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Compiling Vim with Ruby support

Vim can easily be extended, not only with Vimscript but also with Ruby, Python, or whatever else. However, Vim needs to be compiled with support for those external languages. On Mac OS X by default it is not. Luckily, it is easy to do it yourself.

The other day I wanted to give the command-t plugin another go. It is a nice fuzzy-search plugin writing in Ruby (with a C extension), and it requires Vim with Ruby support. Of course, MacVim comes with Ruby support built-in, but I prefer running Vim in the terminal, so I was out of luck. “No biggie”, I thought to myself, “how hard can compiling Vim be?” As it turned out, I ran into some issues with Vim immediately crashing after installation, or as soon as I tried to use the command-t.

By installing Vim with Ruby support, you link it to a particular installation of Ruby. Mac OS X comes with Ruby by default, by I use rbenv to switch between different versions. This becomes problematic if you try to compile Vim against one version, and then try to install a plugin like command-t with a C-extension compiled against another version.

I decided to compile both against my system Ruby (1.8.7) as that is the least likely to be messed around with. In a new shell session, I first switched to the stock Ruby version:

$ rbenv shell system
$ ruby -v
ruby 1.8.7 (2010-01-10 patchlevel 229) [universal-darwin11.0]

Compiling Vim

The first actual step is to get the Vim source code. There’s more than one way to skin this cat, but I chose to clone the repository with Mercurial:

$ hg clone https://vim.googlecode.com/hg/ vim

This gives you a vim directory in your current working directory. Change into it to start the whole configure, make, make install routine:

./configure --prefix=/usr/local \
    --enable-gui=no \
    --without-x \
    --disable-nls \
    --enable-multibyte \
    --with-tlib=ncurses \
    --enable-pythoninterp \
    --enable-rubyinterp \
    --with-ruby-command=/usr/bin/ruby \

Note the --enable-rubyinterp – and toss in --enable-pythoninterp while you’re at it. Note you may want to adjust your prefix. Then compile and install:

sudo make install

Finally, make sure [prefix]/bin is in your $PATH. Check it with echo $PATH to see your current $PATH, and edit .bashrc or .zshrc to prepend it if necessary:

export PATH=/usr/local/bin:$PATH

If you source your shell configuration, or just start a new terminal session, you will notice the new version of Vim:

$ which vim
$ vim --version

The output of vim --version will tell you a lot, but somewhere in there is +ruby to indicate you can now run Ruby straight from Vim. Try it by starting Vim and perform the command:

:ruby puts 'Hello, world'

Installing command-t

Installing command-t is pretty easy. The documentation describes how you can install it as a vimball, or straight from the source – for example using Tim Pope’s excellent Pathogen plugin. I opted to install it as a Git submodule and load it with Pathogen. Change into the plugin directory:

cd ~/.vim/bundle/command-t

There’s a nice Rakefile for us there that will handle installing the C-extension. Still in a shell where system Ruby is the currently active Ruby installation, we just need to follow the installation instructions:

ruby extconf.rb
rake make

That should do it; you should now be able to launch Vim and start using command-t. You can find my Vim setup at Github.

  • vim
  • mac os x
  • ruby
Arjan van der Gaag

Arjan van der Gaag

A thirtysomething software developer, historian and all-round geek. This is his blog about Ruby, Rails, Javascript, Git, CSS, software and the web. Back to all talks and articles?


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