Vim Forms TUI framework
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Vim Forms TUI framework


Forms is a Vim TUI (Text User Interface) library. It allows for the creation and display of text-based forms in both console Vim and GVim. Many of the standard GUI widget types are supported by Forms such as labels, buttons, menus and layout constructs. It supports navigation, selection and input with a keyboard, as well as, navigation and selection with a mouse.

A user can always stop a form with no side effects by entering . This is basically a "panic button"; the user wants out. If the user is a couple of sub-forms deep in a presentation, each entered pops the user out of the current form only. Developers should be aware that a user might not take any of the actions offered by a form and simply enter . Such user action,
to exit Forms, should NOT be prevented by a forms developer.

The behavior of a form created with the Forms library differs from that of a GUI form. Generally, a GUI form can be displayed and moved about anywhere on the screen. On the other hand, a TUI form has to reside within the Vim/GVim window; it can not be moved outside of the text area. In addition, when a form is being displayed, it captures all user input, keyboard and mouse in that window, so that there is no access to the underlying text until the form is closed. In that sense, all Forms forms are like modal GUI forms.

Because a form must fit within a text window, it is sometimes the case that the form's height and/or width is greater than that of the hosting window. Form developer should be aware of this and strive to make their forms smaller than expected window sizes. One approach is to break a large form into a number of sub-forms. In case a form is too big, an information form is displayed to the user stating that fact along with a suggested size to enlarge the window to so that the form will fit. If the window is too small even to display the information form, an error message is output (via a thrown exception).

Why create Forms? I was working on a Scala project and wanted to use Envim, a Vim plugin that allows one to run an ENSIME (Scala IDE support) process as a backend. After using Envim a little, learning its code base, extending it and offering the extensions to it author, I wondered how I might integrate ENSIME's refactoring capabilities with Vim/Envim. If one had only a couple of such capabilities, then make a unique key mapping per capability might be an option. But, once one get 10 to 15 such refactoring capabilities, 10 to 15 key maps is rather less attractive. Whats more, some refactoring operations takes one or more input parameters. So, my solution, was to use or create a Vim forms library. Searching the Vim site I found nothing that approached what I could call a forms library, so I built one. Now, after I get this released, I will go back to Envim and add refactoring capabilities. Then, I will go back to may original Scala project.



A zip snapshot of the Forms library can be downloaded from

In your Vim home, normally $HOME/.vim in Unix, unzip/untar the file:

# cd $HOME/.vim
# unzip

On a Windows system, vim home is normally $HOME/vimfiles.

TODO how to unpack on Windows?

Forms is also available via git:

One can download a release from github and extract content.

If as a developer, one wants fixes as they appear, one can clone the github Forms repository and, as updates appear, copy the files over to you Vim home location.

Vim has a number of third-party plugin managers. If you are using one you can configure it to automatically download and install Forms.


Forms depends upon the Self Libaray, a prototype-based object system: VIM or GitHup

Directory layout

After unpacking the Forms directory layout should look like:


If a plugin manager is used, files/directories will be wherever the plugin manager is configured to install things.

Here the autoload directory contains the basic Forms code in forms.vim as well as a forms sub-directory. The forms sub-directory contains the file menu.vim which has he the TUI menu and popup code that parallels the GVim menu and popup capability. In addition, there is is the dialog sub-directory that contains dialogs forms used both by the menu/popup code and the demonstration form. In the examples sub-directory is the demonstration form and various example dialog forms.

The doc directory contains this documentation txt file forms.txt.

The plugin directory contains a forms.vim file that contains mapping for launching the demonstration form as well as the menu and popup forms.

Intalling with vim-addon-manager (VAM)

For more information about vim-addon-manager, see vim-addon-manager and Vim-addon-manager getting started

In your .vimrc, add self as shown below:

fun SetupVAM()


  let g:vim_addon_manager = {}
  let g:vim_addon_manager.plugin_sources = {}


  let g:vim_addon_manager.plugin_sources['self'] = {'type': 'git', 'url': 'git://'}
  let g:vim_addon_manager.plugin_sources['forms'] = {'type': 'git', 'url': 'git://'}

  let plugins = [
    \ 'self',
    \ 'forms'
    \ ]

  call vam#ActivateAddons(plugins,{'auto_install' : 0})


call SetupVAM()

Now start Vim. You will be asked by vim-addon-manager if you would like to download and install the self plugin (no dependencies).

Installing with pathogen

I do not use pathogen. An example usage would be welcome.


The Forms library is just that, a library. One uses it to create and enhance Vim scripts. That said, there are some demonstration examples.

Strictly speaking, the Forms library is a library and, so, there ought not be any mappings. But, while developing Forms a number of examples were created which, it turns out, were critical for uncovering bugs, missing features in the implementation and usage issues. Two of the examples might have general appeal, the menu and popup forms that mirror the capability (and copy some of the support code of) the GVim menu and popup. While power users will disdain the Forms menu and popup examples as superfluous, covering Vim commands that are know by heart, so to power users disdain the GVim menu/popup - so, the power user is not the target user. Rather, the same users that find the GVim menu/popup useful will find the Forms menu/popup equally useful. Here are the mappings for the menu and popup:

nmap <Leader>m :call forms#menu#MakeMenu('n')<CR>
vmap <Leader>m :call forms#menu#MakeMenu('v')<CR>
nmap <Leader>p :call forms#menu#MakePopUp('n')<CR>
vmap <Leader>p :call forms#menu#MakePopUp('v')<CR>

It should be noted that there are normal and visual mode mappings. That is because some capabilities of the menu/popup are enabled/disabled depending upon mode, as well as, which command to ultimately execute may depend upon mode.

There is also a mapping which launches a form that links to some 40 Forms demonstration forms. The demonstration forms range from a simple box drawing example to a file browser and color chooser:

nmap <Leader>d :call forms#example#demo#Make()<CR>

If any of the demonstration forms do not display or function as one might expect on your platform, then drop me a line - thanks.

One will observe that these mappings use the characters: 'm' 'p' and 'd'. While the demo mapping can/should ultimately be commented out by all but Forms developers, at least for the non-power user, having a short, easy to remember, mnemonic mapping for menu and popup is certainly reasonable.

Also, there is the function 'forms#example#demo#MakeTest()' which displays each of the demonstrations for 5 seconds using:

:call forms#example#demo#MakeTest()

While this does not exercise any of the interactive demo; it simply renders each in turn, it is good to see if anything causes error messages or does not display at all. Its the beginning (maybe) of a more complete Event driven tests.

One can also, choose a 'light' or 'dark' colorscheme prior to running the tests, just to see the differences.

Supported Platforms

The Forms library ought to work on any platform where Vim has 256 colors (or full RGB as with GVim) and a fixed width UTF-8 font which implements the box drawing and block characters in a reasonable manner.

Linux Vim


Forms was developed and extensively tested on a Linux Xterm platform. As long as the Xterm is using the correct font, such as


For console-base Vim running in an Xterm, the font used by Vim is the font used by the Xterm. Running on my Linux systems I found the following works to launch an Xterm appropriately configured:

/usr/bin/xterm -g 80x30 -bg lightgrey -sl 1000 +si -fn \

If with say, the font 10x20, then you may not be able to render all of the unicode characters, but it ought to still work.

There is support for 256, 88, 16 and 8 color Xterms though the 256 looks best. In your .vimrc file add one of:

if ($TERM == 'xterm')
    let &t_Co=256


if ($TERM == 'xterm')
    let &t_Co=88


if ($TERM == 'xterm')
    let &t_Co=16


if ($TERM == 'xterm')
    let &t_Co=8

if you need help in getting the correct number of colors in Vim.


Forms simply works on the version of rxvt that supports Unicode and 256 colors, urxvt256c. Vim knows that &t_Co == 256.


Forms works with 88 color verion of rxvt that supports Unicode, urxvt. Vim knows that &t_Co == 88.


Forms works with non-Unicode, 8 color rxvt. Vim knows that &t_Co == 8.


Forms works kconsole (though kconsole's UTF-8 9608 2588 FULL BLOCK does not render correctly). Add to .vimrc file:

let &t_Co=256


Forms works eterm (well, I hope it works, no access to ETerm so could not test). Add to .vimrc file:

let &t_Co=256


Some testing has been done on the Linux GVim platform and all of the demonstration forms seem to work as expected.

Mac GVim

No testing has been done on the Mac GVim configure. Feedback is welcome.

Windows GVim

No testing has been done on the Windows GVim configure. Feedback is welcome.


Vim location


There is a Forms tutorial which can be accessed at Forms tutorial.

Acknowledgements and thanks

  • Marc Weber: Initial release feedback identifying Vim 7.3 bug and let me debug it on one of his test machines.
  • Andy Wokula: Feedback on help file syntax and GVim when font is latin1.
  • Christian Brabandt: Feedback Slider+FieldEditor bugs and ergonomics, FileBrowser filenames with embedded spaces, etc, and, of course, does not work.