in the same Vim window

,o opens the next web hyperlink on or after the cursor in your default external web browser. Web hyperlinks are the URLs that begin with http:// or https://. You can also use ENTER when the cursor is over a web hyperlink.

Under the covers, SoyWiki uses the command gnome-open or open to launch your external web browser. This should cover Linux Gnome desktop and OS X users. You can change the command SoyWiki uses to open a hyperlink by adding this to your ~/.vimrc:

let g:SoyWiki#browser_command = "your browser command here"

If your Vim has netrw installed, you can open a hyperlink directly in Vim by putting the cursor on a web hyperlink and typing gf, CTRL-W f or ,O (capital O). All these commands open the webpage inside your Vim session using elinks or whatever browser you set as your g:netrw_http_cmd. See :help netrw for more information.

TIP: I personally prefer using netrw (configured to use elinks) to launching URLs in an external web browser. This lets me keep all my URL bookmarks in regular text files and open, clip, and annotate them all in SoyWiki and Vim. Using netrw helps your text editor rather than your web browser dominate your workflow. And you tend to stay focused on your task rather than going down the rabbit hole of internet distractions.

WikiLink autocompletion

When you're writing a wiki page and you want to link to another page, SoyWiki can help you autocomplete your WikiLink. Press CTRL-x CTRL-u in Vim insert mode to invoke it.

Wiki refactoring

You can delete the current page with :SWDelete.

:SWRenameTo [new name] renames the current page. Make sure the new name is valid CamelCase. You can put a namespace in front of the new name as namespace. or namespace/. If you omit the namespace, the current namespace is assumed.

When you rename a page, SoyWiki will update all the links on other pages in your wiki that need to be updated in light of the change. (You'll see the other links that were updated in the output.)

To create a wiki page directly, without first typing a WikiWord and traversing it, type :SWCreate followed by the full path to the new page. The form of the argument here should be namespace/WikiWord. You may use command line file path autocomplete to fill out the namespace subdirectory if it already exists.

TIP: I recommend not using :SWCreate to create wiki pages. Prefer the method of writing a WikiLink and then traversing it. This will make your wiki more interlinked, better organized, and easier to traverse in an organic way.

Beyond the standard cut and paste, SoyWiki gives you four fast ways of shuttling text from one wiki page to another.

First, highlight the text you want to move with Vim's visual mode. (See :help visual-mode for more info)

Then, type

  • :SWInsert [target] to move the text to the top of target page
  • :SWAppend [target] to move the text to the bottom of the target page
  • :SWLinkInsert [target] performs :SWInsert and replaces the text with a WikiWord link
  • :SWLinkAppend [target] performs :SWAppend and replaces the text with a WikiWord link

[target] is the name of the file that contains the wiki page you're targeting, e.g. recipes/SoyRaspberrySmoothie. Press TAB for autocompletion help.

These four commands will open the target page (if it isn't open already) in a split window and insert or append the selected text into it. If the target page doesn't exist, it will be created.

You can use these shortcuts:

  • :SWDelete:SWD
  • :SWRename:SWR
  • :SWCreate:SWC
  • :SWInsert:SWI
  • :SWAppend:SWA

With :SWLinkInsert and :SWLinkAppend you can use Vim's command line completion (:help cmdline-completion) to avoid typing out the whole command name.

Also, you can use Vim's command line history (:help cmdline-history) and command line window (:help cmdline-window) to save keystrokes when you want to repeatedly execute an insert or append command targeting the same wiki page.

Search

  • :SWSearch [term]
  • :SWNamespaceSearch [term]

These commands search your SoyWiki wiki. :SWNamespaceSearch confines your search to the current namespace.

Vim will load any matches in the quickfix list window. If there are matches, you can use :cn and :cp to go from match to match, :cl to list the matches, and :cc [item number] to see a particular match ln the list. See :help quickfix to see the list of matches. for more QuickFix commands.

Examples:

:SWSearch gnu
:SWNamespaceSearch gnu

You can use :SWS as a shortcut for :SWSearch. You can also tab-complete :SWN to :SWNamespaceSearch.

Searches are case-insensitve.

Under the hood, :SWSearch is just a thin wrapper around the :vimgrep command. Use :vimgrep directly if you want to do anything more specific.

TIP: You can flag important notes in your wiki content by typing flags like TODO or IMPORTANT! on the same line, and then use :SWSearch and :cl to see all instances of them across your entire wiki.

Revision history and distributed workflows

SoyWiki delegates revision-tracking, syncing, and collaboration workflows to Git. SoyWiki automatically creates a Git repository in your wiki directory and automatically commits all the edits you make to it. You can sync a SoyWiki wiki between two computers using the standard Git push and pull commands. Collaborators can also edit a common wiki this way, in peer to peer fashion.

SoyWiki provides a few convenient key mappings to view the revision history of a wiki page:

  • ,lp shows a git-log -p view of the revision history of the current page
  • ,ls shows a git log --stat view of the current page's revision history
  • ,b shows a git-blame view of the current page, which shows when each line was added and by whom.

You can always bypass Vim and SoyWiki altogether and use Git directly to inspect your revision history. The Git repo for your SoyWiki wiki will be located in the same directory as your wiki files.

To sync your SoyWiki wiki between two personal computers, you can follow the instructions here and set up an bare Git repository on some server for all your computers to push to and pull from.

If you want something simpler, you could also try keeping your wiki folder in a Dropbox folder.

If you want to edit a common SoyWiki with many other people, it's probably best to set up a common upstream Git repository (e.g. on GitHub, if the wiki content is for public consumption). This process may be intimidating for non-programmers, so a future version of SoyWiki may provide a more user-friendly interface for distributed collaboration workflows.

Expanding a wiki page

SoyWiki lets you "expand" a wiki page. What this does is expand all the wiki links in the page that appear alone on a line. Each of these links is replaced by the content of the wiki page the link points to. This expansion works recursively on all the expanded content. Don't worry. It can't fall into an infinite recursive loop because it will only expand each WikiWord it encounters once, leaving all subsequent references to the same WikiWord unexpanded.

The expanded version of the page will appear in a new Vim scratch buffer. From there you can write it out to a new text file, pipe it to lpr to print it, or whatever you like.

There are two forms of expansion: seamful and seamless. Seamful expansion expands wiki links into wiki pages and clearly marks where this has happened by including markers along with the WikiWord that was expanded. Seamless expansion does not mark a point of expansion with anything, and it erases the WikiWord that got expanded.

  • ,x expands a wiki page seamfully and opens on a vertical split
  • ,X expands a wiki page seamlessly and opens on a vertical split
  • ,xx expands a wiki page seamfully and opens on normal split
  • ,XX expands a wiki page seamlessly and opens on a normal split
  • q closes the expanded view window

Both modes of expansion are useful when you want to assemble a long piece of writing by using one page as a master outline that links to other wiki pages that include the real content. And since expansion is recursive, you can effectively nest outlines within outlines, like dreams within dreams.

Exporting to HTML

  • soywiki --html

Want to share your wiki with non-Vim-users? You can export your wiki into a directory of HTML pages. Type soywiki --html from the root directory of your wiki.

Aside from WikiWords, SoyWiki uses no markup system whatsoever. You can write your content in whatever markup system you want, or no markup system at all. It's all plain text to SoyWiki. The HTML export feature just wraps your content in <pre> tags after turning your WikiWords into hyperlinks, so no markup system is really necessary.

In the future, the HTML export feature may let you specify a markup system for rendering your content. Another possible feature is a Sinatra application that translates wiki pages into web pages upon request.

If you want to contribute such features, please feel free to implement them and submit a pull request.

Extra macros

SoyWiki adds a few convenient Vim macros.

  • \ in normal mode reformats the current paragraph. It is equivalent to gqap. (:help formatting)
  • ,- inserts a long dashed line
  • ,d inserts the current date and time
  • ,D inserts a long dashed line, followed by the current date and time

Getting help

Typing ,? will open the help webpage in a browser.

CamelCase WikiLinks rule!

Some people don't like the CamelCase (a.k.a. WikiCase) wiki link pattern. But SoyWiki stands with CamelCase.

  • Besides being the original, CamelCase is the most elegantly minimalist approach to linking wiki pages together -- "with no additional markup whatsoever," as Ward Cunningham put it.
  • It encourages you more than other wiki link patterns to create wiki pages with succinctly descriptive names that are easy to remember.
  • Because the link pattern is so minimal and succinct, writing wiki links interrupts your flow of thought less than other wiki link patterns.
  • CamelCase wiki links are less noisy than other link patterns in raw plain text form. This also contributes to flow.
  • The CamelCase link pattern is very conducive to storing wiki pages in plain text files: the page names can map directly to Unix file names without any awkward character escaping or munging.

No wiki link pattern is perfect! All involve trade-offs. The CamelCase pattern gives you a lot in return for its particular compromises.

Bug reports and feature requests

SoyWiki is very new, so there are kinks and bugs to iron out and lot of desirable features to add. If you have a bug to report or a good feature to suggest, please file it on the issue tracker. That will help a lot.

You can also join the Google Group and comment there.

How to contact the developer

My name is Daniel Choi. I am based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and you can email me at dhchoi {at} gmail.com.

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