by Caleb Taylor

A guide to modern Web Development with (Neo)vim

There are a lot of great editors out there that provide a ton of features for web development. Recreating those features in Vim has always been a challenge. I love Vim, but I’ve also dedicated a ton of time to tweaking my setup. This article is a summary of the result of my work.

Jarvis in action

I use coc.nvim and denite to power my coding experience. Denite is used to fuzzy find files, manage open files, and search your project. Coc.nvim drives the intellisense engine by wrapping many of the same core extensions that drive the VSCode IDE. For my full setup, including how I configure these plugins and more, check out my dotfiles.

Note: I’ll just reference Vim in this article, but I actually use Neovim. The plugins all work with Vim as well — depending on the version — but things like the “floating window” feature will be specific to Neovim.

Intro

I write TypeScript/JavaScript on a daily basis, and I know how stark the difference is between Vim and an editor like VSCode out of the box. There are many features available in modern editors that take time, expertise, and/or plugins to achieve in Vim.

I’ve created the following list of features that I expect out of a modern editor. Standard editor features (like syntax highlighting) aren’t included.

  1. Fuzzy File Finding — If you know the file name in the project, you should be able to open it quickly (such as — two keystrokes + minimum number of characters to unique filename).
  2. File Switching — You should be able to see open files, and quickly switch between open files, both with fuzzy finding and manual browsing.
  3. Linting — Code linting should be automatic and fast, and you should be able to use a code fixer.
  4. Project Searching — You should be able to search for an arbitrary string, search for a symbol, find definitions, and find usages of a symbol.
  5. Code Intellisense — Having your IDE provide relevant, seamless suggestions and auto-completions can be a huge boost to productivity. In my opinion, the “white whale” for most Vim users.

Getting all of these things working in Vim can be a pain. There are tons of plugins to choose from, configurations to tweak, and docs to read. After 7 years of trial and error, I’ve finally got my setup to a great place. The best part?

I’m going to show you how to get all of the core functionality with just two plugins.

I won’t be covering every feature of these awesome plugins, or listing all the possible alternatives (and there are a lot of great ones). I will focus on highlighting the core functionality I use, as well as any mappings or configurations I use to elevate the experience.

So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Denite

What you get: Fuzzy file finding, file management, project searching

I’m not going to lie, Denite is pretty insane. Just take a look at the docs. At a basic level, it provides a fuzzy-finding layer on top of a bunch of core functionality. It was built by the legendary Shougo, a Jedi master of Vim.

Denite is built on lambdalisue/neovim-prompt. It has a full-featured interface that can take a while to get used to. You can create custom menus, and use many custom sources with Denite as a layer on top.

Basics

I primarily use Denite for finding files in my project, and managing my open files. I have configured Denite to use ripgrep to power my searching. You can see how I’ve configured it in my setup.

I have all of key features mapped for quick and easy access. The keys I use for these mappings are just personal preference, and should be customized per user. I use the “floating window” option for my Denite mappings, but other variations are supported as well (like horizontal/vertical splits).

Managing Open Files

; brings up a list of currently open files. You can start typing and it will allow you to fuzzy-search through your current open files. With the file list open,<ctrl>o lets you browse the list like you are in normal mode, where you can open and/or delete any files from the list.

Managing open buffers with Denite

Fuzzy Finding Files

<leader>t fuzzy-searches files in the current directory. With ripgrep, any files in your .gitignore are also ignored.

Fuzzy-finding files in the current directory

Project Searching

<leader>g and <;leader>j search the entire project for a given term, and searching the term under cursor, respectively.

Searching with Denite

Configuration

Denite can be a pretty tough tool to wrap your head around. It’s well documented, but it does reference some concepts that may be unfamiliar to most users. All of my Denite configurations are documented in my setup, so you should be able to use it as a reference. Here’s a quick sample of configuring the base options of Denite for things like customizing highlight groups and layouts.

Coc.nvim

What you get: Intellisense code engine, auto-completion, linting, code fixing

One of the biggest challenges with modern development in Vim is setting up intellisense code completion. Most modern editors like Visual Studio Code come with intellisense engines built in, or easily available with a plugin (with minimal setup).

I have tried a few solutions, and coc.nvim is the best I’ve used. It comes with several major features that are the crux of bringing Vim to the same level as modern IDEs.

There are a few main reasons I think it’s one of the better solutions to intellisense in Vim:

  1. It was incredibly easy to setup, and immediately worked with both my TypeScript and JavaScript projects.
  2. It’s built upon language servers, which power intellisense in many modern editors.
  3. Language server extensions like coc-tsserver are built on top of the TypeScript/JavaScript code extension that is built into VSCode. So as VSCode server extensions improve, Vim users can benefit as well.

Basics

Getting coc.nvim up and running is very straightforward. Once you follow the installation instructions, you can install language server extensions by running :CocInstall .

For example, in my current web-based projects, I can have a fully-functioning intellisense engine for most modern TypeScript/JavaScript projects by running:

:CocInstall coc-tsserver coc-eslint coc-json coc-prettier coc-css

LSP Extension

This is core of coc.nvim experience. With a language server extension like coc-tsserver, you get a ton of features. I’ll highlight a few:

  • Code completion support
  • Go to definition
  • Find references
  • Signature help
  • Code validation
  • Support for Javascript & TypeScript and JSX/TSX
coc-tsserver in action with React and Typescript

By default, you get fast, automatic code completion. Types are automatically imported, and you can see function signatures and relevant code completions as you type.

I have a few key mappings set up to quickly utilize a few key features of the language server:

These mappings allow you to quickly jump to a symbol definition, see the implementation for a symbol, or find where it’s referenced. I use them all frequently and find them to be a huge productivity boost.

Using coc.nvim mappings

Linting

I rely on ESLint for linting both my JavaScript and TypeScript projects. Now that TSLint is being deprecated, the choice is even easier. I initially used Ale (which is a great tool), but it had some issues when used together with coc.nvim.

Now, using the coc-eslint language server extension, you can get real-time feedback from your linter and language server using the same tool. I also use coc-prettier to have coc.nvim format my code to prettier standards on file save.

Using eslint and prettier via coc.nvim

Configuration

You can configure your coc.nvim setup by creating a configuration file. Right now, mine is pretty simple:

You can read more about setting up your own coc.nvim configuration file here.

Conclusion

That about wraps it up. I’d love to hear any feedback or suggestions, so please leave a comment! In case you missed it above, for my full setup, check out my dotfiles and my article on the rest of my setup outside of Vim. Thanks for reading!