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Configuring Neovim using Lua

And switching from init.vim to init.lua

If you, like me, never really understood Vimscript and hate the language with a passion, you’re in the right place! You can now get rid of Vimscript wholesale and replace it with a simpler, faster and elegant-er language — Lua! However, this is only possible from Neovim 0.5 onwards1 and as of now, requires you to install Neovim from HEAD. How to do that is left as an exercise to the reader. Also bear in mind that the Lua API is fairly beta right now, and many Vim things don’t have direct interfaces.

So assuming you’re now running Neovim master, head over to ~/.config/nvim and create your init.lua. Why, yes, we’re porting over your init.vim to init.lua right now! Clear your calendar for the next few hours — bikeshedding your text editor is top priority!

I also recommend going through nanotee/nvim-lua-guide and Learn Lua in Y minutes before starting off.

the directory structure

Lua files are typically under ~/.config/nvim/lua, and can be loaded as Lua modules. This is incredibly powerful — you can structure your configs however you like.

$ tree .config/nvim
.
|-- ftplugin
|   `-- ...
|-- init.lua
|-- lua
|   |-- maps.lua
|   |-- settings.lua
|   |-- statusline.lua
|   `-- utils.lua
`-- plugin
    `-- ...

The common approach is to have different bits of your config in Lua files under lua/ and require’d in your init.lua, so something like:

-- init.lua

require('settings')    -- lua/settings.lua
require('maps')        -- lua/maps.lua
require('statusline')  -- lua/statusline.lua

the basics: setting options

Vim has 3 kinds of options — global, buffer-local and window-local. In Vimscript, you’d just set these. In Lua, however, you will have to use one of

These are fairly verbose and very clunky, but fortunately for us, we have “meta-accesors” for these: vim.{o,wo,bo}. Here’s an excerpt from my settings.lua as an example:

local o = vim.o
local wo = vim.wo
local bo = vim.bo

-- global options
o.swapfile = true
o.dir = '/tmp'
o.smartcase = true
o.laststatus = 2
o.hlsearch = true
o.incsearch = true
o.ignorecase = true
o.scrolloff = 12
-- ... snip ... 

-- window-local options
wo.number = false
wo.wrap = false

-- buffer-local options
bo.expandtab = true

If you’re not sure if an option is global, buffer or window-local, consult the Vim help! For example, :h 'number':

'number' 'nu'           boolean (default off)
                        local to window

Also note that you don’t set the negation of an option to true, like wo.nonumber = true, you instead set wo.number = false.

defining autocommands

Unfortunately, autocommands in Vim don’t have a Lua interface — it is being worked on.2 Until then, you will have to use vim.api.nvim_command(), or the shorter vim.cmd(). I’ve defined a simple function that takes a Lua table of autocmds as an argument, and creates an augroup for you.

-- utils.lua

local M = {}
local cmd = vim.cmd

function M.create_augroup(autocmds, name)
    cmd('augroup ' .. name)
    cmd('autocmd!')
    for _, autocmd in ipairs(autocmds) do
        cmd('autocmd ' .. table.concat(autocmd, ' '))
    end
    cmd('augroup END')
end

return M

-- settings.lua
local cmd = vim.cmd
local u = require('utils')

u.create_augroup({
    { 'BufRead,BufNewFile', '/tmp/nail-*', 'setlocal', 'ft=mail' },
    { 'BufRead,BufNewFile', '*s-nail-*', 'setlocal', 'ft=mail' },
}, 'ftmail')

cmd('au BufNewFile,BufRead * if &ft == "" | set ft=text | endif')

defining keymaps

Keymaps can be set via vim.api.nvim_set_keymap(). It takes 4 arguments: the mode for which the mapping will take effect, the key sequence, the command to execute and a table of options (:h :map-arguments).

-- maps.lua

local map = vim.api.nvim_set_keymap

-- map the leader key
map('n', '<Space>', '', {})
vim.g.mapleader = ' '  -- 'vim.g' sets global variables


options = { noremap = true }
map('n', '<leader><esc>', ':nohlsearch<cr>', options)
map('n', '<leader>n', ':bnext<cr>', options)
map('n', '<leader>p', ':bprev<cr>', options)

For user defined commands, you’re going to have to go the vim.cmd route:

local cmd = vim.cmd

cmd(':command! WQ wq')
cmd(':command! WQ wq')
cmd(':command! Wq wq')
cmd(':command! Wqa wqa')
cmd(':command! W w')
cmd(':command! Q q')

managing packages

Naturally, you can’t use your favourite Vimscript package manager anymore, or at least, not without vim.api.nvim_execing a bunch of Vimscript (ew!). Thankfully, there are a few pure-Lua plugin managers available to use3 — I personally use, and recommend paq. It’s light and makes use of the vim.loop API for async I/O. paq’s docs are plentiful, so I’ll skip talking about how to set it up.

bonus: writing your own statusline

Imagine using a bloated, third-party statusline, when you can just write your own.4 It’s actually quite simple! Start by defining a table for every mode:

-- statusline.lua

 local mode_map = {
	['n'] = 'normal ',
	['no'] = 'n·operator pending ',
	['v'] = 'visual ',
	['V'] = 'v·line ',
	[''] = 'v·block ',
	['s'] = 'select ',
	['S'] = 's·line ',
	[''] = 's·block ',
	['i'] = 'insert ',
	['R'] = 'replace ',
	['Rv'] = 'v·replace ',
	['c'] = 'command ',
	['cv'] = 'vim ex ',
	['ce'] = 'ex ',
	['r'] = 'prompt ',
	['rm'] = 'more ',
	['r?'] = 'confirm ',
	['!'] = 'shell ',
	['t'] = 'terminal '
}

The idea is to get the current mode from vim.api.nvim_get_mode() and map it to our desired text. Let’s wrap that around in a small mode() function:

-- statusline.lua

local function mode()
	local m = vim.api.nvim_get_mode().mode
	if mode_map[m] == nil then return m end
	return mode_map[m]
end

Now, set up your highlights. Again, there isn’t any interface for highlights yet, so whip out that vim.api.nvim_exec().

-- statusline.lua

vim.api.nvim_exec(
[[
  hi PrimaryBlock   ctermfg=06 ctermbg=00
  hi SecondaryBlock ctermfg=08 ctermbg=00
  hi Blanks   ctermfg=07 ctermbg=00
]], false)

Create a new table to represent the entire statusline itself. You can add any other functions you want (like one that returns the current git branch, for instance). Read :h 'statusline' if you don’t understand what’s going on here.

-- statusline.lua

local stl = {
  '%#PrimaryBlock#',
  mode(),
  '%#SecondaryBlock#',
  '%#Blanks#',
  '%f',
  '%m',
  '%=',
  '%#SecondaryBlock#',
  '%l,%c ',
  '%#PrimaryBlock#',
  '%{&filetype}',
}

Finally, with the power of table.concat(), set your statusline. This is akin to doing a series of string concatenations, but way faster.

-- statusline.lua

vim.o.statusline = table.concat(stl)

statusline

this is what being tpope feels like

You can now write that plugin you always wished for! I sat down to write a plugin for fzy5, which you can find here along with my entire Neovim config6. I plan to port a the last of my plugin/ directory over to Lua, soon™.

And it’s only going to get better when the Lua API is completed. We can all be Vim plugin artists now.


  1. https://github.com/neovim/neovim/pull/12235
  2. https://github.com/neovim/neovim/pull/12378
  3. Also see: packer.nvim
  4. This meme was made by NIH gang.
  5. A less bloated alternative to fzf, written in C.
  6. GitHub link — if you’re into that sort of thing.

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