A Minimal Vimrc

Parts of a “minimal” vimrc

What makes a minimal vimrc?

My opinion of a “minimal” vimrc might be different from yours, but for me, it means

  1. Not using external plugins
  2. < ~100 lines
  3. Reducing vi related pain-points

So here’s what I do:

Source default settings

While this may not be necessary most of the time, it is still worth it to check that it has been sourced IME. It is a small fine to pay for ensuring you have the defaults you deserve.

if filereadable(expand('$VIMRUNTIME/defaults.vim'))
	unlet! g:skip_defaults_vim
	source $VIMRUNTIME/defaults.vim
endif

And we’re done…

jkjk there’s more

Settings

Most of these will already be set in defaults.vim, but that’s not really a concern of mine – I still want to talk about them :)

“UI” Settings

set number	"show line numbers
set wildmenu	"enable a menu that shows tab completion options in the status bar
set showmatch	"highlights matching brackets on cursor hover
set ruler	"show cursor position in status bar
set showcmd	"shows the normal mode command before it gets executed

Gotta have those line numbers, and I use wildmenu all the time. The rest are just nice-to-haves.

File Format and Encoding

set encoding=utf-8
set fileformats=unix,dos,mac

Lots of stuff is UTF-8 encoded these days (web pages, emojis, code, etc.) this is the reasoning behind utf-8.

Setting fileformats instead of fileformat allows more than one EOL type to be detected. For example: Windows uses both <CR><NL> to mark the end of a line while Unix uses only one. This is one reason you may see ^M symbols at the end of each line.

See h:fileformats for more info.

Searching

set hlsearch	"highlights searches
set incsearch	"incremental search (searches character by character)
set ignorecase	"ignores the case of a search
set smartcase	"only ignores case if there are no capital letters in search (only works after ignorecase has been set)

While this is the search behavior that I like personally, I know that many people prefer case sensitive search by default. I find incsearch jumps around a bunch, which can be a bit disorienting, but I like the instant feedback.

Indents

set tabstop=4		"the amount of spaces that vim will equate to a tab character
set softtabstop=4	"like tabstop, but for editing operations (insert mode)
set shiftwidth=4	"used for autoindent and << and >> operators in normal mode
set autoindent		"copies indent from current line to the next line
set expandtab		"tabs will expand to whitespace characters

These indent settings can be confusing, but they apply in increasingly specific ways.

Here is my understanding of it:

tabstop is your base level for what vim will think constitutes as a literal \t “tab character”. It is 8 by default, but I set it to 4 because 4 is between 2 and 8 :D.

softtabstop only matters when editing (insert mode).

shiftwidth only applies when doing specific editing operators (» and «).

So if I set softtabstop=2 and tabstop=4, I would have to hit the <Tab> key twice to get an actual \t (tab character). And if I set softtabstop=8 while tabstop=4, I would get 2 tab characters when I press tab.

Then expandtab makes the <Tab> key insert spaces instead of tab characters. You’ll find this is necessary for languages like Python (thankfully these settings are handled correctly in the default Python ftplugin under $VIMRUNTIME/ftplugin/python.vim)

autoindent and smarttab use the values from softtabstop and shiftwidth to make indenting decisions too so watch out for that.

Tip: if you have any doubts about whether some space in a file consists of Tab or a Space characters, use :set list to see ^I for tab characters Use :set list! to toggle.

Key Timeouts

set esckeys		"allows function keys to be recognized in Insert mode
set ttimeoutlen=20	"timeout for a key code mapping
set timeoutlen=1000	"time(ms) to wait for key mappings

These adjust the ‘wait times’ for different commands. These settings are necessary to get rid of delay when running vim inside of tmux.

Syntax, Filetype and Matchit

syntax enable			"turn syntax highlighting on
filetype plugin indent on	"load plugin and indent files associated a detected filetype
runtime macros/matchit.vim	"allows jumping between brackets with % in normal mode

These are probably the settings the give the most “bang for buck” when it comes to vanilla vim.

Syntax highlighting, filetype/language specific settings and plugins are great, but they are a bit outside of the scope a truly minimal vimrc.

Once you start diving into the specifics of a language or ecosystem, you will likely have an easier time using external tools provided to do the “heavy lifting” and integrate with vim via plugin(s).

If you want to learn more about filetypes and plugins, see :h filetypes.

Autocommands

augroup general
    autocmd!
    "keep equal proportions when windows resized
    autocmd VimResized * wincmd =
    "save cursor position in a file
    autocmd BufReadPost * if line("'\"") > 1 && line("'\"")
                \ <= line("$") | exe "normal! g'\"" | endif
augroup END

augroup languages
    autocmd!
    autocmd BufNewFile,BufRead *.bash set syntax=sh
    autocmd FileType python xnoremap <leader>r <esc>:'<,'>:w !python3<CR>
    autocmd FileType go set noexpandtab
    autocmd FileType html :syntax sync fromstart
    autocmd FileType html,javascript,css,json,yaml,sh
                \ setlocal ts=2 sts=2 sw=2 expandtab
augroup END

I have a few autocommands at the end here just in case I want to add specific commands or mappings.

Autocommands are kind-of like ‘events’ that get fired when stuff happens inside of Vim. They are an easy way set settings for filetypes or events.

For example, the following settings will only be applied to bash and go files respectively.

    autocmd BufNewFile,BufRead *.bash set syntax=sh
    autocmd FileType go set noexpandtab

And that’s all. 65 lines isn’t too bad. I could probably axe a few settings and some autocmds, but this is fine with me for now.

The full file

On GitHub

"
" minimal vimrc with no (extra) plugins
"

"load system defaults
if filereadable(expand('$VIMRUNTIME/defaults.vim'))
	unlet! g:skip_defaults_vim
	source $VIMRUNTIME/defaults.vim
endif

"regular settings
"----------------
" ui
set number
set ruler
set wildmenu
set showcmd
set showmatch

" encoding/format
set encoding=utf-8
set fileformats=unix,dos,mac

" searching
set hlsearch
set incsearch
set ignorecase
set smartcase

" indent
set shiftwidth=4
set tabstop=4
set softtabstop=4
set autoindent

" key timeout values
set esckeys
set ttimeoutlen=20
set timeoutlen=1000

" allow syntax and filetype plugins
syntax enable
filetype plugin indent on
runtime macros/matchit.vim

" autocmds
"---------
augroup general
    autocmd!
    "keep equal proportions when windows resized
    autocmd VimResized * wincmd =
    "save cursor position in a file
    autocmd BufReadPost * if line("'\"") > 1 && line("'\"")
                \ <= line("$") | exe "normal! g'\"" | endif
augroup END

augroup languages
    autocmd!
    autocmd BufNewFile,BufRead *.bash set syntax=sh
    autocmd FileType python xnoremap <leader>r <esc>:'<,'>:w !python3<CR>
    autocmd FileType go set noexpandtab
    autocmd FileType html :syntax sync fromstart
    autocmd FileType html,javascript,css,json,yaml,sh
                \ setlocal ts=2 sts=2 sw=2 expandtab
augroup END