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Guidelines for sculpting your very own ~/.vimrc.
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Guidelines for sculpting your very own ~/.vimrc.

Unlike the many so-called "distributions", "templates" or "awesome vimrc" you can find on the web, this repository is NOT meant to be an actual vimrc or even form the basis of your own vimrc so don't copy it to your $HOME and expect it to work.

The purpose of this repository is to document battle-tested best practices regarding Vim configuration. Use it as a reference, not as a starting point.

Furthermore, a vimrc is something personal, that grows, shrinks and evolves over time, as you increase your Vim-fu and your needs change. While looking at other people's vimrc can certainly be an interesting exercise, one should refrain himself from looking for solutions to non-existing problems.

Remember, kids... Pandajail is where pandas are sent when you use someone else's vimrc. Don't be the vimmer responsible for this:




Whatever you do to customize Vim, it should NEVER happen outside of $HOME:

  • on Linux, BSD, and Cygwin, $HOME is usually /home/username/,
  • on Mac OS X, $HOME is /Users/username/,
  • on Windows, $HOME is usually C:\Users\username\.

The canonical location for your vimrc and your runtime directory is at the root of that $HOME directory:

System vimrc Runtime directory
UNIX-like $HOME/.vimrc $HOME/.vim/
Windows $HOME\_vimrc $HOME\vimfiles\

The layout above is guaranteed to always work, now and in the future.

Since Vim 7.4 it is possible to keep your lovely vimrc INSIDE your vim directory. It is really a good idea, if only because it makes it easier to move your config around.

If you use 7.4 or above exclusively, the following gives you a portable setup:

System Location
UNIX-like $HOME/.vim/vimrc
Windows $HOME\vimfiles\vimrc

If you want a self-contained vim/ but use both 7.4 or above and an older version, or only an older version, the simplest, future-proof, solution is to put this line and only this line:

runtime vimrc

in this file:

System Location
UNIX-like $HOME/.vimrc
Windows $HOME\_vimrc

and do your configuration in $HOME/.vim/vimrc or $HOME\vimfiles\vimrc.


  • Using short names has ONLY cons and ZERO pros. Don't.

  • Learning how to use Vim's fantastic documentation is the most useful thing a Vim newcomer could do:

    :help :command
    :help function()
    :help 'option'
    :help i_ctrl-a
    :helpgrep foo
    :help get<C-d>
    <C-]> on an highlighted tag to jump to the corresponding entry
    <C-t> to come back
  • Always refer to the relevant :help before adding anything to your vimrc.

  • You don't need set nocompatible if you have a custom vimrc at the expected location.

  • set background=dark doesn't do what you think it does.

  • set t_Co=256 is a bad idea, set your terminal up properly instead.

  • set paste has a lot of nasty side effects, don't put it in your vimrc.

  • If you have many autocommands for many filetype-specific settings, consider moving those settings to proper ftplugins:

  • If you have many custom functions, consider moving them to the autoload/ directory. See :help autoload:

    call myfunctions#foo()
  • Vim already gives you the ability to browse local and remote filesystems, integrate ack or ag, navigate, complete and compile your code, run syntax checkers on write, read documentation, filter text through external commands, etc. Make sure you have exhausted Vim's features before installing a plugin. Any plugin.


There are three kinds of options:

  • boolean options,
  • string options,
  • number options.

Checking the value of an option:

  • use :set option? to check the value of an option,
  • use :verbose set option? to also see where it was last set.

Setting boolean options:

set booloption      " Set booloption.
set nobooloption    " Unset booloption.

set booloption!     " Toggle booloption.

set booloption&     " Reset booloption to its default value.

Setting string options:

set stroption=baz   " baz

set stroption+=buzz " baz,buzz
set stroption^=fizz " fizz,baz,buzz
set stroption-=baz  " fizz,buzz

set stroption=      " Unset stroption.

set stroption&      " Reset stroption to its default value.

Setting number options:

set numoption=1     " 1

set numoption+=2    " 1 + 2 == 3
set numoption-=1    " 3 - 1 == 2
set numoption^=8    " 2 * 8 == 16


  • Don't put comments after mappings.
  • Use :map <F6> to see what is mapped to <F6> and in which mode.
  • Use :verbose map <F6> to also see where it was last mapped.
  • See :help key-notation.
  • :map and :map! are too generic. Use :nmap for normal mode recursive mappings, :imap for insert mode, :xmap for visual mode, etc.
  • See :help map-commands.

Use non-recursive mappings ONLY if you intend to use default commands in your mappings, which is almost always what you want:

nnoremap <key> yyp

Use recursive mappings ONLY if you intend to use other mappings in your mappings:

nnoremap b     B
nmap     <key> db

Executing a command from a mapping:

nnoremap <key> :MyCommand<CR>

Executing multiple commands from a mapping:

nnoremap <key> :MyCommand <bar> MyOtherCommand <bar> SomeCommand<CR>

Calling a function from a mapping:

nnoremap <key> :call SomeFunction()<CR>


Like most scripting languages, vimscript has variables.

One can define a variable with the :let command:

let variable = value

And delete it with :unlet:

unlet variable

In Vim, variables can be scoped by prepending a single letter and a colon to their name. Plugin authors use that feature to mimic options:

let g:plugin_variable = 1

Read up on the subject in :help internal-variables.


  • Don't forget the bang to allow Vim to overwrite that command next time you reload your vimrc.
  • Custom commands must start with an uppercase character.
  • See :help user-commands.


command! MyCommand call SomeFunction()
command! MyOtherCommand command | Command | command


  • Don't forget the bang to allow Vim to overwrite that function next time you reload your vimrc.
  • Custom functions must start with an uppercase character.
  • See :help user-functions.


function! MyFunction(foo, bar)
  return a:foo . a:bar


  • Autocommand groups are good for organization but they can be useful for debugging too. Think of them as small namespaces that you can enable/disable at will.
  • See :help autocommand.


augroup MyGroup
  " Clear the autocmds of the current group to prevent them from piling
  " up each time you reload your vimrc.

  " These autocmds are fired after the filetype of a buffer is defined to
  " `foo`. Don't forget to use `setlocal` (for options) and `<buffer>`
  " (for mappings) to prevent your settings to leak in other buffers with
  " a different filetype.
  autocmd FileType foo setlocal bar=baz
  autocmd FileType foo nnoremap <buffer> <key> :command<CR>

  " This autocmd calls `MyFunction()` everytime Vim tries to create/edit
  " a buffer tied to a file in /`path/to/project/**/`.
  autocmd BufNew,BufEnter /path/to/project/**/* call MyFunction()
augroup END


Do something if Vim is the right version:

if v:version >= 704
  " see :help v:version

Do something if Vim has the right patch-level:

if has('patch666')
  " see :help has-patch

Do something if Vim is built with feature:

if has('feature')
  " see :help feature-list


  • GVim and MacVim (GUI Vim) can display millions of colors.
  • CLI Vim is limited by the capabilities of your shell and terminal emulator.
  • GUI-specific colorschemes can't be expected to work in CLI Vim.
  • CLI-specific colorschemes can't be expected to work in GUI Vim.
  • To determine if a pretty colorscheme is right for your environment, Look for guibg (means GUI support) and ctermbg (means CLI support).


Vim does a lot but we can count on its thriving plugin ecosystem for when the built-in features are not enough. Look for plugins that:

  • follow Vim's philosophy
  • don't duplicate built-in features
  • let you (re)define their mappings
  • don't have crazy requirements

Vim plugins are to be installed in:

System Location
UNIX-like $HOME/.vim/
Windows $HOME\vimfiles\

and NOWHERE else.

Well designed plugins usually mimic Vim's own runtime directory's structure:

  • filetype-specific scripts are named after their filetype and go into ftplugin/

  • filetype-specific indent scripts are named after their filetype and go into indent/

  • filetype-specific syntax scripts are named after their filetype and go into syntax/

  • autoloaded scripts go into autoload/

  • plugin scripts go into plugin/

  • plugin documentation goes into doc/


No one absolutely needs a plugin manager but if you think you do, make sure you read and understand the plugin manager of your choice's README before using it.


" Enabling filetype support provides filetype-specific indenting,
" syntax highlighting, omni-completion and other useful settings.
filetype plugin indent on
syntax on

" `matchit.vim` is built-in so let's enable it!
" Hit `%` on `if` to jump to `else`.
runtime macros/matchit.vim

" various settings
set autoindent                 " Minimal automatic indenting for any filetype.
set backspace=indent,eol,start " Proper backspace behavior.
set hidden                     " Possibility to have more than one unsaved buffers.
set incsearch                  " Incremental search, hit `<CR>` to stop.
set ruler                      " Shows the current line number at the bottom-right
                               " of the screen.
set wildmenu                   " Great command-line completion, use `<Tab>` to move
                               " around and `<CR>` to validate.
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