10 Minute Vim!

Editor Abstractions

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(Want to become a Vim expert? Check out my new book: 10 Minute Vim)

I was recently inspired by a comment from a respected coworker:

“I am just as productive with basic Vim commands as I am with a refactoring suite like ReSharper.”

I have pair-programmed with him for hundreds of hours of C# development. He is equally productive with both, that much I know. On some tasks he is less efficient than with ReSharper, on others he is more. To clarify, we use the superb VsVim inside Visual Studio, so he still relies on the built-in tools for “Auto-complete” and “Go to Definition”.

The greatest benefit comes when we work in JavaScript, Haskell, or Clojure. His productivity doesn’t drop! His Vim and grep skills work just as effectively on any text.

The tools in our editors and IDE’s are concrete abstractions. If you have a good set of abstractions, you can use them to solve any problem. A well-designed abstraction composes well, and can be combined with others for new utility.

Consider the sequence abstractions. With only: map, filter, and fold, you can transform any sequence of data into another shape. Mastering the three sequence abstractions empowers you to transform any data. The power comes from how easily they can be combined.

Editor abstractions are most powerful when they can be composed. You can replicate most of the functionality of a refactoring suite using basic, composable text-editing commands. Well-designed editor abstractions can be recorded, edited, and replayed to transform text in any way you need. While no replacement for semantic tools like “Language Errors”, “Go to Definition”, and “Auto-complete”, they are an easy replacement for most other refactorings.

If you work in multiple languages, composable text-editing commands are a much better abstraction than those provided by a refactoring suite. Refactoring suites often have dozens of bespoke commands that only work in certain contexts. Even the best of these suites are often constrained to a single language. If you ever work in more than one language, you will get the most value learning to rely on abstractions that are constant across all environments.

I find I get the most value with a Vim plugin inside whatever environment provides the best semantic tools for the language. When building an Android app, I use IDEAVim inside Android Studio. For C#: VsVim inside Visual Studio. For all other languages: Evil mode inside Emacs. Instead of hundreds of specialized commands and contexts, I rely on a few basic abstractions to achieve any text transformation I can imagine.

(Want to become a Vim expert? Check out my new book: 10 Minute Vim)

steve shogren

software developer, manager, author, speaker

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