Tips and tricks in vim

I am writing about couple of tools that you can use for browsing the source code.

1. ctags : This tool will generate an index for the source code, so that you can go to a definition of any function, variable, macro within the source code. ctags will generate a tag file which will have the index of all the functions, variables used in the source code. To know the list of languages supported by ctags, run the command 'ctags --list-languages'

   Steps to start with ctags:
   a. First we need to collect the list of filenames for which the tag(index) needs to be generated. You could do something like this if the source code is a collection of C, C++ code.
          find . -name "*.c" > filenames;
          find . -name "*.h" >> filenames;
          find . -name "*.[Cc][Pp][Pp]" >> filenames;
          find . -name "*.[Cc][Xx][Xx]" >> filenames;

   b. For the list of files collected in 'filenames' file, run the ctags command:
          ctags -L filenames;
      This will generate a file named 'tags' which will be used to navigate the source code.

   c. You need to make the editor use the 'tags' file to search for the function definition or variable, macro definition. In vim you can set which tag file to use through the set command:
          :set tags=<absolute_tag_file_path>
      You can also put the set command in your .vimrc in home folder.

   d. After the tag path being set, you can navigate to a particular definition of function or variable or macro by running the command ':tag <function/variableName>' in the vim's Ex mode. Or you can just take the cursor to the text and press 'Ctrl + ]'. You will now be navigated to the definition of the particular text where the cursor was placed. If the text has multiple definitions, pressing Ctrl + ] will take you to the first instance of the definition and you need to run another command ":tn" in Ex mode to goto the next definition of the text. You can also see the list of the definitions for a particular text by pressing 'g + ]' and then enter the corresponding number that you want to navigate to. To return from the navigate point use the keystroke 'Ctrl + t'.

   Through ctags you can easily navigate around the source code.

2. cscope: Sometimes it is not enough just to navigate around the source code. You might need to find places where a particular variable has been used, or you need to find a particular string in the whole source code. These additional features are there in any tool name cscope. You can find where a particular variable, macro or function is being used and where they are defined. You can also figure out the list of places where are particular function is being called or the list of functions that are being called by a particular function. You can also do string searching with regular expression and replace those strings with another string.

   a. Getting started: Cscope will index the source code in a different way than ctags. Get the list of source code files you need to index using cscope as mentioned in the step 'a' of ctags. Now input this filenames to cscope using the command:
        cscope -i filenames

      This will build references across the source code and creates a file named cscope.out. Start the cscope by running the command 'cscope -d' which will use the cscope.out file it has generated and it will give you its interface. Use tab to navigate from the input to the result list and backforth. Use 'Ctrl + b' to get the previous input handled by cscope. You can navigate through the list of result and pressing 'Enter' will take you to that index, or you can just enter the alphanumeric character for a particular index you want to jump and it will navigate to that index. Now to come out of cscope use 'Ctrl + d'.

      You can use both ctags and cscope to efficient browsing of source code.

3. Taglist: Now i will introduce you to a plugin for vi which will extend the power of ctags. Taglist is a plugin for vi which will make source code browsing even more beautiful and efficient. It give an overview of the structure of the source file and allows you to jump to particular function of a source code. This make navigating through a source file easy and efficient.

   a. Installation: Download the plugin from  and unzip the files in $HOME/.vim. This will create 2 files

          plugin/taglist.vim - main taglist plugin file
          doc/taglist.txt      - documentation (help) file

   b. Now restart the vim for a source file (hello.c). If you run the command ":TlistOpen" you should see the taglist window. You can navigate to any particular index on the taglist just by pressing "Enter". Taglist plugin requires ctags to operate. Make sure you have ctags before using the taglist. You can open the tag in a new horizontal window by pressing 'o' insted of Enter.

   c. My .vimrc configuration for taglist plugin:

       let Tlist_Auto_Open = 1                     //  Opens the taglist whenever i open vim 
       let Tlist_Use_Right_Window = 1         //  Put the taglist window on the right side of the screen. 
       set mouse=a                                    //  Enable mouse mode for cursor movement. Navigation becomes easier if the mouse movements are enabled.
       set selectmode=mouse                     //  You can copy text by using mouse. This is Visual mode of operation in vim
       let Tlist_CTags='/usr/local/bin/ctags/' //  Gives the location of ctags. Remember, for taglist to work you need ctags.
       map <C-c> "+y<CR>                        //  This is used to copy the text selected from mouse movements. Read Notes for additional information.
       map <A-Right>  :TlistOpen<CR>       //  Mapping 'Alt + RightArrow' keystrokes for opening taglist window.
       map <A-Left>  :TlistToggle<CR>       //  Mapping 'Alt + LeftArrow' keystrokes for opening/closing taglist window.
       let Tlist_Use_SingleClick = 1            //  A single click in the taglist window will take you to that tag.
       let Tlist_Exit_OnlyWindow = 1          //  When you exit vim, taglist also will be closed.

       1. For enabling copying in Visual mode from vim to a different application, you need to have a vim version where system wide clipboard is supported. You will see +xterm_clipboard when you do ":version" in Ex mode of vim. Then only you vim supports system wide clipboard. If your vim shows -xterm_clipboard, then install vim from source giving xterm_clipboard in the configuration file. 
       2. If you are using screen, you need to change the key bindings, as Alt + Right/Left Arrow is binded to some other function in screen. 
       3. Mouse movements are not possible if you are using ssh to a remote machine running vim.

My vimrc can be found at and screenrc file at

4. Automatic dependency generation and compilation: When the source code gets bigger, the dependencies for an object file will also increase. The rules in the Makefile has to include all the .c/.cpp files and the header files for that object. The dependent .c/.cpp files can be included using simple Makefile patterns. With large source codes, the number of header files for an object is considerably large and is often missed in the rule.
    GCC compiler can provide the list of dependent files for a particular object which has to be included in the Makefile rules.

    All the object files that need to be built are stored in $(OBJS). The Makefile will look like this:

        DEPS := $(OBJS:.o=.d)
        -include $(DEPS)
        $(OBJ)/%.o : %.c 
        	gcc $(CFLAGS) -c $< -o $@
        	gcc $(CFLAGS) -MM -MT $@ -MF $(patsubst %.o,%.d,$@) $<
        $(OBJ)/%.o : 
        	gcc $(CFLAGS) -c $< -o $@
        	gcc $(CFLAGS) -MM -MT $@ -MF $(patsubst %.o,%.d,$@) $<
        	rm $(OBJ)/*.o $(OBJ)/*.d
      gcc has options -MM, -MT and -MF which specify how the dependencies has to be written as a make rule. The -MM option rejects the system header files that are included in the source file. The -MT <target> specifies how the target of the make rule need to be generated. The -MF <file> is to specify where to store the make rules. In this case the expression $(patsubst %.o,%.d,$@) will return the prefix of the object file with .o replaced with .d. So, the make rule for each object file is stored in a .d file. This .d file is included at the beginning of the Makefile using the command "-include $(DEPS)" where $(DEPS) contain the list of .d files to be included.

      Here is an example dependency make rule generated by gcc:

        ../obj/gm_cuda_gen.o: backend_cuda/ inc/gm_backend_cuda.h \
         	inc/gm_backend.h inc/gm_ast.h inc/gm_frontend_api.h inc/gm_defs.h \
         	inc/gm_traverse.h inc/gm_typecheck.h inc/gm_code_writer.h inc/gm_misc.h \
         	inc/gm_compile_step.h inc/gm_backend_cuda_opt_steps.h \
         	inc/gm_backend_cuda.h inc/gm_backend_cuda_gen_steps.h inc/gm_error.h \
         	inc/gm_code_writer.h inc/gm_frontend.h inc/gm_procinfo.h \
         	inc/gm_frontend_steps.h inc/gm_transform_helper.h inc/gm_builtin.h \
         	inc/gm_frontend.h inc/gm_argopts.h

      Hope this information will be useful for you in your career and will make you to explore more things in open source world.