Vim File Templates

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Vim file templates are useful for starting new files with boilerplate code. There are plenty of snippet and templating plugins for Vim, but you can create file templates without any plugins using a concept Vim calls skeleton files. This allows you to automatically populate a new file with a given template. Learn about it with :help skeleton but we will dive into it:

To create a Vim file template, you configure your Vim to read a file from disk every time you open a new, empty buffer with a filename that matches a given pattern. Skeleton files are really just a trick using Vim’s autocmd capabilities to run commands on certain events.

One file template example might be when writing shell scripts. You can create a skeleton file that contains the Bash shebang line like so:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

Then configure your Vim to populate any new and empty buffer that ends in .sh with this file’s contents. If you’re working in a language that requires a lot of boilerplate in every file, this can be an enormous time saver.

Another example use case is a README file. You could create a template Markdown file that includes all the headings and basic bullet points that every good README should have. Then whenever you open a new file called README.md in Vim, the buffer will automatically pre-populate with the skeleton template file.

Configuring these templates in your .vimrc is simple:

autocmd BufNewFile readme.md 0r ~/skeletons/readme.md
autocmd BufNewFile *.sh 0r ~/skeletons/bash.sh

In this case, I’ve created a new directory inside my home directory called skeletons but you could put these anywhere. Here’s how the first one works:

  • autocmd – run this automatically on some event
  • BufNewFile – this is Vim’s new file event
  • readme.md – this is the pattern you want the new file to match
  • 0r – read into the buffer starting at line 0, the first line
  • ~/skeletons/readme.md – the file to read in

The second example works the same way but uses a file glob *.sh to match any file ending in .sh. There’s a quick demo of this in action below.

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Written by

Colin Bartlett

105 Posts

Vim enthusiast and software developer for more than 20 years.
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