questionable services

Technical writings about computing infrastructure, HTTP & security.

(by Matt Silverlock)

From vim to Visual Studio Code


I’ve been using vim for a while now, but the recent noise around Visual Studio Code had me curious, especially given some long-running frustrations with vim. I have a fairly comprehensive vim config, but it often feels fragile. vim-go, YouCompleteMe & ctags sit on top of vim to provide autocompletion: but re-compiling libraries, dealing with RPC issues and keeping it working when you just want to write code can be Not Fun. Adding proper autocompletion for additional languages—like Python and Ruby—is an exercise in patience (and spare time).

VS Code, on the other hand, is pretty polished out of the box: autocompletion is significantly more robust (and tooltips are richer), adding additional languages is extremely straightforward. If you write a lot of JavaScript/Babel or TypeScript, then it has some serious advantages (JS-family support is first-class). And despite the name, Visual Studio Code (“VS Code”) doesn’t bear much resemblance to Visual Studio proper. Instead, it’s most similar to GitHub’s Atom editor: more text editor than full-blown IDE, but with a rich extensions interface that allows you to turn it into an IDE depending on what language(s) you hack on.

Thus, I decided to run with VS Code for a month to see whether I could live with it. I’ve read articles by those switching from editors like Atom, but nothing on a hard-swap from vim. To do this properly, I went all in:

Note that I still used vim keybindings via VSCodeVim. I can’t imagine programming another way.


Worth noting before you read on:

Saying that, the autocompletion in vscode-go is richer and clearer, thanks to VS Code’s better autocompletion as-a-whole, and will get better.



Throughout this period, I realised I had two distinct ways of using an editor, each prioritizing different things:

Lots of overlap, but it should be obvious where I care about launch speed vs. file management vs. deeper language support.

Short Edits


Despite these things, it’s still capable of these tasks. vim just had a huge head-start, and is most at home in a terminal-based environment.


Whole Projects

VS Code is really good here, and I think whole-project workflows are its strength, but it’s not perfect.

I should note that opening a directory in VS Code triggers a full reload, which can be a little disruptive.

vscode-git-diff-ui vscode-git-commands

Other Things

There’s a bunch of smaller things that, whilst unimportant in the scope of getting things done, are still noticeable:

You might also be asking: what about connecting to other machines remotely, where you only have an unadorned vim on the remote machine? That wasn’t a problem with vim thanks to the netrw plugin—you would connect to/browse the remote filesystem with your local, customized vim install—but is a shortcoming with VS Code. I wasn’t able to find a robust extension that would let me do this, although (in my case) it’s increasingly rare to SSH into a box given how software is deployed now. Still, worth keeping in mind if vim scp://user@host:/path/to/ is part of your regular workflow.

So, Which Editor?

I like VS Code a lot. Many of the things that frustate me are things that can be fixed, although I suspect improving startup speed will be tough (loading a browser engine underneath and all). Had I tried it 6+ months ago it’s likely I would have stuck with vim. Now, the decision is much harder.

I’m going to stick it out, because for the language I write the most (Go), the excellent autocompletion and toolchain integration beat out the other parts. If you are seeking a modern editor with 1:1 feature parity with vim, then look elsewhere: each editor brings its own things to the table, and you’ll never be pleased if you’re seeking that.

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