Getting started with ctags + Vim on MacOS

Alex Galea
Mar 21, 2018 · 2 min read

A quickstart guide will show you how to setup and run ctags on MacOS with Vim. You’ll see how ctags lets you quickly hop from an instance of a function to its definition, and back again.


If you’re on Mac then I would suggest downloading an upgraded version with homebrew:

brew install ctags

Afterwards, you may need to set the alias to the new version by running:

alias ctags="`brew --prefix`/bin/ctags"
alias ctags >> ~/.bashrc

The second line saves the newly mapped ctags alias so you don’t need to rerun the first line every session. For me it added ctags=/usr/local/bin/ctags to the .bashrc file.

I then added set tags=tags to my .vimrc file with:

echo "set tags=tags" >> ~/.vimrc

This will tell vim to look for the ctags index file in the source directory.

Using it

Navigate to the source directory and type:

ctags -R .

Now you should see a newly created file named tags containing the index.

While still in the source directory, open vim up by typing:


Then navigate to a file and open it. This file should contain an instance of a function that’s defined somewhere else in the source directory.

Move your cursor to some function instance and type:

Ctrl + ]

This should bring you to the functions definition inside vim. You can go back to the instance by typing:

Ctrl + T

Instead of Ctrl + ], you can use this trick to open the function definition in a slit:

Ctrl + W  Ctrl + ]

Then you can navigate between the panes by doing

Ctrl + W  Ctrl + (arrow key)

Thanks for reading and enjoy using ctags 👏

If you want to chat, you can get in touch with me here on Twitter

Alex Galea

Written by

Senior Data Analyst, MSc. Physics

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