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Leverage the power of Vim's compiler plugins without being bound by synchronicity. Kick off builds and test suites using one of several asynchronous adapters (including tmux, screen, iTerm, Windows, and a headless mode), and when the job completes, errors will be loaded and parsed automatically.

If that doesn't excite you, then perhaps this video will change your mind.


If you don't have a preferred installation method, I recommend installing pathogen.vim, and then simply copy and paste:

cd ~/.vim/bundle
git clone git://


The core of Vim's compiler system is :make, a command similar to :grep that runs a build tool and parses the resulting errors. The default build tool is of course make, but you can switch it (and the associated error parser) with :compiler. There are lots of built-in compilers, and they do more than just compile things. Plus you can make your own.

We'll start by looking at dispatch.vim's :make wrapper :Make, and then move on to higher abstractions.

Foreground builds

Kick off quick tasks with :Make. What happens next depends on which adapter takes charge.

  • If you're in tmux, a small split will be opened at the bottom.
  • If you have iTerm running, a new tab is opened.
  • On Windows, a minimized cmd.exe window is spawned.
  • Otherwise, you get a plain old :make invocation.

When the task completes, the window closes, the errors are loaded and parsed, and the quickfix window automatically opens. At no point will your focus be stolen.

Background builds

Use :Make! for longer running tasks, like "run the entire test suite".

  • If you're in tmux or GNU screen, a new window is created in the background.
  • If you have iTerm running, a new tab is opened but not selected.
  • Windows still spawns a minimized cmd.exe window.
  • Otherwise, you get a headless invocation. You can't see it, but it's running in the background.

You won't be interrupted with a quickfix window for a background build. Instead, open it at your leisure with :Copen.

You can also use :Copen on a build that's still running to retrieve and parse any errors that have already happened.

Compiler switching

As hinted earlier, it's easy to switch compilers.

:compiler rubyunit
:make test/models/user_test.rb

Wait, that's still twice as many commands as it needs to be. Plus, it requires you to make the leap from testrb (the executable) to rubyunit (the compiler plugin). The :Dispatch command looks for a compiler for an executable and sets it up automatically.

:Dispatch testrb test/models/user_test.rb

If no compiler plugin is found, :Dispatch simply captures all output.

:Dispatch bundle install

As with :make, you can use % expansions for the current filename.

:Dispatch rspec %

The :Dispatch command switches the compiler back afterwards, so you can pick a primary compiler for :Make, and use :Dispatch for secondary concerns.

Default dispatch

With no arguments, :Dispatch looks for a b:dispatch variable. You can set it interactively, or in an autocommand:

autocmd FileType java let b:dispatch = 'javac %'

If no b:dispatch is found, it falls back to :Make.

:Dispatch makes a great map:

nnoremap <F9> :Dispatch<CR>


Use :FocusDispatch (or just :Focus) to temporarily, globally override the default dispatch:

:Focus rake spec:models

Now every bare call to :Dispatch will call :Dispatch rake spec:models. You'll be getting a lot of mileage out of that :Dispatch map.

Use :Focus! to reset back to the default.

Spawning interactive processes

Sometimes you just want to kick off a process without any output capturing or error parsing. That's what :Start is for:

:Start lein repl

Unlike :Make, the new window will be in focus, since the idea is that you want to interact with it. Use :Start! to launch it in the background.

Plugin support

Using dispatch.vim from a plugin is a simple matter of checking for and using :Make and :Start if they're available instead of :make and :!. Your favorite plugin already supports it, assuming your favorite plugin is rails.vim.


How can I have :Dispatch! or :Make! open the quickfix window on completion?

Use :Dispatch or :Make. The entire point of the ! is to run in the background without interrupting you.

But that blocks Vim.

Then the adapter in use doesn't support foreground builds. Adjust your setup.


Like dispatch.vim? Follow the repository on GitHub and vote for it on And if you're feeling especially charitable, follow tpope on Twitter and GitHub.


Copyright © Tim Pope. Distributed under the same terms as Vim itself. See :help license.