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In vim, many syntax elements automatically get inserted on the next line when I start a newline. For example, if I am inside a vim file editing a comment in insert mode, when I go to the next line, I will see the " character inserted at the appropriate indent level so I can continue my comment. I want to know how this is done inside a vim syntax file.

As a more concrete example, let's suppose that I want to make a syntax file that recognizes a bulleted list (using * as the bullet). I could add a simple match expression

    syntax match Bullet /^\s*\*\ /

I can then highlight that bullet with something like

   highlight link Bullet Statement

However, after I complete one bullet point, and hit enter to go to the next line, I need to add something else to get it to automatically add a * before my cursor. Obviously this should take place within the context of the automatic indenting. What exactly do I need to do in order for this syntax insertion to take place?

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2 Answers 2

Many thanks to garyjohn who pointed me in the right direction. For the simple example I asked about, I was able to come up with the following solution.

In ~/.vim/syntax/list.vim, I included the previously mentioned syntax highlighting, namely:

if exists("b:current_syntax)
    finish
endif

syntax match Bullet /^\s*\*\ /
highlight link Bullet SpecialChar

let b:current_syntax = 'list'

Next, in order for vim to automatically detect the list filetype, I added a file ~/.vim/ftdetect/list.vim with the following:

autocmd BufRead,BufNewFile *.list set filetype=list

This file also made it so that vim automatically used any filetype plugins associated with lists. Specifically, I added ~/.vim/ftplugin/list.vim with the following:

setlocal comments+=b:*\ 
setlocal formatoptions+=cro

With respect to this file, there are few items to note. First off, note that I used setlocal so that this command only gets applied to list files. Second, note the trailing whitespace which is being escaped. This makes it so that the comment is a * followed by a space (which matches the regex in the syntax file). Third, note the various things that I added to formatoptions to make it so that vim automatically helps you with the bulleted list. The documentation for these can be found with

:help fo-table

To save the reader time, I'll describe just these four options briefly. The 'c' auto-wraps the comments, inserting the comment leader (in this case '* '). The 'r' automatically inserts the comment leader in insert mode after hitting enter. This option respects indentation so it will allow you to easily make multi-leveled bulleted lists. Finally, the 'o' inserts the comment leader when the o key in normal mode.

Clearly this bulleted lists is a simple example, but it serves to illustrate how more complex comment continuations can be added to ftplugins.

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The commands in a Vim syntax file control the highlighting of elements in a file according to the syntax of the language used in the file. They do not control the automatic insertion of anything.

Vim automatically inserts a " at the start of a new line if it knows that " is a comment leader, it thinks that you are typing a comment, and certain other settings are in effect that tell Vim that you want it to automatically insert a comment leader at that point. See

:help 30.6

for an overview of commenting. Also see

:help 'comments'
:help 'formatoptions'

To make Vim recognize * as a bullet point, you can execute this:

:set comments+=b:*

How well that works will depend on the 'filetype' of the file you are editing and the values of the 'comments' and 'formatoptions' options. It's hard to make a specific recommendation without knowing more about the conditions under which you want to use * as a bullet.

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