Refreshing my NeoVim Installation

As I mentioned many moons ago, I use the text editor Vim as one of my daily drivers. To be precise I actually use NeoVim. Recently I have decided to clean up my configuration files and I plan on documenting that adventure here.

Initially, I decided to try and keep my Vim configuration compatible with both Vim and NeoVim. This meant sticking to the Vim-specific vimscript programming language and not moving onto the Lua based configuration native to NeoVim. It also meant not installing plugins that would fail to work with regular old Vim.

I’ve quickly lightened my approach on plugins, since I am only using this configuration on machines with NeoVim installed. And seeing as this means my configuration will only work on NeoVim it makes sense to transition the whole configuration into the more NeoVim friendly format Lua.

Lua is a fantastic little scripting language specifically built for embedding inside other applications so that you can extend their functionality dynamically. I first encountered it when playing around with the video game Garry’s Mod, which uses Lua to allow mod makers to build all sorts of things into the Source Engine that the game is built on.

ThePrimeagen has a video from the end of 2022 where he quickly goes through setting up a NeoVim configuration, which I will be drawing some inspiration from. Likewise, I will be referring to a handful of useful blog posts along with the Lua guide provided by NeoVim.

Plugins

Currently, I am using vim-plug to manage the installation and updates for all 34 of my plugins. I’d like to switch out the management to a NeoVim native package manager. packer.nvim seemed to be the suggested manager, but it has become unmaintained in 2023 and recommends either lazy.nvim or pckr.nvim. So I will limit my choice to those 3.

Trimming the Fat

Now, I could just take the plugins I already have and import each one with the new plugin manager, but starting fresh is a great opportunity to trim the fat and remove those that I either no longer use, or can live without. Since I can always install them again if desired I can be quite strict with how much I remove. My current list of plugins is as follows (in Vimscript):

Plug 'junegunn/vim-plug'
Plug 'tpope/vim-fugitive'
Plug 'tpope/vim-surround'
Plug 'tpope/vim-repeat'
Plug 'tpope/vim-commentary'
Plug 'scrooloose/nerdtree'
Plug 'scrooloose/syntastic'
Plug 'airblade/vim-gitgutter'
Plug 'godlygeek/tabular'
Plug 'plasticboy/vim-markdown'
Plug 'PotatoesMaster/i3-vim-syntax'
Plug 'aklt/plantuml-syntax'
Plug 'uarun/vim-protobuf'
Plug 'rhysd/vim-grammarous'
Plug 'wlue/vim-dm-syntax'
Plug 'udalov/kotlin-vim'
Plug 'roxma/vim-paste-easy'
Plug 'vim-airline/vim-airline'
Plug 'vim-airline/vim-airline-themes'
Plug 'rust-lang/rust.vim'
Plug 'neoclide/coc.nvim', {'branch': 'release'}
Plug 'geverding/vim-hocon'
Plug 'junegunn/limelight.vim'
Plug 'junegunn/goyo.vim'
Plug 'vimwiki/vimwiki'
Plug 'jalvesaq/Nvim-R', {'branch': 'stable'}
Plug 'andlrc/rpgle.vim'
Plug 'https://tildegit.org/sloum/gemini-vim-syntax'
Plug 'tweekmonster/startuptime.vim'
Plug 'ctrlpvim/ctrlp.vim'
Plug 'Yggdroot/indentLine'
Plug 'jparise/vim-graphql'
Plug 'preservim/vim-pencil'
Plug 'ziglang/zig.vim'
Plug 'nvim-treesitter/nvim-treesitter', {'do': ':TSUpdate'}

Obviously, I can remove junegunn/vim-plug (the plugin manager), but there are many others I can easily dump. I’ll go through most them now:

vim-fugitive is a fantastic Git plugin that I often use and will keep. The other plugins by Tim Pope I don’t see myself using any more, at least not knowingly, so will discard. That eliminates 4 plugins.

NERDTree is a nice file system explorer built for Vim that I use daily. However, I want to switch to using a fuzzy finder for navigating between files in a project so will initially remove this plugin. Interestingly, I had installed ctrlp.vim already which is a fuzzy finder tool, but have not been using it, so I think I will remove this and search for a different fuzzy finding tool.

syntastic was a syntax highlighting plugin, but it turns out it is no longer maintained, so I will be dumping it in favour of other solutions, likely nvim-treesitter, which I already have installed but seldom use.

vim-gitgutter is plugin that shows what lines have changed in a file next to the line number. It’s pretty useful just as a visual aid, but being strict on what I keep, I will initially not reinstall it.

I will not install tabular for now, as I want to rely on other programs to reformat code appropriately and haven’t actually used it in a long time.

When it comes to the various other syntax highlighting plugins I have installed, I will not be reinstalling them and instead be relying on tree-sitter and nvim-treesitter. Any programming languages not supported by tree-sitter I will consider adding a plugin for.

coc.nvim is a plugin that attempts to integrate the code completion tools that work in Visual Studio Code inside NeoVim. It’s one of the plugins I added that broke my initial compatibility with Vim mantra. It is also quite a complicated plugin to use so, initially, I will go with the recommendation from ThePrimeagen’s video and use lsp-zero.nvim for my code completion plugin along with nvim-metals specifically for Scala.

startuptime.vim is just a plugin for measuring startup time, which can be dumped.

vim-paste-easy is a plugin to automatically turn paste on and off when Vim detects you typing at a very fast speed, useful, but it might be superfluous, so I will strip it out for now.

vim-pencil, limelight.vim, and goyo.vim are all plugins for turning Vim into a better tool for traditional writing. I haven’t used any of them for a while, so they can be removed. Although, vim-pencil might be useful to install again later.

vim-grammarous is a plugin that manually runs LanguageTool over your buffer. I’ve not used it for a while as I have relied on other tools to grammar check my writing so it can go.

indentLine is a plugin for adding nice vertical bars in Vim for different indentations, unfortunately, it’s no longer maintained, so I will be removing it and looking for an alternative as I quite like the ability to see such at a glance.

vim-airline and vim-airline-themes are plugins for producing a nicer statusline at the bottom of each Vim window. I will try and keep these as I like the at a glance information that is displayed.

That should cover the majority of plugins in that above list. Those I haven’t mentioned I will likely remove.

Configuration

My current configuration is all done using vimscript to maintain compatibility with Vim. I’ve actually put it in a file called ~/.config/nvim/vimrc and have NeoVim source this file in ~/.config/nvim/init.vim like so:

" This is how you source and share the original .vimrc file
set runtimepath^=~/.vim runtimepath+=~/.vim/after
let &packpath = &runtimepath
source ~/.config/nvim/vimrc
" Should make sure that ~/.vimrc is symlinked to the .vimrc here

For compatibility with regular old Vim I have ~/.vimrc symlinked to this vimrc file.

For transitioning to using Lua for NeoVim only I will be replacing the init.vim file with init.lua and eventually deleting the old vim files.
Before I do that however, I need to look into the current configuration I have set in my vimrc file.

At the very top of the file I have something that will automatically install vim-plug if it isn’t already installed.

" Automatic install of plug if it does not exist
if empty(glob('~/.vim/autoload/plug.vim'))
  silent !curl -fLo ~/.vim/autoload/plug.vim --create-dirs
    \ https://raw.githubusercontent.com/junegunn/vim-plug/master/plug.vim
  autocmd VimEnter * PlugInstall --sync | source $MYVIMRC
endif

Below that is then the section with all the plugins I want to install, as mentioned previously.

call plug#begin('~/.vim/bundle') " Using same dir as Vundle
" all the Plug entries
call plug#end()

Afterward comes all the interesting configuration.

First up I was turning off vi compatibility mode:

set nocompatible

This gets rid of some old idiosyncrasies from the days of the Vi editor that Vim was an improvement on. This isn’t needed in NeoVim as it is always set.

Following that is a lot of configuration for the installed plugins. Any of these I am getting rid of I can safely ignore in my new configuration. This is actually the majority of them, since a lot deal with mapping keys to use plugin features.

Beyond that there are some more generic settings, especially when it comes to different file formats editing experiences. For example, I have this for markdown files:

" Specific markdown file settings
augroup markdown
    autocmd FileType markdown,md call SetMarkdownOptions()
    function SetMarkdownOptions()
        set colorcolumn=80,100,120
        set textwidth=79
        set spell
        set formatoptions+=tcq
        " IndentLine ovverrides conceallevel
        let g:indentLine_enabled=0
        let g:vim_markdown_conceal = 0
        set conceallevel=0
    endfunction
augroup END

This sets up a few defaults that I like when editing markdown, including column highlights, line breaking and spell checking. It also sets some plugin specific settings.

I do this for quite a few different file formats, so it is something I will need to convert to Lua. Thankfully, there is some guidance to this in the Lua Guide. For example, if I wanted to convert the above to Lua it would look something similar to this:

local markdown_group = vim.api.nvim_create_augroup(
  'markdown',
  { clear = false }
)
vim.api.nvim_create_autocmd("FileType", {
  pattern = "markdown,md",
  group = markdown_group,
  callback = function(args)
    -- configuration goes in here
    vim.opt.colorcolumn = { 80, 100, 120 }
    vim.opt.textwidth = 79
    vim.opt.spell = true
    vim.opt.formatoptions:append("tcq")
    vim.opt.conceallevel = 0
    -- etc
  end,
})

Another thing I configure is persistent undo.

if has('persistent_undo')
  " https://vi.stackexchange.com/a/53
  " Let's save undo info!
  if !isdirectory($HOME."/.vim")
      call mkdir($HOME."/.vim", "", 0770)
  endif
  if !isdirectory($HOME."/.vim/undo-dir")
      call mkdir($HOME."/.vim/undo-dir", "", 0700)
  endif
  set undodir=~/.vim/undo-dir
  set undofile
endif

I am actually going to enhance this with undotree and a minimal configuration akin to:

vim.opt.undodir = os.getenv("HOME") .. "/.vim/undo-dir"
vim.opt.undofile = true

This actually covers 90% of what I do in my Vim config. The rest of it is mostly key bindings for plugins or various settings for the plugins.

As an example of the key bindings I use, here are some that map the arrow keys to no-ops in normal mode:

" Crazy idea: disable arrow keys in normal mode
" http://vimcasts.org/blog/2013/02/habit-breaking-habit-making/
noremap <Up> <NOP>
noremap <Down> <NOP>
noremap <Left> <NOP>
noremap <Right> <NOP>

In Lua these would become:

vim.keymap.set("n", "<Up>", "<NOP>")
vim.keymap.set("n", "<Down>", "<NOP>")
vim.keymap.set("n", "<Left>", "<NOP>")
vim.keymap.set("n", "<Right>", "<NOP>")

Doing the Replacement

Now that I’ve gone over the various parts of my Vim configuration and the ways I will be changing it, it’s time to get to it!

Slimming Down the Original Configuration

To start I will actually slim down my existing configuration by deleting the various plugins I no longer use. I use git to keep my Vim configuration versioned, so this will help me have an escape point I can revert to if my attempts fail or if I want to use my older configuration on a regular Vim install.

Next, I will remove the plugins I do currently use but won’t be carrying forward, at least initially.

Since I use vim-plug currently, I will be removing the plugins a few at a time from my vimrc file and using the command :source % to resource the file then :PlugClean to clean-up the folders for the plugin.

Once I get to a minimal stage that I am happy with, I will take the minimal configuration and completely replace it with the new init.lua way.

As a point of interest, this is how small I got my plugin list while writing this part of the blog post:

Plug 'junegunn/vim-plug'
Plug 'tpope/vim-fugitive'
Plug 'airblade/vim-gitgutter'
Plug 'plasticboy/vim-markdown'
Plug 'PotatoesMaster/i3-vim-syntax'
Plug 'roxma/vim-paste-easy'
Plug 'vim-airline/vim-airline'
Plug 'vim-airline/vim-airline-themes'
Plug 'geverding/vim-hocon'

Some of these only exist because I want a pleasant experience editing this file and others I currently have open. It will be even shorter in the first Lua draft.

With that all I done, I will get back to this post after doing the replacement.

Performing the Actual Replacements

Performing the actual replacement was a little harder than I initially thought. I had previously thought I’d use one of the newer plugin managers but eventually settled on the currently unmaintained Packer plugin manager due to the simplicity of using it and the support for it around the internet. This isn’t ideal but hopefully someone picks up maintenance of Packer soon, or I can spend some time with my configuration at a later date and fix it up for an alternative.

As for plugin installs, they were relatively easy once I got going with Packer. That includes some Language Server Protocol plugins, although I have yet to go in-depth with configuring them.

With tree-sitter I had to install both markdown parsers in order to get correct parsing of links in markdown files.

One issue I ran into was some colour support when using tmux. This is only minor, but for some reason a handful of colours are not quite the same between tmux and my raw terminal. Mainly it’s squiggly underlines for spelling mistakes in markdown files that show up in white rather than red. I’ve tried a few things with tmux settings and concluded that it might be an issue with the terminal emulator alacritty that I am using, as other terminals behave slightly differently (st for instance cannot do the squiggly underlines at all).

At any rate, I successfully upgraded my NeoVim experience, and will tinker slightly with it as I go forward. Thanks to the use of Lua, I may even write my own plugins if I find a niche use case.

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