Migrating from Vim
Migrating from vim
- Purpose of this document
- Basic orientation
- Other useful links
Purpose of this document
This document is intended to supplement the Spacemacs documentation by bridging the gap between vim and Spacemacs. While some information may be duplicated, this does not replace the Spacemacs documentation. It is recommended that you read both files to fully understand Spacemacs.
One misconception many vim users have is that Spacemacs is an Emacs clone of vim. Spacemacs does not seek to completely mimic the behavior of vim everywhere, only when editing. You should not expect every vim command to be available, although many are. You cannot use Vimscript to configure Spacemacs, but who likes Vimscript anyway? It is important to understand that Spacemacs is an attempt to improve on both vim and Emacs using the superior modal editing of vim and the nicer configuration language of Emacs.
Spacemacs uses some different terminology than vim, which can cause confusion for new users. This section attempts to clear up any confusion.
Modes vs. States
In vim you have various editing modes like
insert mode and
visual mode to
manipulate text. In Emacs, we have states. These are equivalent to vim modes.
evil-insert-state is the same as
insert-mode in vim.
minor-mode in Emacs is like a feature that is activated. For example,
aggressive-indent-mode is a
minor-mode that automatically indents code as you
type. It is important to know that there can be many
minor-modes activated in a
buffer. Many Emacs packages work by providing a
determines the editing behavior of Emacs in the current buffer. There is
generally a corresponding
major-mode per filetype. An example of a
python-mode, which provides python specific settings in python files. There is
major-mode per buffer.
Spacemacs has the concept of layers. Layers are similar to vim plugins. They
provide new features to use in Spacemacs. However, layers are often comprised of
several packages that integrate well with each other. For example, the
layer includes support for auto-completion, documentation look-up, tests, and
much more by using several different packages. This keeps you from thinking
about what packages to install, and instead worry about what features you want.
More information on layers can be found in the customization section and in the
documentation. There is also a more in-depth guide on writing layers here.
Spacemacs provides a special functionality called transient-states. Transient-states
allow similar commands to be run in succession without repeatedly pressing the
<Leader> key. Transient-states are usually triggered by using a keybinding with the
<Leader> <group> . where group is the category the
transient-state falls under. When in a transient-state you will see documentation at the
bottom of your window. To exit a transient-state press
SPC as its
<Leader> key. This document will use
SPC to refer to
<Leader> key. All keybindings are mnemonic and are organized under the
<Leader> key. For example, the keybindings for language-specific commands are
always under the
SPC m prefix. A full list of conventions used in Spacemacs is
here. Note that all keybindings can be changed.
Spacemacs uses which-key to show available keybindings after a delay:
Emacs commands can be run using
SPC SPC. This will pop up a buffer using Helm
which can be used to run any Emacs command. You can also run many ex commands
:, just like in vim.
Note: You can run Emacs interactive commands using
:, but you cannot run ex
Buffer and window management
Buffers in Emacs and vim are essentially the same. The keybindings for buffers
are located under the
SPC b prefix.
|Create a buffer named |
|Search through open buffers and recent files.|
|Switch to the next buffer. (See Special buffers)|
|Switch to the previous buffer. (See Special buffers)|
|Kill current buffer.|
|Kill buffers using a regular expression.|
|Kill all buffers except the current buffer.|
By default Emacs creates a lot of buffers that most people will never need, like Special buffers
*Messages*. Spacemacs automatically ignores these when using these key bindings. More information can be found here.
Windows are like splits in vim. They are useful for editing multiple files at
once. All window keybindings are under the
SPC w prefix.
|Opens a vertical split on the right.|
|Opens a horizontal split below.|
|Navigate among windows.|
|Move the current window.|
All file commands in Spacemacs are available under the
SPC f prefix.
|Opens a buffer to search for files in the current directory.|
|Opens a buffer to search through recently opened files.|
|Save the current file.|
|Save the current file and quit.|
The Help System
Emacs has an extensive help system. All keybindings under the
SPC h d prefix
allow convenient access to the help system. The most important of these
SPC h d f ,
SPC h d k , and
SPC h d v. There is also the
SPC <f1> keybinding which allows you to search for documentation.
|Prompts for a function and shows its documentation.|
|Prompts for a keybinding and shows what it is bound to.|
|Prompts for a variable and shows its documentation and current value.|
|Searches for a command, function, variable, or face and shows its documentation.|
Whenever, you see weird behavior or want to know what something does, these functions are the first thing you should refer to.
There are a few ways to explore the functionality of Spacemacs. One is to read the source code on Github. You can begin to feel your way around Emacs Lisp and how Spacemacs works this way. You can also use the following keybindings to explore:
|Lists all layers and allows you to view files from the layer.|
|Lists all keybindings.|
The .spacemacs file
When you first start spacemacs, you will be prompted to choose an editing style.
If you are reading this, you likely want to choose the vim style. A
file will be created with the appropriate style selected. Most trivial
configuration will go in this file.
There are four top-level functions in the file:
dotspacemacs/layers function exist only to enable and disable layers and
dotspacemacs/init function is run before anything else during
startup and contains Spacemacs settings. You will never need to touch this
function except to change default Spacemacs settings.
dotspacemacs/user-init function is also run before anything else and
contains user specific configuration. The
is the one you will use the most. This is where you define any user configuration.
|Open your |
|Update your |
This section introduces a few emacs lisp functions that are needed to configure
Spacemacs. For a more detailed look at the language, see this link. If you
really want to learn everything there is about emacs lisp, use the info page
SPC h i elisp RET .
Setting variables is the most common way to customize the behavior of Spacemacs. The syntax is simple:
(setq variable value) ; Syntax ;; Setting variables example (setq variable1 t ; True variable2 nil ; False variable3 '("A" "list" "of" "things"))
Defining keybindings is something that almost everyone will want to do. The
define-key function is the best way to do that.
(define-key map new-keybinding function) ; Syntax ;; Map H to go to the previous buffer in normal mode (define-key evil-normal-state-map (kbd "H") 'previous-buffer) ;; Mapping keybinding to another keybinding (define-key evil-normal-state-map (kbd "H") (kbd "^")) ; H goes to beginning of the line
The map is the keymap you want to bind the key in. Most of the time you will use
evil-<state-name>-state-map. These correspond to different
For example, using
evil-insert-state-map maps the keybinding in insert mode.
<Leader> keybindings, use the
(spacemacs/set-leader-keys key function) ; Syntax ;; Map killing a buffer to <Leader> b c (spacemacs/set-leader-keys "bc" 'spacemacs/kill-this-buffer) ;; Map opening a link to <Leader> o l only in org-mode (works for any major-mode) (spacemacs/set-leader-keys-for-major-mode 'org-mode "ol" 'org-open-at-point)
You may occasionally want to define a function to do a more complex customization. The syntax is simple:
(defun func-name (arg1 arg2) "docstring" ;; Body ) ;; Calling a function (func-name arg1 arg1)
Here is an example of a function that is useful in real life:
;; This snippet allows you to run clang-format before saving ;; given the current file as the correct filetype. ;; This relies on the c-c++ layer being enabled. (defun clang-format-for-filetype () "Run clang-format if the current file has a file extensions in the filetypes list." (let ((filetypes '("c" "cpp"))) (when (member (file-name-extension (buffer-file-name)) filetypes) (clang-format-buffer)))) ;; See http://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/manual/html_node/emacs/Hooks.html for ;; what this line means (add-hook 'before-save-hook 'clang-format-for-filetype)
As said in the terms section, layers provide an easy way to add features. Activating a layer is done in the Activating a Layer
.spacemacsfile. In the file search for the
dotspacemacs-configuration-layersvariable. By default, it should look like this:
(defun dotspacemacs/layers () (setq-default ;; ... dotspacemacs-configuration-layers '(;; auto-completion ;; better-defaults emacs-lisp ;; (git :variables ;; git-gutter-use-fringe t) ;; markdown ;; org ;; syntax-checking )))
You can uncomment these suggested layers by deleting the semi-colons for a nice
out-of-the-box experience. To add a layer, add its name to the list and restart
Emacs or press
SPC f e R . To view all layers and their documentation use
Creating a Layer
To group configuration or when configuration doesn’t fit well in your
.spacemacs file, you can create a configuration layer. Spacemacs provides a
builtin command to generate the layer boilerplate:
configuration-layer/create-layer. This generates a folder that looks like this:
[layer-name] |__ [local]* | |__ [example-mode-1] | | ... | |__ [example-mode-n] |__ config.el* |__ funcs.el* |__ keybindings.el* |__ packages.el  = directory * = not created by the command
packages.el file contains a list of packages that you can install in the
<layer-name>-packages. Any package that is available on the MELPA
repository can be added to the list. A list can also exclude packages using the
:excluded t property.
Each package requires a function to initialize it. The function must be named
with this pattern:
<layer-name>/init-<package-name>. This function contains
configuration for the package. There are also
pre/post-init functions to
execute code before or after a package loads. It would look like this:
(setq layer-name-packages '(example-package ;; This layer uninstalls example-package-2 ;; by setting the :excluded property to true (t) (example-package-2 :excluded t))) (defun layer-name/post-init-package () ;; Add configuration to a package in another layer here ) (defun layer-name/init-example-package () ;; Configuration for example-package goes here )
**Note**: Only one layer can have a
init function for a package. If you want
to override the configuration of a package in another layer, use a
<layer-name>/pre-init function in addition to use-package hooks.
If a package is not available on MELPA, you must use a local package or a package recipe. For more details see anatomy of a layer.
Make sure you add your layer to your
.spacemacs file and restart to
A detailed description of the loading process and how layers work can be found in the configuration layers documentation.
Installing a single package
Sometimes creating a layer is a bit overkill. Maybe you just want one package
and don’t want to maintain a whole layer. Spacemacs provides a variable in the
dotspacemacs/layers function in
dotspacemacs-additional-packages. Just add a package name to the list and it
will be installed when you restart. Loading the package is covered in the next
Ever wonder how Spacemacs can load over a 100 packages in just a few seconds? Such low loading times must require some kind of unreadable black magic that no one can understand. Thanks to Loading packagesuse-package, this is not true. It is a package that allows easy lazy-loading and configuration of packages. Here are the basics to using it:
;; Basic form of use-package declaration. The :defer t tells use-package to ;; try to lazy load the package. (use-package package-name :defer t) ;; The :init section is run before the package loads The :config section is ;; run after the package loads (use-package package-name :defer t :init (progn ;; Change some variables (setq variable1 t variable2 nil) ;; Define a function (defun foo () (message "%s" "Hello, World!"))) :config (progn ;; Calling a function that is defined when the package loads (function-defined-when-package-loads)))
This is just a very basic overview of
use-package. There are many other ways
to control how a package loads using it that aren’t covered here.
Spacemacs provides a variable in the Uninstalling a package
dotspacemacs-excluded-packages. Just add a package name to the list and it will be uninstalled when you restart.
This section is for things many will want to change. All of these settings go in
dotspacemacs/user-config function in your
.spacemacs unless otherwise noted.
Changing the escape key
Spacemacs uses evil-escape to
allow escaping from many
major-modes with one keybinding. You can customize
the variable in your
dotspacemacs/user-config like this:
(defun dotspacemacs/user-config () ;; ... ;; Set escape keybinding to "jk" (setq-default evil-escape-key-sequence "jk"))
More documentation is found in the
Changing the colorscheme
.spacemacs file contains the
dotspacemacs-themes variable in the
dotspacemacs/init function. This is a list of themes that can be cycled
through with the
SPC T n keybinding. The first theme in the list is the one
that is loaded at startup. Here is an example:
(defun dotspacemacs/init ;; Darktooth theme is the default theme ;; Each theme is automatically installed. ;; Note that we drop the -theme from the package name. ;; Ex. darktooth-theme -> darktooth (setq-default dotspacemacs-themes '(darktooth soothe gotham)))
All installed themes can be listed and chosen using the
SPC T h keybinding.
Spacemacs emulates the default vim behavior which highlights search results even
when you are not navigating between them. You can use
SPC s c or
to disable search result highlighting.
To disable the result highlighting when it is not needed anymore automatically,
you can uninstall the
Spacemacs does not automatically restore your windows and buffers when you
reopen it. If you use vim sessions regularly you may want to set
t in your
Navigating using visual lines
Spacemacs uses the vim default of navigating by actual lines, even if they are
wrapped. If you want
k to behave like
g j and
g k, add this to
(define-key evil-normal-state-map (kbd "j") 'evil-next-visual-line) (define-key evil-normal-state-map (kbd "k") 'evil-previous-visual-line)