Current treats & future wants of Neovim
Neovim bills itself as literally the future of Vim. A bold claim indeed.
For those that haven’t been following, Neovim is a modern fork of the Vim text editor that began in 2014. The Neovim charter outlines the vision of the project quite succinctly.
Having used Neovim for a little while now I decided it would be worthwhile to write a post listing the treats, pains and wants, as I see them, with Neovim.
Note, the features of Neovim discussed below pertain to Neovim version 0.2 as against Vim 8 circa June 2017.
This page contains installation details for Neovim.
Setting up Neovim does require some minor configuration since Neovim, by default, follows the XDG base directory specification unlike Vim which does not
I find having one configuration that works for both Vim and Neovim extremely beneficial. Hence, my combined configuration still lives in the traditional ~/.vimrc file; basically I abstract away the XDG base directories.
To connect Neovim to ~/.vimrc create a ~/.config/nvim/init.vim file with the following content:
set runtimepath^=~/.vim runtimepath+=~/.vim/after let &packpath = &runtimepath source ~/.vimrc
Inside a vimrc file use the following
if style conditional for any Neovim
if has("nvim") " Neovim else " Traditional Vim endif
My vimrc is an example of a combined configuration.
Cut n’ paste
Neovim requires an external clipboard provider for seamless cut n’ paste.
That means making sure the following utilities are installed:
pbcopy/pbpasteon macOS, this is usually provided by default
xselon Linux, install either with your system package manager if not already installed
Once setup as such, Neovim and Vim will be quite interchangeable.
In my experience, 3rd-party plugin compatibility is excellent and for the most part users will rarely be able to tell the difference between both editors. So why even bother with Neovim at all? Read on and find out.
Minor Neovim features
Note, a full list of Neovim feature differences to Vim is listed here.
Cursor shape changing
Neovim provides terminal cursor shape changing out-of-the-box, no configuration needed.
Basically that means the cursor shape will differ depending on mode:
- A box in normal mode
- An I-beam in insert mode
- An underscore in replace mode
This works in iTerm2 (on macOS) and gnome-terminal (on Linux). Best of all
the cursor shape change will only effect the current Neovim edit session unlike
t_SI/t_EI based cursor shape change functionality which will
bleed into all panes and windows of a tmux session.
UPDATE: Cursor shaping work for xterm requires the following setting in your vimrc:
Whitespace highlight group
Another small, but useful, enhancement is the Whitespace highlight group.
Vim provides only a single highlight group
SpecialKey that is used to
visibly highlight special characters such as space, tab and return
characters (among others).
I like seeing leading whitespaces as I type them in a low contrast color.
However, when I want to see trailing returns, done by toggling the
option, I like to use a high contrast color. In Vim this is a challenge since
it only provides a single highlight group for both contexts. Neovim provides
two highlight groups to solve this dilemma.
Note, my own moonfly
colorscheme is Neovim
Substitution previews with inccommand
Neovim provides live substitution previews.
To enable, add the following to your vimrc:
if has("nvim") set inccommand=nosplit endif
As you type a substitution the results will immediately be visible in the edit window. This feature is best highlighted in this video:
Neovim incremental substitution
In Vim invoking an external
makeprg tool such as eslint will result in
a visible screen flash even when
silent is specified. This is due to
Vim context switching to the terminal to invoke the tool and then switching
back to Vim with the results.
Neovim has no such flashing since it invokes such system commands in the background and uses pipes to connect results back to the edit session.
Note however, modern async-linting plugins such as
ALE render this
tool launching somewhat moot these days.
I have a Control-q mapping to safely quit my Vim session:
noremap <C-q> :confirm qall<CR>
In terminal Vim this mapping does not work unless one launches Vim via
-ixon && vim. This prevents the terminal from freezing/unfreezing with the
Control-s/Constrol-q key combinations.
However, in Neovim, it is not necessary to do anything special.
Control-s/Constrol-q mappings are available for use however you see fit, no
stty magic is needed.
Alt based mappings
Somewhat related to the above I assume,
Alt based mapping work as one would
expect in Neovim.
For example, the following mapping to create a new tab page, via
in Neovim but not in terminal Vim:
nnoremap <silent> <A-t> :$tabnew<CR>
Note, it is possible to configure an
Alt-t mapping in terminal Vim, but it
involves coding in the specific terminal sequence, this is not as nice nor as
intuitive as Neovim’s approach.
Medium Neovim features
Neovim provides a fully fledged built-in terminal, invoked by the
command (or the
This feature provides a tmux-lite alternative for those not wanting or needing a full tmux setup.
Tip, I find the following settings result in a nicer Neovim terminal experience:
if has("nvim") " Make escape work in the Neovim terminal. tnoremap <Esc> <C-\><C-n> " Make navigation into and out of Neovim terminal splits nicer. tnoremap <C-h> <C-\><C-N><C-w>h tnoremap <C-j> <C-\><C-N><C-w>j tnoremap <C-k> <C-\><C-N><C-w>k tnoremap <C-l> <C-\><C-N><C-w>l " I like relative numbering when in normal mode. autocmd TermOpen * setlocal conceallevel=0 colorcolumn=0 relativenumber " Prefer Neovim terminal insert mode to normal mode. autocmd BufEnter term://* startinsert endif
As an ongoing tmux user myself I currently find the Neovim terminal useful for:
- easy text copying out of a terminal and into an edit session
- running tests in a split terminal
Copying large amounts of text from a tmux window into a Vim session can be fiddly. The Neovim terminal however makes this operation a breeze via traditional visual selection and yanking.
The vim-test plugin provides direct Neovim terminal support when running tests. In Vim, by default, when invoking a test through the vim-test plugin, the edit session will context switch to the host terminal and run the test. In that case it is not possible to simultaneously view the test code and invoked test result unless one uses something like vimux. On the other hand, in Neovim such a test will be invoked in a split-below terminal window (if set), hence both test code and test result are visible next to each other. This greatly enhances the code, test, fix cycle.
It is also my understanding that the Neovim terminal is scriptable; thus far I haven’t toyed with that capability. However, I do look forward to Drew Neil’s upcoming book Modern Vim book which will cover that capability (and others).
UPDATE (July 2017): It appears the Vim is getting its own terminal.
Major Neovim features
In the grand scheme the above list of enhancements are, mostly, minor in nature. The more substantive Neovim enhancements are primarily occurring under the covers and in the community at large, some of those enhancements being:
Refactored and modernized code base. See this post for details.
A development community that can survive the comings and goings of key developers. The initial Neovim lead, Thiago de Arruda, did depart the Neovim project yet Neovim has continued on just fine. Would Vim development continue if Bram Moolenaar, Vim’s creator and on-going maintainer, was no longer active?
Neovim’s remote API functionality provides a pathway where Neovim can be a true component in another application. This Neovim component could exist in an Atom or Thunderbird session. This same client/server API has also lead to the development of some very interesting Neovim clients such as Oni.
Integration of a Lua interpreter directly into the runtime to run natively alongside Vimscript. Lua is a nicer language than Vimscript and with LuaJIT it is a language that should run orders of magnitude faster as well. This will allow Neovim plugin authors scope to execute compute-heavy tasks with good performance without resorting to external processes written in other languages. Going forward, YouCompleteMe type plugins would have less need to be written in Python (or similar).
Asynchronous support is now less of a differentiator between Neovim and Vim than it used to be. Vim 8 includes JSON based asynchronous support whilst Neovim has long had a MessagePack based asynchronous API. This thread explains the approaches the two projects have used.
Mutually beneficial competitive tension between Vim and Neovim benefits both projects. It certainly appears that Neovim’s asynchronous support spurred the development of Vim 8’s equivalent.
Minor future Neovim wants
Visual block pasting
Visual block pasting is currently
broken in Neovim when
clipboard=unnamed is set; pastes will incorrectly occur below rather than to
the side of the cursor. I hope this issue is fixed soon, when encountered it is
Medium future Neovim wants
I would like encryption support behaviourally similar to Vim’s existing
blowfish2 feature. Neovim stripped out
all direct encryption support a while
ago. I understand why they did
that, and I am not asking that encryption code be put back into the core
editor. However, it seems possible to seamlessly delegate to an external
encryption provider, similar to how Neovim currently delegates to an external
clipboard provider. Such an encryption provider could be
GPG. Something like the
vim-gnupg plugin, but built into
Neovim, is what I would like. I still use Vim’s
blowfish2 feature, in
preference to vim-gnupg, since I’m not sure of the long-term viability of
Improved relativenumber scroll performance
This performance issue effects both Vim and Neovim. Currently when
relativenumber is enabled any type of scroll event will cause a full redraw
for all visible lines which in turn results in every line having its syntax
re-evaluated even though no text has actually changed (only line numbers
change). For languages like Ruby, with its over 200 regex rules, this does
result in visible performance problems when scrolling as noted by these issues:
vim #282 and
vim-ruby #243. Basically I
this feature request implemented;
please thumb it up if you can.
UPDATE (Sep 2018): Vim patch
implemented an important
relativenumber optimisation, that being to only
redraw the number column, not all visible lines. The above listed issue has
Major future Neovim wants
Language Server Protocol (LSP)
Integrated Language Server Protocol support. LSP supposedly provides high performance editor-agnostic: code completion, hovered tooltips, jump-to-definition and code refactoring as explained in this Microsoft blog post. Language servers already exist for many languages. A language-client implementation for Neovim is available as a plugin, but in the longer term, once LSP and its clients and servers mature, it would seem desirable to integrate the LSP client directly in core Neovim.
UPDATE (July 2017): Neovim LSP support is already a work in progress.
Is Neovim is the future of Vim? I say it can indeed be a part of the future.
As of mid-2017 both the Vim and Neovim projects appear healthy. The competitive tension seems to have benefited the Vim user community at large. Hence, I say that every Vim user should want Neovim to continue and more than that thrive, whether they use Neovim or they don’t.
P.S. I still continue to use both Vim and Neovim.