How to setup (neo)vim on NixOS

This post is about how to setup vim (vim_configurable) on NixOS with reusable parts and the possibility to replace vim with neovim without rewriting the whole setup.

configuration.nix

What we have in the configuration.nix file is simple:

environment.systemPackages = let
    vimPackages = import ./some/directory/vimPackages.nix pkgs;
    # neovimPackages = import ./some/directory/neovimPackages.nix pkgs;
in
    vimPackages ++ with pkgs; [ some other packages ];

You can see that we simply import some nix expressions and pass them the pkgs of from our configuration.nix file. Everything else is done in this file and some sub-files.

vimPackages.nix

So here starts the fun. We define a function which gets the pkgs variable and the lib variable from the outside scope (we don’t pass the lib variable, though nix is smart enough to figure out what we mean). We already know that we need to return an array of packages, so we can return vim and some things we use in our vim scripts, like so:

# ...
[ vim pkgs.ctags ]

vim is not prefixed with a pkgs. here because we define it in the file itself. But first, we need to know what we want to override. vim_customize allows us to compile vim without GUI support, for example (there are a lot more options). We also want to build our vimrc and we want to put plugins into our vim setup, because this is the NixOS way of life.

customization = {
    vimrcConfig = (import ./customization.nix { pkgs = pkgs; });
} // { name = "vim"; };

Here we import our customization (vimrc, plugins, etc) and ensure that the executable is named "vim". We can now use this customization to customize vim_configurable:

custom_vim = pkgs.vim_configurable.customize customization;

and afterwards we override this derivation and set variables, what features should be compiled into vim:

vim = lib.overrideDerivation custom_vim (o: {
    ftNixSupport = true;
    gui          = false;
    luaSupport   = true;
    # some more
});

Now we put these parts together and into a function, so the whole file looks like this:

{ pkgs, lib, ... }:

let
  customization = {
    vimrcConfig = (import ./vim/customization.nix { pkgs = pkgs; });
  } // { name = "vim"; };

  custom_vim = pkgs.vim_configurable.customize customization;

  vim = lib.overrideDerivation custom_vim (o: {
    aclSupport              = false;
    cscopeSupport           = true;
    darwinSupport           = false;
    fontsetSupport          = true;
    ftNixSupport            = true;
    gpmSupport              = true;
    gui                     = false;
    hangulinputSupport      = false;
    luaSupport              = true;
    multibyteSupport        = true;
    mzschemeSupport         = true;
    netbeansSupport         = false;
    nlsSupport              = false;
    perlSupport             = false;
    pythonSupport           = true;
    rubySupport             = true;
    sniffSupport            = false;
    tclSupport              = false;
    ximSupport              = false;
    xsmpSupport             = false;
    xsmp_interactSupport    = false;
  });

in [
  vim
  pkgs.python
  pkgs.ctags
]

But that’s not all to it. The customization.nix is where the real fun begins.

customization.nix

So this is the file where we define which plugins we want to use. There are some plugins which are not yet included in the nixpkgs repository, so we have to build these packages ourselves to be able to install them. Luckily, the nixpkgs provide some helper functions to build vim plugin packages rather easily.

Also, we build our vimrc file here, which consists of another bunch of script files.

vimrc.nix

The vimrc itself is written in viml of course. If you have a lot of vimrc configuration, you can split this file into several smaller ones. For example, I have split these files into the following structure:

./
├── colorschemes
│   ├── mm_neverness_share.vim
│   └── razorlight.vim
├── filetypes.vim
├── folding.vim
├── general.vim
├── gui.vim
├── insertmode.vim
├── mappings.vim
├── menuconf.vim
├── plugins
│   ├── # ... some things
│   └── ycm.vim
├── pluginconfigurations.nix
├── scripts.vim
├── searchnreplace.vim
├── statusline.vim
└── textediting.vim

So what we do in our vimrc.nix file (which later gets included in our customization.nix file) is: We include all these .vim files and put them into one giant string, which is then our vimrc file:

{ stdenv, writeText }:

let
    generic     = builtins.readFile ./vimrc/general.vim;
    textediting = builtins.readFile ./vimrc/textediting.vim;
    # ... more here

    plug = import ./vimrc/pluginconfigurations.nix;
in

''
    ${generic}

    ${textediting}

    # ... more here

    ${plug}
''

You might noticed the vimrc/pluginconfigurations.nix file. This one is just another layer of abstraction here and is basically the same as the vimrc.nix file:

let
    # some files
    ycm = builtins.readFile ./plugins/ycm.vim;
in

''
    # some variables
    ${ycm}
''

plugins.nix

Another file we need is the plugins.nix file. As said, not all vim plugins are in nixpkgs (yet). So we have to build some vim plugins ourselves (don’t get scared here. This does not mean you have to run compilejobs yourself, most plugins don’t contain any binaries so rebuilding the system with vim plugins installed is normally a matter of seconds).

So this one is also rather simple in the end. In the example below you can see how I build the vim-trailing-whitespace plugin. The version might be outdated, though.

{ pkgs, fetchgit }:

let
  buildVimPlugin = pkgs.vimUtils.buildVimPluginFrom2Nix;
in {

  "vim-trailing-whitespace" = buildVimPlugin {
    name = "vim-trailing-whitespace";
    src = fetchgit {
      url = "https://github.com/bronson/vim-trailing-whitespace";
      rev = "d4ad27de051848e544e360482bdf076b154de0c1";
      sha256 = "594769a6f901407609b635a5041966456bfd91b13437169a4562857544e1dca3";
    };
    dependencies = [];
  };

  # more?
}

Finally… put the parts together.

Now we can write down our customization.nix file, which imports the plugins.nix and vimrc.nix files and puts them in the right context, so the nixpkgs infrastructure understands how we want to have our vim package build:

{ pkgs }:

let
  # this is the vimrc.nix from above
  vimrc   = pkgs.callPackage ./vimrc.nix {};

  # and the plugins.nix from above
  plugins = pkgs.callPackage ./plugins.nix {};
in
{
  customRC = vimrc;
  vam = {
    knownPlugins = pkgs.vimPlugins // plugins;

    pluginDictionaries = [
      # from pkgs.vimPlugins
      { name = "youcompleteme"; }

      # from our own plugin package set
      { name = "vim-trailing-whitespace"; }
    ];
  };
}

Building

After putting these things together you can rebuild your system. The vim binary might be compiled from source, though this isn’t that much of a problem because there are only few vim updates, so rebuilding vim will happen every four weeks or something, not on every system rebuild.

nixos-rebuild switch

neovim

As said, you can now use the infrastructure we just wrote to compile the very same configuration into neovim, including your vimrc, plugins and everything.

{ pkgs, lib, ... }:

let
  nvim = pkgs.neovim.override {
    # don't alias neovim to vim, yet.
    vimAlias = false;

    configure = (import ./vim/customization.nix { pkgs = pkgs; });
  };

in [
  nvim
  pkgs.python
  pkgs.ctags
]

Just make sure your vimrc settings don’t mess with neovim. Some things are not supported by neovim, so you have to put them into if-else conditions like so:

if has("nvim")
  " we don't need this in nvim
else
  set clipboard=exclude:.*
endif

And that’s it.