Vim for Rails developers: Recursive macros and Ack.vim

Programmers are lazy. We all are. I think Rails programmers are lazier than others. I mean, Rails is an opinionated software, that’s why we all love it. It has made many choices for us, so we can think about our problems. Now, if you’re reading this article there are chances you use Vim AND Rails. Well, you are my favourite kind of programmers. You love simple ways to get things done but it’s not enough to go home on time. You want the pleasure too. And one of the things I hate more is doing repetitive tasks. So, for example, imagine the situation: you are refactoring some code and realize you don’t like a name of a method anymore because it doesn’t express its intent in a good manner. So, you think, OK if I rename this method I will have to change it in many files: WTF. I know you could say “Hey, I can do that with the xxx tool!”. Yep, I know but I love Vim. And I think I’ll use recursive macros combined with ack.vim.

So, for those of us who are not familiar with this stuff I wrote down an introduction to both topics:

Macros #

The story is simple: Vim gives you three wonderful commands to achieve the execution of repetitive tasks:

  • q{0-9a-zA-Z"} The q command stands for start to record and, as many other Vim commands, is register based. That means you can type qq to start recording a macro called q.

  • q That stands for stop recording.

  • @{0-9a-zA-Z"} That stands for execute the macro stored in the given register.

There is a command to re-execute the last executed macro, i.e. @@. It’s very useful and I recommend to map it, I’ve used map Q @@.

Well, just to make things as clear as possible. You have something like: { |e| e.a_method } { |e| e.another_method } { |e| e.yep_another_again }

and you want to get! { |e| e.a_method }! { |e| e.another_method }! { |e| e.yep_another_again }

Well, you can do it in a huge number of ways. A good way, without counting macros, is (consider the cursor on the first line):

  • ^df=3ea!<esc> go to start of line ^ delete until an =, go to end of the third word and insert a !.
  • j
  • ^df=3ea!<esc>
  • j
  • ^df=3ea!<esc>

It is quite efficient and, as you have already noticed, there is a pattern repeated three times, each per line. Obviously, this is a perfect situation for macro and you can reach this:

  • qq start recording
  • ^df=3ea!<esc>j record the command
  • q stop recording
  • j
  • @q execute the macro recorded
  • j
  • @@ re-execute the macro

OK, if you like Vim you’ll like that. But we can do it better because Vim is so wonderful to offer you the opportunity to store a recursive macro. So, you can store a sequence of vim commands that includes the current macro like the following:

  • qqq clear the q register
  • qq start recording
  • ^df=3ea<esc>!j@q record the recursive macro, note the @q
  • q stop recording

And you get a recursive macro. It’s very simple to use it, just put it on the second line and type @q.

A very important thing you have to care about is end of recursion. A recursive macro will end only if it reaches the end of file or runs into an error. So when you think about a recursive macro don’t forget to write in a proper way. Thinking about our example I could have written the first part of the command in the following way:

  • 3dw

but, because of recursion, I could have deleted things I did not mean to. I used df= because it will end the recursion when Vim can’t find a = in the current line.

Ack.vim #

Ack is grep for programmers. I won’t stop repeating it. If you don’t use it you should stop reading this post and go to install it. Well, Ack.vim is a very well-done interface plugin for ack, it gives you some commands to work with and it opens a quickfix window when you perform a search. Furthermore, I strongly suggest you map :cn and :cp in normal mode, I have mapped them to <c-n> and <c-p> respectively. Personally, I use ack a lot. It’s a perfect tool, while you dig into source code written by others. Another perfect use for ack is code maintenance.

Recursive macros and Ack.vim together #

Actually, I use Ack especially when I have to rename methods or take a look to how a particular thing is used in a project. Just a couple of days ago, I realized that we (@g2d and I) called a method has_role? But we should have called it has_roles?. It’s the perfect situation for lazy programmers. You won’t go through code just to rename a method. But you know you have to :)

By the way, in that situation I choose to solve the problem in the following way:

  • vim app Ack.vim searches, by default, in the current directory
  • :Ack has_role \? I searched for has_role? references with ack.vim. (codepath.vim)
  • qqqeas<esc>:cn@qq

I recorded a recursive macro that adds an s to the end of the current word, searches for the next reference through ack and reapplies the macro. The end of recursion in this case is the end of references, if you type :cn when there isn’t a next occurrence in the quickfix window then the macro will stop.

I made a very tiny video to give a better idea of how it works: