Session Management in Vim

Session Management in Vim

26 October, 2020

If you ask me about the most underrated feature in Vim, my answer would be ‘Session Management’ straightaway! Just like any other “modern” editors, Vim does support sessions.

pipes

What is a Session

Before I go in-depth, let me explain what exactly is a Session in Vim. Simply put(from :help session): A Session keeps the Views for all windows, plus the global settings.

An example of session could be: If I have opened a project and worked for an hour, and then closed it. My Vim session would be one hour long.

Sessions in Vim are not persistent by default. One has to make it persistent. Most people do not know about it because they probably have never felt the need for it.

I was one of those people who didn’t feel the need for storing sessions, until recently. And I am not ashamed of it. It just happens… mostly because, we don’t need it yet.

Importance of Session

To answer the question ‘How a persistent Session is Useful’, let’s find out what we lack without it.

  1. Time. Yes! Imagine, you are working on a project, and for some reason, you closed Vim. So when you open it again, you gotta recreate those perfectly sized windows, open files of reconfigure options etc.
  2. Context. It’s not easy to remember which file you were editing, the last time you have worked on a project.

Now, what if I say that you could boot into Vim without losing any of the previous windows, tabs etc? not even the cursor location. That would be great, is not it?

That’s where persistent session comes into action. It enables Vim to load the last session, much like what we see in editors like Visual Studio Code.

Storing Sessions

There are multiple techniques one may use to handle Sessions. I will, however, talk about the one I use.

First, I let Vim look for any existing session files. If one exists for the current session, Vim would update it automatically when I close Vim. The Reason I don’t let Vim save Sessions for which no session file exists, because that makes me counter-productive. For example, I needed to edit a config file, say, .vimrc from my $HOME directory. Had I enabled auto-create session file, a new session file for $HOME directory will be created, which I obviously don’t want. That session does not make any sense.

So, if a session file is not created automatically, how do I create it then? Well, it’s really simple. I defined a command for creating new Sessions, called SessCreate using Vim Language. Now, I can simply call this command from inside Vim whenever I need it.

Let me show you how I did it.

Snippet

fu! SessionCreate()
  if !isdirectory(expand("~/.vim/sessions"))
    execute "call mkdir(expand('~/.vim/sessions', 'p'))"
  endif
  execute 'mksession ~/.vim/sessions/' . split(getcwd(), '/')[-1] . '.vim'
endfunction

command SessCreate call SessionCreate()

Explanation:

if !isdirectory(expand("~/.vim/sessions"))
  execute "call mkdir(expand('~/.vim/sessions', 'p'))"
endif

Check if a directory $HOME/.vim.sessions exist. If not, create it with execute "call mkdir(expand('~/.vim/sessions', 'p'))". This is the directory where sessions are stored. An alternate location for storing session is the project directory itself. But that is not something I want to use, as not everyone uses Vim. So, this would be an added bloat for them.

call in Vim Script is uses to call a function. mkdir() is used to create a new directory. p is a flag that can be passed to mkdir() so that it creates parent directories as and when necessary. Lastly, expand() is used to expand any Shell expandables. Here, it converts ~ to /home/username.

execute 'mksession ~/.vim/sessions/' . split(getcwd(), '/')[-1] . '.vim'

mksession is a built-in command for creating session from current Vim state. It saves the created session in ~/.vim/sessions/DIR_NAME.vim. Here, the DIR_NAME is the working directory where Vim is opened. So, session for ~/Projects/github/awesome-vim would be saved into ~/.vim/sessions/awesome-vim.vim.

Saving a Session in Existing Session File

Now, it’s time for some automation. Check out the following code snippet:

fu! SessionSave()
  if filewritable(expand('~/.vim/sessions/' . split(getcwd(), '/')[-1] . '.vim'))
    execute 'mksession! ~/.vim/sessions/' . split(getcwd(), '/')[-1] . '.vim'
  endif
endfunction

This function checks whether the existing session file is writable. And save latest session if true. That’s it. The exclamation mark(!) is for overwriting previous session.

Restoring a Session

Finally, when I open Vim again, I want saved buffer(if any) to be restored. Following function is responsible for this:

fu! SessionRestore()
  let l:session_file = '~/.vim/sessions/' . split(getcwd(), '/')[-1] . '.vim'
  if filereadable(expand(session_file))
    echo session_file
    execute 'source ~/.vim/sessions/' .  split(getcwd(), '/')[-1] . '.vim'

    if bufexists(1)
      for l in range(1, bufnr('$'))
        if bufwinnr(l) == -1
          exec 'sbuffer ' . l
        endif
      endfor
    endif
  endif
endfunction

Let me explain what it does exactly.

let l:session_file = '~/.vim/sessions/' . split(getcwd(), '/')[-1] . '.vim'
if filereadable(expand(session_file))
  echo session_file
  execute 'source ~/.vim/sessions/' .  split(getcwd(), '/')[-1] . '.vim'
endif

First, check if the file is readable. There’s no point in sourcing it if Vim can’t access it. Then simply source it to Vim. That’s it.

if bufexists(1)
  for l in range(1, bufnr('$'))
    if bufwinnr(l) == -1
      exec 'sbuffer ' . l
    endif
  endfor
endif

bufexists() function checks if any buffer exists. bufnr() returns all available buffers. …and so on. Read more about them using :help FUNC_NAME in Vim.

So, that’s it. Persistent Sessions makes our life dramatically easier when using Vim (or NeoVim, GVim whatever flavour you use).

P.S.: I am a new Vim user. I am open to suggesstions. Feel free to suggest anything that would make use Vim in a more productive way!!

abdus s. azad
About the Author
Abdus is a Software Engineer working at Level. In his free time, he likes to play with Linux-based machines. Contact him at abdus@abdus.net.
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