Lazier Tab completion

Bash completion allows you to complete paths, commands, and filenames, and where implemented can even expand the syntax of commands like git and svn. It’s very convenient by default, but there are a couple of tweaks that can make it much faster and easier to use.

Single Tab press

With Bash completion enabled, the default is to complete the current path to the longest unique string it can on the first press of the Tab key, and then show a list of all the possible completions if the Tab key is then pressed a second time.

If you don’t like pressing Tab twice, you can fix this with a line in .inputrc so that the line is both completed to the longest unambiguous pattern, and then possible values are also printed:

set show-all-if-ambiguous on

Log out and then in again, or re-read your .inputrc file with Ctrl+X then Ctrl+R, and you should find that you now only need to press Tab once on completions to get both behaviours in one hit.

If you want Tab completion of filenames to work the same way in Vim’s command mode, you can include the below in your .vimrc. Note that the separator is a colon, rather than a comma, which means to perform both the command completion and suggestion at the first Tab press:

set wildmode=longest:list

Complete case-insensitively

If you commonly Tab your way through long paths that sometimes include mixed-case names, you can make Readline handle that for you by making the completion case-insensitive, with the following in your .inputrc:

set completion-ignore-case on

You can supplement this to make the completion apply similar insensitivity between hyphens and underscores:

set completion-map-case on

If you were tabbing your way through an ImageMagick directory, for example, and forgot the capital letters in typing imagem, Readline would quietly complete it to ImageMagick for you. Similarly, if you typed lib-undersc when the actual filename was lib_underscore, the shell would quietly fix that for you too.

You can get case-insensitivity for the filename completion in Vim with the following. I suggest wrapping it in a conditional as below, since it’s a reasonably new option:

if exists("&wildignorecase")
    set wildignorecase
endif

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way that I can find to reproduce the underscore/hyphen mapping. If you know of one, please comment.

Don’t prompt for many possible completions

If you’re on a fast terminal and you’re not bothered by having the screeds of texts it can sometimes generate being spat at you, you can turn off the sometimes annoying prompt that checks with you whether you want to show more than a hundred results for possible completion, with the following in .inputrc:

set completion-query-items -1

If you do this, you should probably set Readline’s built-in pager to be off, otherwise it’ll attempt to walk you through the possible completions page-by-page:

set page-completions off

If you do happen to deal with directories with more than a thousand files in them now and then (which doesn’t tend to happen much in routine system administration), it might be a bit safer to set it to some number much higher than the default of 100:

set completion-query-items 1000

These three tips combined make tabbing your way through path names much more pleasant and intuitive; you won’t find yourself irritably tapping Tab over and over nearly as much. Even if you’re very much used to playing ball with the stricter idiosyncrasies of the usual form of tab completion, you may find making the shell do the work for you in this way starts to feel very natural very quickly.

Vim filename completion

The autocompletion for filenames in Vim in command mode is very useful, but by default it’s a bit confusing for people accustomed to tab completion in Bash because it doesn’t quite work the same way. Pressing Tab will complete the filename to the first match, and subsequent presses will not elicit any list of possible completions that might otherwise be expected; for that, by default you need to press Ctrl+D rather than Tab.

Tab then tab

Fortunately, this is easily changed by using Vim’s wildmenu, in an appropriate mode. Set the following options in your .vimrc:

set wildmenu
set wildmode=longest,list

You should now find that when you complete filenames after commands like :w and :e, the paths expand in a similar manner to the way they do in the shell. If you’d prefer to only press Tab once to get both the longest matching unique string and a list of possible complete matches, that’s possible to arrange in both Bash and Vim as well.

Ignoring file types

There are probably certain filetypes in your directories that you’ll never want to edit with Vim. There’s hence no point in making them options for the autocompletion, and you can exclude them by pattern to make searching for the right file a bit quicker. This is done using the wildignore pattern. I use the following settings:

set wildignore+=*.a,*.o
set wildignore+=*.bmp,*.gif,*.ico,*.jpg,*.png
set wildignore+=.DS_Store,.git,.hg,.svn
set wildignore+=*~,*.swp,*.tmp

Compatibility

For the sake of keeping my .vimrc consistent and compatible on both older and newer machines, I like to wrap these options in a conditional block checking that the wildmenu feature is actually available:

" Wildmenu
if has("wildmenu")
    set wildignore+=*.a,*.o
    set wildignore+=*.bmp,*.gif,*.ico,*.jpg,*.png
    set wildignore+=.DS_Store,.git,.hg,.svn
    set wildignore+=*~,*.swp,*.tmp
    set wildmenu
    set wildmode=longest,list
endif

Insert mode

You can also complete file paths and names in insert mode with Ctrl+X Ctrl+F. It can be handy to map this to Tab if you don’t use it for anything else:

inoremap <Tab> <C-X><C-F>