One of the features of Vim I use less is it’s ability to edit files over
network. This is possible thanks to the
netrw plugin—it’s the file
browser thingy that pops open when you accidentally end up opening a
directory in Vim instead of a file.
Modern versions of Vim (unlike Vi for instance) will have this plugin
auto-installed, and enabled by default. The main aim of this plugin is
to make file browsing locally and over the network easy. The way this
works is Vim displays a file browser and the contents piped into it by
certain external commands depending on the protocol.
For instance, it uses the
ssh protocol via the
scp command when
accessing files over that protocol. You can in fact substitute other
applications for the external command setting in vim for each of the
My most common usage of ssh these days at work is to edit nginx configuration files. There are two files that I need to check/edit, and the general workflow I follow is open the ssh connection, edit/view the files, exit the remote shell.
I also have an ssh config entry setup, so that I don’t have to provide
the key, IP/hostname, port every time I type the ssh command. One more
key point is that the nginx config files are located in a folder the
same user’s directory tree, which I’m using to log in. These files get
symlinked into the default nginx config file path (
directory by default on Linux machines).
Although this works fine for me, and is fast enough because of all the
shell muscle memory going on, I think I can do better. Note that I have
passphrase-less login setup for the ssh host, and this is key for using
netrw. This the workflow with
One thing to note is that
scp doesn’t support
sudo workflows, so we
won’t be able to save a file in a directory that the ssh user doesn’t
have access to.
If I were to directly edit the files in the default config path, under the root directory, assuming I have root access ssh config also setup, I can do something like:
Some shells fetch the metadata of the folders if you hit Tab to autocomplete the file/folder name! (Although this might be a bit slow the first time).
Since we know the path to the files ahead of time, the file list argument above can be simplified to:
One of the more aesthetic advantages of using
netrw is you get syntax
highlighting that you might have already setup on your local machine!
Sometimes you might want to browse the folder tree rather than
start editing right away. Since
netrw also bundles a directory tree
browser, this becomes straight forward. Let’s say I want to check the
/etc/nginx, knowing that I don’t have edit access, I can
do something like:
Some common commands you can issue in this file-browsing view are shown in the title panel above. For example:
All the available key maps in this mode are listed in the documentation
As with every Vim plugin, the
netrw plugin is highly
configurable. Even if you just stick to the
workflow I mentioned above, it’s a fraction of the functionality offered
by the plugin.
The config I use in my