netrw plugin normally ships with vim and is the default filebrowser. It gets a bad rap and ships with all kinds of features likes remote editing over SSH and FTP, and anecdotally has many bugs. Most developers just jump straight for the
NERDtree plugin but in my opinion the default
netrw plugin does most of what people use
NERDtree for. Moreover, for opening files and traversing codebases there are other native vim options available.
Invoking netrw can be achieved in three ways
netrwin the current window
netrwin a horizontal split
netrwin a vertical split
You can also snigger by typing
:Sex to invoke a horizontal split.
The directory listing view can be modified to show more or less information on files and directories, change the sorting order and hiding certain files.
With the directory browser open hit
i to cycle through the view types. There are four different view types: thin, long, wide and tree. A preferred view type can be made permanent by setting it in a
let g:netrw_liststyle = 3
The tree list view in netrw.
The directory banner is mostly useless. To remove it temporarily press
I. To remove it permanently add the following to your
let g:netrw_banner = 0
By default files will be opened in the same window as the netrw directory browser. To change this behaviour the
netrw_browse_split option may be set. The options are as follows
1- open files in a new horizontal split
2- open files in a new vertical split
3- open files in a new tab
4- open in previous window
To make the selection permanent add the following to your
let g:netrw_browse_split = 1
The width of the directory explorer can be fixed with the
netrw_browse_split option. The following sets the width to 25% of the page.
let g:netrw_winsize = 25
If NERDtree is your thing
netrw can give you a similar experience with the following settings
let g:netrw_banner = 0 let g:netrw_liststyle = 3 let g:netrw_browse_split = 4 let g:netrw_altv = 1 let g:netrw_winsize = 25 augroup ProjectDrawer autocmd! autocmd VimEnter * :Vexplore augroup END
A nerdtree like setup with netrw.
I keep things minimal and am happy with most of the defaults. In fact for now I just remove the banner. I told you I like minimal :-).
let g:netrw_banner = 0
It is worth mentioning vim-vinegar, a plugin that looks to enhance
netrw and is popular with users looking to avoid installing NERDtree.
Well, vinegar.vim enhances netrw, partially in an attempt to mitigate the need for more disruptive “project drawer” style plugins.
In trying to use less vim plugins so I'm not a user but horses for courses etc.
Vim also supports arbitrary commands to be run following
!. For a quick directory listing the following works.
:! ls -lF
For a more complex command other commands like
find can be used.
There are a number of ways to open files in vim and if that is what you use
netrw for. Using
vim can open files and supports tab completion.
To open a file in a vertical split use the following. This also supports tab completion.
To open a file in a horizontal split use the following. This also supports tab completion.
To open a file in a new tab use the following. This also supports tab completion.
For exploring codebases I also find using
ctags is a better than grepping or trying to guess where methods are defined. First you need to generate a tags file using the
ctags -R .
Once this file is created vim can take you to a function or method definition automatically with
CTRL-]. It is like magic and much more intelligent than random file browsing.
The directory browser that ships with vim is not particularly intuitive and ships with a wealth of features I will most likely never use. I get the sense that many developers just blindly install a shiny plugin without understanding what
netrw can do. Sure,
netrw is not perfect but less dependencies in my life and striving for simplicity is a good thing.
Have an update or suggestion for this article? You can edit it here and send me a pull request.