How To Stop Vim From Clearing Your Carefully-Crafted Highlights

Vim, the ubiquitous text editor, is cherished by many developers for its efficiency and flexibility, especially when it comes to handling code. However, one of the challenges Vim users often face is maintaining their manually crafted highlights, which can disappear between sessions or get overridden by other configurations. This article delves into the mechanics of Vim’s highlighting system and provides practical solutions to preserve your custom highlights, ensuring that your focus remains on the code, not on constantly reapplying visual aids.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding Vim’s syntax highlighting and how to manually preserve highlights can enhance code readability and focus.
  • Configuring Vim through .vimrc tweaks and using plugins can lead to more persistent highlights across coding sessions.
  • Leveraging specific plugins like vim-go, Marker, and Chalk can greatly simplify the management of custom highlights.
  • Advanced techniques such as creating custom highlight groups and scripting with Vimscript offer dynamic highlighting capabilities.
  • Troubleshooting common issues with highlighting ensures a consistent coding experience across different environments and after errors.

Understanding Vim’s Highlighting Mechanics

The Basics of Vim Syntax Highlighting

Vim, a powerful text editor, allows users to enhance readability and editing efficiency through syntax highlighting. Syntax highlighting in Vim is not just about aesthetics; it’s a functional feature that improves code comprehension and error detection. By default, Vim uses a combination of file type detection and syntax files to apply color schemes to various programming constructs, making it easier to distinguish comments, keywords, strings, and other elements.

To enable syntax highlighting, you can use the :syntax on command. This command activates Vim’s internal syntax highlighting mechanism, which relies on the syntax files associated with the file type you are editing. For instance, when editing a Python script, Vim will use the Python syntax file to determine how to highlight the code.

Here’s a simple list of steps to enable syntax highlighting in Vim:

  • Open Vim editor.
  • Type :syntax on to turn on syntax highlighting.
  • If you want Vim to always enable syntax highlighting, add syntax on to your .vimrc file.

Remember, while Vim’s syntax highlighting is powerful, it can sometimes be overridden or cleared by other commands or when reloading files. This is where understanding Vim’s highlighting mechanics becomes crucial to maintaining your desired visual setup.

How Vim Handles Manual Highlights

Vim’s manual highlighting feature allows users to emphasize specific portions of text during an editing session. Manual highlights are temporary and typically do not persist after the session ends, unless specific measures are taken. For instance, using the :match command or the :hi command can create manual highlights, but these will be cleared once Vim is closed.

To understand how Vim handles these highlights, it’s important to recognize that Vim has several modes of operation. For example, in the Visual mode, you can select text and apply commands to it, such as replacing the highlighted text. However, these changes are session-bound and are not saved for future sessions.

Vim’s highlighting system is flexible but requires intentional configuration to make highlights persistent.

Preserving manual highlights across sessions involves using Vim’s autocommands or tweaking the .vimrc file. This ensures that your carefully-crafted highlights remain intact even when you reopen files.

Preserving Highlights Across Sessions

Vim users often spend considerable time setting up manual highlights to improve code readability or to mark sections of interest. Preserving these highlights across sessions can significantly enhance the user experience. To achieve this, one can leverage Vim’s session management capabilities.

To retain highlights, you should save the session with :mksession and restore it with :source Session.vim. However, this method has limitations as it does not save manual :highlight commands by default. To overcome this, you can:

  • Use the viminfo file to store command history, including highlight commands.
  • Write custom functions in your .vimrc to save and restore highlight settings.
  • Employ plugins designed for session persistence that include highlight retention.

Remember, while Vim’s session management is powerful, it requires careful configuration to ensure that your highlights are consistently preserved.

It’s also important to note that some plugins may interfere with session data, so testing your setup is crucial to avoid losing your carefully-crafted highlights.

Configuring Vim for Persistent Highlights

Tweaking .vimrc for Highlight Retention

To ensure that your manual highlights in Vim are not lost between sessions, you can tweak your .vimrc file with specific commands. Preserving your highlights can be as simple as adding a few lines of code to this configuration file. For instance, you can use the autocmd command to reapply highlights every time you open a file.

Here are some steps to consider:

  • Use :highlight to define custom highlight groups.
  • Save these definitions in your .vimrc file.
  • Utilize autocmd BufWinEnter * to reapply the highlight when a buffer is entered.
  • Optionally, create a function in Vimscript to manage complex highlighting logic.

Remember, the goal is to make your highlighting persistent without interfering with Vim’s performance or other plugins.

By carefully managing your .vimrc, you can create a seamless experience where your highlights are consistently applied, allowing you to focus on your work without the distraction of reconfiguring your environment.

Plugins That Enhance Highlighting Persistence

To ensure that your manual highlights in Vim are not lost between sessions, several plugins can be employed to enhance the persistence of these highlights. Plugins are a vital part of Vim’s extensibility, allowing users to maintain their custom highlights effectively.

Some popular plugins that assist with highlight retention include:

  • vim-compiler-go: Highlights syntax errors upon saving a Go file.
  • coc-go: Provides language server features for Go in Vim/Neovim, including syntax highlighting.
  • chalk: Offers intuitive methods for enhancing terminal output, which can be leveraged in Vim for better highlight visibility.
  • box-cli-maker: While not a Vim plugin, it demonstrates the potential for creating highly customized visual elements that could inspire Vim highlight configurations.

It’s important to choose a plugin that not only preserves highlights but also integrates well with your workflow and other Vim configurations.

Remember to review the plugin documentation for specific instructions on how to configure them for highlight retention. Compatibility with your existing setup is crucial to avoid conflicts and ensure a seamless experience.

Using Autocommands to Maintain Highlights

Autocommands in Vim are a powerful feature that can be used to execute commands automatically in response to certain events. By leveraging autocommands, you can ensure that your manual highlights are restored every time you open a file. This can be particularly useful for developers who work with the same set of files regularly and need to maintain their highlights across sessions.

To set up autocommands for highlight retention, you can add specific commands to your .vimrc file. Here’s a simple example of how to use an autocommand to restore highlights:

autocmd BufWinEnter * silent! loadview
autocmd BufWinLeave * mkview

The first command, BufWinEnter, triggers when a buffer window is entered, and it silently loads the view, which includes the highlight settings. The second command, BufWinLeave, is called when leaving a buffer window and saves the current view.

Remember, while autocommands are useful, they should be used judiciously to avoid performance issues. Excessive use of autocommands can slow down Vim, especially when opening or closing files.

Leveraging Plugins to Manage Highlights

vim-go: Go Development with Enhanced Highlighting

The vim-go plugin is a powerhouse for Go developers using Vim, offering a comprehensive suite of features that enhance the coding experience. Quickly execute your current file(s) with [:GoRun]( while benefiting from improved syntax highlighting and folding. Debugging is also a breeze with integrated delve support through :GoDebugStart.

For those looking to explore alternatives to vim-go, the ecosystem is rich with options. Here’s a snapshot of plugins available for various editors, each with its own set of features:

  • vim-compiler-go: Highlights syntax errors on save.
  • go-language-server: Supports the language-server-protocol.
  • gounit-vim: Generates tests from function signatures.
  • theia-go-extension: Provides Go support for Theia IDE.
  • Go Doc: Shows definitions and generates Go documentation in VS Code.

While vim-go remains a popular choice, it’s important to consider the specific needs of your workflow when selecting a plugin. The right tool can significantly streamline your development process.

Marker and Chalk: Tools for Custom Highlights

When it comes to managing highlights in Vim, plugins like Marker and Chalk offer robust solutions. Marker is renowned for its simplicity in matching and marking strings, making it a go-to for colorful terminal outputs. Chalk, on the other hand, is an intuitive package that enhances the visual appeal of console output with ease.

Both plugins serve as powerful tools for developers who require more than the basic highlighting capabilities of Vim. They allow for custom highlights that can be tailored to individual preferences or project requirements. Here’s a quick comparison of their GitHub star ratings, indicating their popularity and community support:

Plugin GitHub Stars
Marker 46
Chalk 442

While Vim’s native highlighting features are sufficient for many users, leveraging plugins like Marker and Chalk can significantly improve your workflow and the readability of your code.

It’s important to note that these plugins are not just about aesthetics; they can also contribute to productivity by making important sections of code stand out. This can be particularly useful when working with large codebases or when navigating complex projects.

Integrating Third-Party Syntax Checkers

Integrating third-party syntax checkers into Vim can significantly enhance your coding experience by providing real-time feedback and ensuring code quality. Vim’s extensibility allows for seamless integration with a variety of syntax checkers, tailored to different programming languages and coding standards. For Go developers, tools like golangci-lint and staticcheck offer comprehensive checks that go beyond the basic linting provided by Vim’s native capabilities.

To effectively integrate these tools, you can leverage plugins such as vim-go or coc-go, which provide out-of-the-box support for Go’s language server protocol (LSP). Configuring the LSP client is crucial for a tailored development environment. For instance, the Neovim documentation suggests using the following minimal configuration as a guide:

  name = 'my-server-name',

By properly setting up your LSP client, you can enjoy features like auto-completion, go-to definition, and on-the-fly syntax checking, all while maintaining your custom highlights.

When selecting a syntax checker, consider the tool’s speed, configurability, and the specific checks it performs. Below is a list of popular Go syntax checkers and their respective features:

  • golangci-lint: Fast execution, parallel linting, caching, and extensive configuration options.
  • staticcheck: In-depth static analysis akin to tools used in other languages like C#.
  • validator: Struct and field validation with support for complex data types.

Each of these tools can be configured to work with Vim, ensuring that your highlights remain visible and unaffected by the syntax checking process.

Advanced Techniques for Highlight Management

Creating Custom Highlight Groups

Creating custom highlight groups in Vim allows for a more personalized and efficient editing experience. Defining your own groups can be particularly useful when working with unique file types or specific coding standards. For instance, if you’re adhering to a style guide like the one for CockroachDB or Hyperledger, custom highlights can help enforce those guidelines visually.

To start, use the :highlight command followed by the group name and desired properties. Here’s a simple example:

:highlight MyGroup ctermbg=red ctermfg=white guibg=#FF0000 guifg=#FFFFFF

This command creates a new highlight group called MyGroup with a red background and white foreground for both terminal and GUI modes. You can then link this new group to specific syntax elements using the :syntax command.

Remember, the key to effective highlight management is consistency. Regularly revisiting and refining your custom groups will ensure they remain helpful and relevant.

When integrating third-party syntax checkers or tools like chalk for prettifying terminal output, custom highlight groups can be leveraged to maintain a coherent color scheme across your development environment. This harmonization is crucial for a seamless workflow and can prevent visual distractions or confusion.

Scripting with Vimscript for Dynamic Highlights

Vimscript, the powerful scripting language of Vim, allows for the creation of dynamic highlights that can adapt to various coding scenarios. By leveraging Vimscript, users can script complex highlighting behaviors that go beyond the static patterns defined in syntax files. For instance, you can write scripts that highlight syntax errors on save, a feature particularly useful in languages like Go where immediate feedback is crucial.

To implement dynamic highlighting, you might start with defining custom functions in your .vimrc file or separate Vimscript files. These functions can then be tied to specific events using Vim’s autocommand feature. For example, you could create an autocommand that triggers a syntax check every time you save a Go file, highlighting any errors detected.

Here’s a simple list of steps to get started with scripting for dynamic highlights:

  • Identify the events you want to trigger your custom highlights.
  • Define Vimscript functions that perform the desired highlighting.
  • Use autocmd to bind your functions to the appropriate file types and events.
  • Test and refine your scripts to ensure they behave as expected.

Utilizing Color Schemes and Terminal Capabilities

When it comes to managing highlights in Vim, leveraging the full potential of color schemes and terminal capabilities can significantly enhance your experience. Color schemes are not just about aesthetics; they can also be functional, helping to distinguish between different types of code and manual highlights effectively.

To optimize your Vim environment for highlight management, consider the following:

  • Select a color scheme that offers clear contrast and supports a wide range of syntax highlighting.
  • Ensure your terminal emulator supports 256-color or true-color for the best visual experience.
  • Customize your .vimrc to include color scheme settings that persist across sessions.

Remember, the right combination of color scheme and terminal settings can make a world of difference in maintaining the visibility and clarity of your highlights.

Additionally, some terminals offer capabilities that go beyond basic color support, such as italic and bold text rendering. These features can be used to create more nuanced highlight groups that stand out in your code. Experiment with different settings to find what works best for your workflow.

Troubleshooting Common Highlighting Issues

Dealing with Highlighting Conflicts

Highlighting conflicts in Vim can arise when multiple plugins or custom configurations compete for control over text appearance. Resolving these conflicts is crucial for maintaining a readable and functional editing environment.

To address highlighting conflicts, consider the following steps:

  • Identify the conflicting plugins or settings by selectively disabling them and observing changes in highlighting behavior.
  • Prioritize your highlighting needs and adjust plugin settings accordingly to define a clear hierarchy of highlight rules.
  • If necessary, manually edit your .vimrc or the specific plugin’s configuration files to resolve overlaps.

Remember, the goal is to achieve a balance where all desired highlights are visible without interfering with each other.

In some cases, you may need to create custom highlight groups or use Vimscript to fine-tune the behavior. This advanced approach allows for dynamic adjustments based on context, file type, or specific conditions within Vim.

Recovering Lost Highlights After Errors

When working with Vim, losing your highlights after an error can be frustrating. Recovering lost highlights is often a matter of retracing your steps. Here’s a quick guide to get you back on track:

  • First, check if the highlights were part of a session that you can restore using :mksession and :source Session.vim.
  • If you’ve set up undofile, you might be able to undo to a point before the error occurred, potentially restoring your highlights.
  • For manually created highlights, reapplying the :highlight command with the same parameters can bring them back.
  • In cases where syntax highlighting is not working properly, as with VHDL file syntax or missing Python keywords like self, ensure your file has the correct filetype with :set filetype=your_language.

Remember, prevention is better than cure. Regularly save your sessions and consider using plugins that automatically save and restore highlights.

If you’ve tried the above steps without success, it might be time to delve into your .vimrc or plugin settings. Sometimes, conflicts or misconfigurations can lead to highlights being lost after errors. Reviewing your configuration files can often reveal the culprit.

Ensuring Compatibility Across Different Environments

Ensuring that your Vim highlights remain consistent across different environments can be challenging. Boldly addressing compatibility is crucial for a seamless transition between systems. Here are some steps to maintain highlight consistency:

  • Verify that the Vim version is the same across environments.
  • Check for the presence of necessary plugins and their versions.
  • Confirm that .vimrc or init.vim configurations are identical.
  • Use version control systems like Git to synchronize configuration files.

Remember, environment discrepancies can lead to unexpected highlight behavior. It’s essential to standardize your setup to prevent such issues.

When working with syntax highlighting, it’s important to understand how Vim interprets and applies your customizations. As mentioned in syntax.txt, Vim’s syntax highlighting enables the editor to display parts of the text with distinct visual properties, such as font or color, which can be specific keywords or patterns. This mechanism is the foundation for ensuring that your highlights work as intended, regardless of the environment.


In conclusion, mastering Vim for Go development is a journey that rewards you with efficiency and a deep focus on the code itself. Throughout this article, we’ve explored practical ways to prevent Vim from clearing your highlights, ensuring that your attention remains on the logic and structure of your code. By leveraging plugins and configurations, you can transform Vim into a powerful environment tailored to your Go programming needs. Remember, the key is to create a setup that complements your workflow, allowing you to code with precision and clarity. Embrace the simplicity and power of Vim, and watch as your Go development process becomes more streamlined and effective.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I prevent Vim from clearing my manual highlights after closing a session?

To retain highlights after closing a session, you can configure Vim to save and restore marks by tweaking your .vimrc file or using plugins that provide highlight persistence.

What are some plugins that can help manage persistent highlights in Vim?

Plugins like vim-go for Go development, Marker, Chalk, and vim-compiler-go can enhance highlighting features and persistence in Vim.

Can Vim integrate with third-party syntax checkers to improve highlighting?

Yes, Vim can integrate with third-party syntax checkers like golangci-lint, staticcheck, and revive to provide enhanced syntax highlighting and error detection.

How do I create custom highlight groups in Vim?

Custom highlight groups can be created using Vimscript by defining new highlight commands and specifying the desired syntax patterns and color schemes.

What should I do if my highlights are conflicting with each other?

If you encounter highlighting conflicts, you may need to adjust the priority of your highlight groups or resolve any overlapping syntax patterns that may be causing the issue.

How can I ensure my Vim highlights are compatible across different environments?

To ensure compatibility, use color schemes and terminal capabilities that are widely supported, and test your configuration across various systems and terminal emulators.

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