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>

5 thoughts on “Vim filename completion

  1. When I use wildmenu, it does something weird to using dot for command repetition. I like to be able to make a bunch of identical replacements by searching for something, using “cw”, type replacement, ESC, then “n”. But with wildmenu on, if my replacement text starts with something that wildmenu might match, I end up with the wrong replacement text! Any idea what to do?

  2. Is there an error in the following line: set wildignore+=.DS_Store,.git,.hg,.svn

    All the other lines have asterisks before the periods, but the above line does not. Is it supposed to?

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