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Vim Pipe - A Productivity-Boosting Plugin

Do you do this?

        hack <---------- alt-tab <---------- react
          |                                    |
+-------------------+                +-------------------+
| code code         |                | result result     |
| code              |                | result            |
|                   |                |                   |
|                   |                |                   |
|                   |                |                   |
|                   |                |                   |
|                   |                |                   |
+-------------------+                +-------------------+
          |                                    |
         :w -----------> alt-tab ---------> invoke

This plugin lets you do this instead:

| code code         |
| code              |---------\
|                   |         |
|-------------------|   <LocalLeader>r
| result result     |         |
| result            |<--------/
|                   |

Which saves tonnes of time. It's even faster than using screen or tmux.

It's useful for developing SQL queries, fast HTML previews, markdown-checking, and anything that needs to pass through a shell command while you develop.


You associate a shell command with your file, something that will take your buffer on STDIN and show the result on STDOUT. For example, if you're editing an SQL query, that command might be psql mydatabase.

Having done that, <LocalLeader>r will run the current buffer against that command and show you the results. You no longer need to save-switch-execute-switch, which makes life faster and easier.


  • Install Pathogen. (You're already using Pathogen, right?)
  • Clone this project into ~/.vim/bundle/vim-pipe.
  • Set a b:vimpipe_command variable for your buffer. The easiest way is to add a let command in ~/.vim/ftplugin/<filetype>.vim. For example:
" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/sql.vim
let b:vimpipe_command="psql mydatabase"
" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/markdown.vim
let b:vimpipe_command="multimarkdown"

See below for various examples.

Usage & Tips

Once b:vimpipe_command is configured, type <LocalLeader>r to get the list results. There's no need to save the file first. It works on the current buffer, not the contents on disk.

You can set g:vimpipe_silent=1 to disable runtime information in the output window.


" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/sql.vim
let b:vimpipe_command="psql mydatabase"

See also vim-postgresql-syntax.


If you have an OPS$ login, it's as simple as:

" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/sql.vim
let b:vimpipe_command="sqlplus -s /"


This is only text-based, obviously, but can still speed up initial development.

" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/html.vim
let b:vimpipe_command="lynx -dump -stdin"


I usually run JavaScript in a browser, so I bind vim-pipe to JSLint, for code-quality checking on-the-fly.

" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/javascript.vim
let b:vimpipe_command='jslint <(cat)'

Note: JSLint doesn't accept input on STDIN, so this configuration uses bash's virtual file support. <(cat) takes the STDIN and re-presents it to look like a regular file.


I find attaching vim-pipe to a pretty-printer useful for development:

" Vim doesn't set a FileType for JSON, so we'll do it manually:
" In ~/.vimrc
autocmd BufNewFile,BufReadPost *.json setlocal filetype=javascript.json

" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/javascript.vim
" Requires that you have Python v2.6+ installed. (Most *nix systems do.)
let b:vimpipe_command="python -m json.tool"


Fast-preview the HTML:

" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/markdown.vim
let b:vimpipe_command="multimarkdown"
let b:vimpipe_filetype="html"

Or combine wth the HTML tip to preview the rendered result:

" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/markdown.vim
let b:vimpipe_command="multimarkdown | lynx -dump -stdin"


Is there an official FileType for MongoDB query files? Let's say it's mongoql, for all files *.mql:

" In ~/.vimrc
autocmd BufNewFile,BufReadPost *.mql setlocal filetype=mongoql

" In ~/.vim/ftplugin/mql.vim
let b:vimpipe_command="mongo"
let b:vimpipe_filetype="javascript"

Then try editing a file called somequery.mql with something like this in:

use books;, {author: 1, title: 1 });
db.runCommand({dbStats: 1});


See :help vim-pipe for more.


What's the difference between this and :make?

The biggest difference is the way the output is presented & read. If the whole of the output is interesting, use Vim Pipe. If the only interesting part of the output is a summary of errors/warnings, use :make.

Does Vim Pipe fork/exec?

..or is there a long-lived background process?

It forks. So it works well with commands you'd invoke frequently from the command line, but not so well with something like javac, which has a (deathly) slow startup time.


Thanks to Steve Losh for his excellent guide to Vimscript, Learn Vimscript the Hard Way, and Meikel Brandmeye of vimclojure for the inspiration.

Thanks to Markus Seeger and Dhruva Sagar for their contributions.


Send a vim buffer through a command and instantly see the output.




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