Why I Love Vim

Back when I was a Java developer, I knew and really liked me some IntelliJ. Later, when I moved over to Ruby full time, NetBeans seemed like a damn good choice. After all, I was used to having a “proper” IDE, it had pretty nice Ruby support and also, much to my joy, it had a Vim plugin, which allowed me to use my favorite editor from my pre-IntelliJ days. Win.

Fast forward to about six months ago when I decided that I’d ceased to care about heavyweight IDEs. I just didn’t use enough of their features to make their overall (often cumbersome) weight and memory footprint worthwhile. So goodbye NetBeans with Vim plugin and hello Vim. MacVim, specifically.

Why Vim? Because Vim is universal. Because Vim is love.

Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt famously wrote “Choose an editor, know it thoroughly, and use it for all editing tasks” in their seminal masterpiece, The Pragmatic Programmer. I couldn’t agree more. There is no tool in a programmer’s toolbox more important than an editor, and the importance of knowing it inside and out cannot be understated. For me, ever since college, that editor has always been Vim. It was just everywhere that I needed it to be. It was ubiquitous. I could use Vim at home on my desktop, at school, at work in the campus NOC, at the CS lab, and in any number of remote shell sessions, on even the most obscure platforms. One ring to rule them all.

Vim is also small, and quick. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s quicker and easier to manipulate text in Vim than any other editor that I’m aware of. Of course, the learning curve is steep, relative to other editors. But it’s worth it. When I’m writing code, switching between files, replacing text, et al, I don’t want to have to use the mouse too frequently. Vim, in all of it’s keyboard-centric glory, delivers. MacVim also provides awesome mouse highlighting and menu option support, for the best of both worlds.

There’s also massive value in Vim’s powerful plugins system. Without some of these awesome third party extensions folks have developed for Vim, it wouldn’t be nearly as appealing as a desktop code editor. But by adding plugins like NERDTree, rails.vim, vcscommand.vim, and FuzzyFinder, it becomes a full-fledged programmers editor for me, something that easily outguns TextMate, NetBeans, Komodo, and all the other would-be competitors. Customize it to your hearts content.

Anyway, I just wanted to put that out there. Vim rules. And Tim Pope, author of rails.vim, rules too (even though he looks awful in drag). His plugin, along with NERDTree, vastly simplifies my day to day editing tasks, and reproduces all the functionality I would have actually used from a more fully-featured IDE. Thanks guys. You’re my heroes.

For more information on using Vim as a Ruby developer, see Jamis Buck’s post from a few months back about switching back to Vim from TextMate. It’s a well-written argument, but the really amazing thing about the article is the number of comments it generated. It’s great to see so much love for such a great editor and I’m glad to be in such good company.

So, what’s your favorite go-to editor? If it’s Vim, I’d be curious to know what plugins you’re using and how you’ve customized it.

PS If you’re also a MacVim user, make sure you install the :Bclose script too!

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