Show nonprinting characters in Vim
Posted on Sunday, June 14 2015
When editing tabular data or regular text, it is often quite handy to have a visual representation of nonprinting characters like EOL or TAB. To achieve this, Vim provides us with the
listchars option, a feature that has gone unnoticed by me for a long time...
Say Hello to the listchars option
listchars option allows us to set replacements characters for
- End of line (EOL) markers, which are typically newline characters like
- Tab characters
- non-breakable spaces
- Trailing spaces at the end of a line
- Concealed text, a feature of Vim syntax coloring to hide parts of a text
- So called Precedes and Extends which are shown to the left and right of a line when the
wrapoption is turned of and the line is to long to be fully displayed
Vim also supports different colors for the replacement characters via the
SpecialKey syntax coloring options, both of which are honored by most of the popular color schemes.
For a full explanation of this features see Vim's help by typing
Setting the replacements
I use replacements for EOL and Tab and have set the
listchars option via the following line in my
set listchars=tab:▸\ ,eol:¬
The symbols here are Unicode characters and can be entered by typing the sequence
<CTRL-V>u25b8 for the '▸' symbol (Unicode character U25B8) and
<CTRL-V>u00ac for the '¬' symbol (Unicode character U00AC). Also note the blank (
space) after the backslash.
In order to make this work you will also have to enable Unicode support by setting the following options in your
scriptencoding=utf-8 set encoding=utf-8
Of course you can use other characters here. Personally I like the shown symbols for beeing quite unobtrusive.
Turn it on
I wanted the replacements to be shown only if needed so I initially turned them off by setting
It can be turned on by the command
and we can easily toggle between it by the command
which I mapped to the F7 key in my
" Toggle listchars noremap <F7> :set list!<CR> inoremap <F7> <ESC>:set list!<CR>i
The bottome line
So, to sum it up, here are the relevant lines I have set in my
set listchars=tab:▸\ ,eol:¬ set nolist noremap <F7> :set list!<CR> inoremap <F7> <ESC>:set list!<CR>i
All in all this is another 'not-so-widely-known' feature of Vim which is quite useful and I hope this short roundup of it is helpful to you.