Vim Plugins: snipMate

Why use it

  • It’s super easy to use
  • It has tons of snippets
  • It’s pretty well compatible with TextMate snippets for easy portability
  • Dynamic variables, for all the times you use the same string multiple times
  • It’s really easy to define your own snippets
  • It’s better than anything else out there, trust me I’ve tried them all

Sometimes a video works better to explain things.. check out this video

snipMate.vim Introductory Screencast from Michael Sanders on Vimeo.


  • There are a couple of ways to obtain it either download the zip from the vim site: snipMate or grab it from the authors git repo.
  • Extract the zip file or tarball to ~/.vim (on Unix/Linux) or ~vimfiles (on Windows).
  • As good measure, from inside vim, run :helptags ~/.vim/doc (on Unix/Linux) or :helptags ~/vimfiles/doc (on Windows) to rebuild the tags file
  • Restart Vim

Using snipMate

snippet is a piece of often-typed text that you can insert into document using a trigger word followed by a <tab>. For instance, in a C file using the default installation of snipMate.vim, if you type “for<tab>” in insert mode, it will expand a typical for loop in C:

 for (i = 0; i < count; i++) {     }

To go to the next item in the loop, simply over to it; if there is repeated code, such as the “i” variable in this example, you can simply start typing once it’s highlighted and all the matches specified in the snippet will be updated. To go in reverse, use <shift-tab>.

Beyond Installation

Grabbing Scrooloose’s snippets repository from github

Martin Grenfell (Scrooloose) maintains a nice repository of snippets. Though it is a bit ruby heavy, it has dozens of languages including a nice jquery section, and frankly quite a bit more than the stock snippets. I recommend installing his snippets and either fork it or customize it with your own. Here’s how to install the repo (*nix instructions)

cd ~/.vim
mv snippets snippets.orig
git clone git:// snippets

Git will take care of the installation for you. If you don’t have git, I really recommend it, and I have a guide on how to install it locally. One thing you’ll notice about this repository is that it’s much more structured that the stock snippets. Rather than each language containing a snippet file, each language contains a directory full of snippets with each snippet is in it’s own file. For situations where you want multiple snippets under the same keyword, create a subdirectory and place the snippets inside it. It works quite well, though it seems either approach would be sufficient for personal use.

Creating your own snippets

While there are a bunch of stock snippets, it didn’t take me very long to realize it didn’t have everything I wanted. Fortunately it’s super easy to create your own snippets.

The following is largely lifted from the help file. I strongly recommend reading it (:help snipMate).

Snippets are by default looked for any ‘snippets’ directory in your ‘runtimepath’. Typically, it is located at ‘~/.vim/snippets/’ on *nix or ‘$HOMEvimfilessnippets’ on Windows. (To change that location or add another one, change the g:snippets_dir variable in your |.vimrc| to your preferred directory.)

Snippets can be defined in two ways. They can be in their own file, named after their trigger in ‘snippets/[filetype]/[trigger].snippet’, or they can be defined together in a ‘snippets/[filetype].snippets’ file.


The syntax for snippets in *.snippets files is the following:

 snippet trigger         expanded text         more expanded text

Note that the first hard tab after the snippet trigger is required, and not expanded in the actual snippet. The syntax for *.snippet files is the same, only without the trigger declaration and starting indentation.


By default, the cursor is placed at the end of a snippet. To specify where the cursor is to be placed next, use “${#}”, where the # is the number of the tab stop. E.g., to place the cursor first on the id of a <div> tag, and then allow the user to press <tab> to go to the middle of it:

 snippet div



Placeholder text can be supplied using “${#:text}”, where # is the number of the tab stop. This text then can be copied throughout the snippet using “$#”, given # is the same number as used before. So, to make a C for loop:

 snippet for         for (${2:i}; $2 < ${1:count}; $1++) {                 ${4}         }

This will cause “count” to first be selected and change if the user starts typing. When <tab> is pressed, the “i” in ${2}’s position will be selected; all $2 variables will default to “i” and automatically be updated if the user starts typing. NOTE: “$#” syntax is used only for variables, not for tab stops as in TextMate.

Variables within variables are also possible. For instance:

 snippet opt       ${2:$1}

Will, as usual, cause “option” to first be selected and update all the $1 variables if the user starts typing. Since one of these variables is inside of ${2}, this text will then be used as a placeholder for the next tab stop, allowing the user to change it if he wishes.

To copy a value throughout a snippet without supplying default text, simply use the “${#:}” construct without the text; e.g.:

 snippet foo         ${1:}bar$1

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