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feb 15

bd, bn, bp, ls, w, e, & me

I’ve been using Vim for decades, and not till recently did I realize, I’ve been using this tool quite back-assward.

I’d always thought of Vim as a file editor, and as such, I’d open files — vim foo.txt — and split the screen when I wanted to work on another file :spl bar.txt. I’d write my changes & quit Vim, taking me back to the console (even though I’d return to Vim not a minute later).

Now, I think in terms of buffers. And it’s been quite the shift in thinking now that I do that.

What does it mean to think in buffers? Well, first off, an empty buffer is like standing at home plate. If you type vim with no arguments, you’ll see what I’m driving at. Getting used to not having a file in front of you was of zenith importance for thinking in terms of buffers.

Now first base, from this blank buffer home plate, is ‘checking in’ with your buffers. In ‘command mode,’ this is achieved via :ls — there you’ll be given a listing of buffers that matter most.

I like to think of first base as a means of getting my bearings after some hacking has made me a bit uncertain on my whereabouts. A little like pwd on the command line, you quickly remember what the state of affairs is.

Back at home plate, one can open a file via ‘command mode,’ with the :e <foo.txt> command — or ‘edit’ for short. A quick :ls will indicate the addition of one buffer.

When this file is saved, I’m able to toggle back/next to the blank buffer in a couple ways, but in ‘command mode,’ :bn (buffer next) or :bp (buffer previous) will get it done. Quite easy to remember.

With these four commands, the user experience is like having tabs as we have it in other software. The difference being that we need the :ls command to indicate such available tabs. But tabs is really what it feels like, not what I prefer to call it. They are buffers, and that’s such a nice way of negotiating Vim, instead of doing so in terms of files (or yes, even tabs, as Vim has those, too).

Writing and closing

One cannot ‘CRUD’ anything with just the four mentioned commands. A buffer must be saved, with the ‘command mode’ :w. But, instead of :wq, which I did for years, just closing the buffer with ‘command mode’ :bd (buffer delete) keeps us in Vim and ready for more moving about via :e, :ls, :bn or :bp.

With :bd, we can also terminate other buffers (they are numbered in :ls, after all), so actions like :bd 4 will close the buffer with the ID of ‘4.’ This is how one manages their session spaces.

Vim is a rich editor with thousands of options and usage patterns. And that’s saying nothing of plugins. But for everyday hacking, this new way of moving around buffers offers a lucid experience, and one that’s easy to get up to speed with.

Update Feb. 2019

As it so happens, recently I’ve come to favor :bw over :bd. I tend to want wipe the buffer clean, so any remnants of one-time buffers are not searchable later.

For example, say I have a file that I have been working on named ‘foobar.txt.’ I can refer to it quickly with just a substring match via :b ba. If I had this buffer laying around whereby it was deleted via :bd, it can be the case that a substring match would consider this deleted buffer, even though I was done with it.

By performing a :ls!, you can see your deleted buffers. In contrast, :bw will remove old buffers for good and won’t make them candidates for the above situation.

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