Tom Vincent

Essays on hacking, travel and self-improvement

Vim respect XDG

The XDG Base Directory Specification outlines a consistent standard for applications to write runtime files. Teaching vim to respect it is non-trivial, so I’ve simplified the set up here.

Problem

You use vim as your primary editor and take active measures in keeping your $HOME directory organised. vim is one of those “traditional” apps that stores it’s runtime files in a myriad of places. Thankfully, it’s customisable enough to solve this.

Solution

As per my set up, add the following to your vimrc:

" Environment
set directory=$XDG_CACHE_HOME/vim,~/,/tmp
set backupdir=$XDG_CACHE_HOME/vim,~/,/tmp
set viminfo+=n$XDG_CACHE_HOME/vim/viminfo
set runtimepath=$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vim,$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vim/after,$VIM,$VIMRUNTIME
let $MYVIMRC="$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vim/vimrc"

… overriding ~/.vimrc’s location by exporting $VIMINIT in your shell’s start-up file (perhaps ~/.bashrc):

# Set vimrc's location and source it on vim startup
export VIMINIT='let $MYVIMRC="$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vim/vimrc" | source $MYVIMRC'

Background

Swap files

First up, recognise those god-damn .swp files cluttering up your project directories? Let’s get rid of them for a start. Consulting :help swap reveals the files are stored in dir[ectory].

:set dir returns the current setup, which for me is:

directory=.,~/tmp,/var/tmp,/tmp

Now, lets override that by adding the following in $MYVIMRC (usually ~/.vimrc):

set directory=$XDG_CACHE_HOME/vim,~/,/tmp

Backup files

Next, the .bak files. Similarly, add the following to your vimrc:

set backupdir=$XDG_CACHE_HOME/vim,~/,/tmp

viminfo files

Ever do a ls -la ~ and see a flood of strange-looking .viminfo files? That file is used (among other things) to store history and search terms. Thankfully, as :h viminfo-file-name mentions, we can specify a different location like so:

set viminfo+=n$XDG_CACHE_HOME/vim/viminfo

vimruntime

Next, the runtime directory, ~/.vim. Since we likely want to use the global resources (colours, syntax files and the like), it’s a good idea to replicate the default runtime (check with :set runtime). My setup looks like:

set runtimepath=$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vim,$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vim/after,$VIM,$VIMRUNTIME

vimrc

The last piece in the puzzle is to override the ~/.vimrc location itself. You could set an alias, such as:

alias vim='vim -u "$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vim/vimrc"'

… but this will only work for the currently active terminal session and not if vim is launched some other way (via mutt or dmenu for example).

A more complete solution is to set VIMINIT like so:

export VIMINIT='let $MYVIMRC="$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vim/vimrc" | source $MYVIMRC'