Daniel Strunk

My old friend, Vim

For the last couple of months, I’ve been attempting to adjust my workflow to Emacs. The Elixir community seems really on board with Emacs, with some notable vim users switching over (Chris McCord, developer of Elixir’s Phoenix framework, among others). And I really, honestly tried. But… I just couldn’t do it.

Below are some things I just missed too much that made me ultimately switch back.

{% include shared/image.html name=“vim-tmux.gif” alt=“A sample of my workflow” %}


Tabs are probably the number one reason I switched back. I use tabs in both tmux and in vim, and my workflow is incredibly dependent on then in both programs.

in tmux

In tmux, I’ll use tabs to keep a separate window for running a headless JavaScript server and a Rails or Phoenix server. That way I can edit files in one tmux tab, and if anything goes amiss with an acceptance test, I can tab over to the servers to see exactly what the stacktrace error was.

in vim

In vim, it’s nice to have tabs for context switching. Especially when refactoring, I’d like my tests to be alongside the class I’m refactoring in one tab, perhaps a configuration file and my routes in another, etc. I’m sure there’s a way to simulate this behaviour in Emacs (the editor is incredibly extensible, I know), but I’d rather not have to install a plugin or write elisp to mimic the functionality I’m used to.

Terminal emulators vs a terminal

Perhaps my favorite thing about my configuration is its full integration with Tmux, which allows me to create splits to have my editor on top and a full-blown terminal on the bottom. Emacs has a terminal emulator, but it’s just that—an emulator. My terminal is a bit customized, so things not running natively tend to run a little strangely.

And I like doing a lot of things in the terminal, to be honest. Though I have tpope/vim-fugitive for running Git commands within vim, vim-test for running tests within Rails or Phoenix projects, and tpope’s vim-rails for running Rails generations and migrations within vim, I’ll also jump into the terminal for more intensive work, such as running pry to test out a block, or doing some heavier git commands to blame or praise those who came before me :).

80% of the time the emulator works fine, but that last 20% is enough of an annoyance to give me pause.

Multiple workspaces

Tmux makes it easy to create multiple workspaces. With this line in my tmux dotfiles, I can press C-s C-j to bring up a list of all of workspaces. Typing will present a fuzzy finder that filters results, which I can further navigate through by pressing C-p or C-n (up or down—those emacs keybindings come in handy sometimes :).


In the end, things basically came down to muscle memory; my vim + tmux configuration is tested and true, and it’s been hacked to my preferences for about two years now. Jumping into another editor brought out some pain points I’d previously ironed out that I just didn’t feel like working through again. In this case, tried and true beat out new and shiny for me.

If you’re interested in my vim configuration, check out my dotfiles! The parts I’m most fond of reside in the vim/ and tmux/ folders.