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Ssh Key Fingerprints, Identicons, and ASCII art
Tyler Cipriani Posted

Security at the expense of usability comes at the expense of security.


Public key authentication is confusing, even for “professionals”. Part of the confusion is that base64-encoded public keys and private keys are just huge globs of meaningless letters and numbers. Even the hashed fingerprints of these keys are just slightly smaller meaningless globs of letters and numbers.

It is a known fact in psychology that people are slow and unreliable at processing or memorizing meaningless strings

Hash Visualization: a New Technique to improve Real-World Security

Ensuring that two keys are the same means comparing key hashes— fingerprints. When using the md5 hash algorithm, comparing a key fingerprint means comparing 16, 16-bit numbers (and for the uninitiated that means blankly staring at 32 meaningless letters and numbers). In practice, that usually means not comparing 32 meaningless letters and numbers except when strictly necessary: Security at the expense of usability comes at the expense of security.

SSH Tricks

I am constantly troubleshooting ssh. I spend a lot of time looking at the authlog and comparing keys.

I’ve learned some fun tricks that I use constantly:

Get fingerprint from public key ssh-keygen(1)
ssh-keygen -l [-E md5] -f [public key]
Generate a public key given a private key ssh-keygen(1)
ssh-keygen -y -f [private key]
Automatically add server key to known_hosts file ssh-keyscan(1):
ssh-keyscan -H [hostname] >> ~/.ssh/known_hosts
List key fingerprints in ssh-agent ssh-agent(1)
ssh-add [-E md5] -l

When I get the message, Permission denied (publickey), I have a protocol.

  1. Find the fingerprint of the key being used by the authenticating host. This will either be in ssh-agent or I may have to use ssh-keygen -l -E md5 -f [publickey] on the authenticating host.
  2. Find the authorized_keys file on the target machine: grep 'AuthorizedKeysFile' /etc/ssh/sshd_config
  3. Compare the fingerprint of the public key from the authenticating host is among the fingerprints listed in the authorized_keys file.

Most ssh problems are caused by (SURPRISE!) the public key of the authenticating host not being present in the AuthorizedKeysFile on the target.

The Worm Bishop

Most of the time when I “compare fingerprints” of keys, I copy, I paste, and finally I use the time-honored global regular expression print command. This is insecure behavior for myriad reasons. The secure way to compare keys is by manually comparing fingerprints, but meaningless string comparison is hard, which makes security hard, and, so, most folks simply aren’t secure. Security at the expense of usability comes at the expense of security.

In the release announcement for OpenSSH 5.1 a different approach to comparing fingerprints was announced:

Visual fingerprinnt [sic] display is controlled by a new ssh_config(5) option “VisualHostKey”. The intent is to render SSH host keys in a visual form that is amenable to easy recall and rejection of changed host keys.

Announce: OpenSSH 5.1 released

The “VisualHostKey” is the source of the randomart ascii that you see if you add the -v flag to the ssh-keygen command from above:

$ ssh-keygen -lv -E md5 -f ~/.ssh/
2048 MD5:b2:c7:2a:77:84:3a:62:97:56:d0:95:49:63:fd:5d:2b (RSA)
+---[RSA 2048]----+
|       .++       |
|       .+..     .|
|     . .   . . ..|
|    . .     .E.. |
|     ...S     .  |
|      o+.        |
|     +..o        |
|  o B .o.        |
| . + +..         |

This is something like an identicon for your ssh key:

Identicons’ intended applications are in helping users recognize or distinguish textual information units in context of many.

– Don Park

Although it is important to note that while the intent of an identicon is to distinguish against many, the intent of the VisualHostKey is more ambiguous.

The work to add this randomart was based on the paper Hash Visualization: a New Technique to improve Real-World Security, and the algorithm that generates these bits of art is discussed in detail in the paper The drunken bishop: An analysis of the OpenSSH fingerprint visualization algorithm. Also, interestingly, while the above paper contains a reference to the apocryphal drunken bishop leaving stacks of coins in each square he’s visited, the code comments in OpenSSH refer to a “worm crawling over a discrete plane leaving a trace […] everywhere it goes”.

Regardless of whether the algorithm’s protagonist is a worm or a bishop the story is similar. There is a discrete plane (or an atrium), the protagonist is in the middle (and possibly drunk), and moves around the room leaving a trail (either because they are slimy or because they are…drunk? and dropping coins because they’re drunk? I guess.), the more times they visit a particular part of the plane/atrium, the slimier/more-coin-filled it becomes. The direction of movement is determined by the little-endian processing of each word in the md5 checksum, so each run should create the same unique randomart for the same unique checksum.

I wrote a simple python version that visualizes the algorithm step-by-step which may be a better explainer than any meaningless strings I can group together:

The Drunken Slime Bishop
The Drunken Slime Bishop

ASCII Art is meaningless characters

Confession time: I have never used randomart even when copying and pasting is impossible—I just compare strings. I have VisualHostKey yes in my ~/.ssh/config, but I almost never look at since OpenSSH warns me if a host-key has changed, so mostly it’s just taking up vertical space.

But why?

I think the reason I don’t use VisualHostKey to help distinguish between public-keys is that it failed to meet the regularity property of hash visualization:

Humans are good at identifying geometric objects (such as circles, rectangles, triangles, and lines), and shapes in general. We call images, which contain mostly recognizable shapes, regular images. If an image is not regular, i.e. does not contain identifiable objects or patterns, or is too chaotic (such as white noise), it is difficult for humans to compare or recall it.

Hash Visualization: a New Technique to improve Real-World Security

Randomized ASCII art that is composed of common letters and frequently used symbols is very nearly the same as a string. The constituent parts are the same. This is the first problem: while Unicode contains symbols that are more recognizable, ASCII contains a very limited set of characters. This is a property that makes ASCII as an art-medium so charming, but makes abstract ASCII-art hard to remember as it fails to form geometric patterns that are easily distinguished from noise.

Secondly, ASCII randomart lacks any color, which is a property mentioned for hash visualizations as well as one of the more distinguishing features of identicons:

humans are very good at identifying geometrical shapes, patterns, and colors, and they can compare two images efficiently

Hash Visualization: a New Technique to improve Real-World Security

Can I do better?

No. Probably not if I had to work under the constraint that these hash visualizations need to work everywhere OpenSSH works. OpenSSH is an amazing piece of software and they are solving Hard™ problems while folks like me write blogs about ASCII art.

Donate to them now…I’ll wait.

For the purposes of differentiation, under the constraint that it must work on all terminals, I like the current solution. My liking the solution didn’t, of course, stop me from fiddling with the existing solution.

Add color

The first stab I took at this was to add color. As an initial try I simply used the first 6 hex digits of the md5 checksum, converted those to rgb, and converted those to true-color ansi output:

def to_rgb(color):
    return int(color[:2], 16), int(color[2:4], 16), int(color[4:], 16)

def to_ansi_rgb(color):
    r, g, b = to_rgb(color)
    return '\x1b[38;2;{};{};{}m'.format(r, g, b)

This actually makes a huge difference in my ability to quickly differentiate between on key and another:

|       .++       |
|       .+..     .|
|     . .   . . ..|
|    . .     .E.. |
|     ...S     .  |
|      o+.        |
|     +..o        |
|  o B .o.        |
| . + +..         |


|      o .        |
|     = +         |
|    . = o        |
|       = +       |
|      . S  .     |
|       o..o .    |
|       o. o=     |
|      . ..=..    |
|    E.   o.+.    |

Becomes purple-ish vs green, which is easy for me, but probably less easy for a sizable portion of the population. Further, while this solution works in terminals that support true-color output, I didn’t even take the time to make it fail gracefully to 8-bit color. Of course, with 8-bit color there are fewer means to differentiate via color. While color is visually distinctive to me, it is likely infeasible to implement, or unhelpful to a large portion of the population. Fair enough.

Different Charsets

Unicode encodes some interesting characters to represent slime nowadays. There is the block element set, the drawing set, and even a micellaneous symbols set. I’m on linux so obviously some of these sets just look like empty boxes to me. But in my slime-bishop repo I did add support for a few symbols.

Oddly, I don’t think the symbols add too much to help differentiation.

|       ░▓▓       |
|       ░▓░░     ░|
|     ░ ░   ░ ░ ░░|
|    ░ ░     ░E░░ |
|     ░░░S     ░  |
|      ▒▓░        |
|     ▓░░▒        |
|  ▒ ▆ ░▒░        |
| ░ ▓ ▓░░         |

I think the problem of memory persists (sensible-chuckle.gif). We’re good at remembering regular pictures, but do abstract pictures count as regular?

Final thoughts

Visual hash algorithms are a novel concept, and may become more useful over time. At the very least the ability to quickly reject that two keys match at a glance is a step in the right direction. The drunken bishop is certainly a fun algorithm to try to improve (while paying absolutely no attention to reasonable constrains like “terminal background color” or “POSIX compatibility”). The drunken slimy worm bishop, with their coins and/or their slime trails is certainly useful for differentiation (just like identicons), but it is not useful for identification. I hope that the distinction between differentiation and identification is clear for users of OpenSSH, but I’m not entirely sure that it is.

Improving the usability of security tooling is as important as it’s ever been; however, the corollary of, “security at the expense of usability comes at the expense of security.” is: usability that creates a false sense of security is at the expense of security. And we must remain mindful that we are not providing usability that is meaningless or (worse) usability that widens the attack surface without providing any real security benefit. Part of that comes from a shared understanding of the available features in the tools we already collectively use. In this way we can build on the work of one another, each bringing a unique perspective, and ultimately, maybe (just maybe) create tools that are usable and secure.

Topographical Sorting in Golang
Tyler Cipriani Posted

I own a fair number of computer books that I have never read from cover-to-cover (and a slim few that I have). I tend to dip in-and-out of programming books—absorbing a chapter here and a chapter there. One of the books I pick up with some frequency is Algorithms Unlocked by Thomas H. Cormen, who is one of the authors of the often cited CLRS which is a hugely comprehensive textbook covering the topic of algorithms.

Algorithms Unlocked, in contrast to its massive textbook counterpart, is a slim and snappy little book filled with all kinds of neat algorithms. It doesn’t focus on any specific language implementations, but rather describes algorithms in pseudo-code and plain English. After an algorithm is introduced, there is a discussion of the Big-O and Big-Θ run-times.

One of the things I like to do is read about a particular algorithm and test my understanding by implementing the pseudo code in some programming language. Since I recently ran into a graph problem while working on blubber —which is a Go project—I figured I’d implement the first algorithm in the Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) chapter in Go.

Also, since I haven’t written anything on my blog in a while, I figured I’d write up my adventure!

Directed Graphs Represented in Go

The first problem when attempting to create a topographic sort of a graph in any programming language is figuring out how to represent a graph. I chose a map with an int as a key (which seems pretty much like a slice but the use of a map makes this implementation type agnostic). Each vertex n is represented with a key in the map, each vertex that adjacent to nm—is stored as a slice in the map referenced by the key n.

package main

import "fmt"

func main() {
    // Directed Acyclic Graph
    vertices := map[int][]int{
        1:  []int{4},
        2:  []int{3},
        3:  []int{4, 5},
        4:  []int{6},
        5:  []int{6},
        6:  []int{7, 11},
        7:  []int{8},
        8:  []int{14},
        9:  []int{10},
        10: []int{11},
        11: []int{12},
        13: []int{13},
        14: []int{},

    // As yet unimplemented topographicalSort

Topographical Sort

I implemented the algorithm in a function named topographicalSort. The inline comments are the pseudo-code from the book—also noteworthy I stuck with the unfortunate variable names from the book (although somewhat adapted to camelCase to stick, a bit, to Go conventions):

// topographicalSort Input: g: a directed acyclic graph with vertices number 1..n
// Output: a linear order of the vertices such that u appears before v
// in the linear order if (u,v) is an edge in the graph.
func topographicalSort(g map[int][]int) []int {
    linearOrder := []int{}

    // 1. Let inDegree[1..n] be a new array, and create an empty linear array of
    //    verticies
    inDegree := map[int]int{}

    // 2. Set all values in inDegree to 0
    for n := range g {
        inDegree[n] = 0

    // 3. For each vertex u
    for _, adjacent := range g {
        // A. For each vertex *v* adjacent to *u*:
        for _, v := range adjacent {
            //  i. increment inDegree[v]

    // 4. Make a list next consisting of all vertices u such that
    //    in-degree[u] = 0
    next := []int{}
    for u, v := range inDegree {
        if v != 0 {

        next = append(next, u)

    // 5. While next is not empty...
    for len(next) > 0 {
        // A. delete a vertex from next and call it vertex u
        u := next[0]
        next = next[1:]

        // B. Add u to the end of the linear order
        linearOrder = append(linearOrder, u)

        // C. For each vertex v adjacent to u
        for _, v := range g[u] {
            // i. Decrement inDegree[v]

            // ii. if inDegree[v] = 0, then insert v into next list
            if inDegree[v] == 0 {
                next = append(next, v)

    // 6. Return the linear order
    return linearOrder

In our vertices DAG, the only vertices with an inDegree of 0 are 1, 2, and 9, so in a topographic sort one of those number would be first. Running this code seems to support that assertion:

$ go build -o topo_sort
$ ./topo_sort
[9 1 2 10 3 4 5 6 7 11 8 12 14]

In fact, all the vertices with no inDegrees ended up right at the beginning of this slice.

Can you dig it?

DAGs are ubiquitous and have many uses both inside and outside of computers. I keep running into them again and again: I stare this dad-joke cold in the face, once again, this evening.

Algorithms Unlocked talks in approachable language about using a DAG to graph and understand things like the order of operations for cooking a meal or for putting on hockey goalie equipment—I find the plain-spoken explanations charming and helpful. I dig this book, and this is far from the first exercise I’ve hacked through out of it. I’m sure I’ll be picking up this book again sometime in the near future–who knows?–I might even finish it!

Offline spellcheck
Tyler Cipriani Posted

In which I futilely attempt to use aspell to stop using Google as spellcheck.

I am embarrassingly atrocious at spelling. In Vim, which I use for email via Mutt, I can use :set spell. In Emacs I can use flyspell-mode. Browsers all have spellcheck now, seemingly. Still… sometimes I find myself just Googling™ (or DDGing™) individual words as I flail through the darkness that is spelling in the English language. This is stupid and ridiculous for myriad reasons that I don’t really want to talk about.

As is my wont, through force of will, by might of awk, and by glory of xsel: I have written a function in my dotfiles that solves this problem for me. It might even be generally useful, bask in its awesomeness:

spell function in action
spell function in action
spell() {
    local candidates oldifs word array_pos

    # Parse the apsell format and return a list of ":" separated words
    read -a candidates <<< "$(printf "%s\n" "$1" \
        | aspell -a \
        | awk -F':' '/^&/ {
            split($2, a, ",")
            for (x in a) {
                gsub(/^[ \t]/, "", a[x])
                result = a[x] ":" result
            gsub(/:$/, "", result)
            print result

    # Reverse number and print the parsed bash array because the list comes
    # out of gawk backwards
    for item in "${candidates[@]}"; do
        printf '%s\n' "$item"
    done \
        | tac \
        | nl \
        | less -FirSX

    printf "[ $(tput setaf 2)?$(tput sgr0) ]\t%s" \
        'Enter the choice (empty to cancel, 0 for input): '
    read index

    [[ -z "$index" ]] && return
    [[  "$index" == 0 ]] && word="$1"

    [[ -z "$word" ]] && {
        array_pos=$(( ${#candidates[@]} - index ))

    [[ -n "$word" ]] && {
        printf "$word" | xsel -p
        printf "Copied '%s' to clipboard!\n" "$word"
    } || printf "[ $(tput setaf 1):($(tput sgr0) ] %s\n" 'No match found'


Maybe someone can use this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Rsync Algorithm in Python
Tyler Cipriani Posted

I’ve often pondered this great and terrible beast – rsync. It’s spiny, nearly impenetrable command-line interface. Its majestic and wonderful efficiency. The depths of its man page, and the heights of its use-cases.

Leaving aside the confusing implications of trailing slashes, rsync is amazing. The Wikimedia deployment tooling – scap (which at this point has been iterated on for over a decade) – still makes heavy use of rsync. At $DAYJOB - 3, rsync is used to manage a library of hundreds of thousands of flac, mp3, and ogg files. It’s hard to argue with rsync. The amount of network traffic generated via rsync is really hard to beat with any other program.

But what’s it doing?

rsync is fast. rsync is ubiquitous. rsync uses few client resources, and little network IO. OK…Why?

I started reading about the rsync algorithm when a fellow I work alongside began espousing the relative superiority of zsync for the case of our deployment server. Currently scap has a built-in (and quite fancy) fan-out system so as not to put too high of a load on only 1 server; however, zsync flips the rsync algorithm on its head, running the rsync algorithm on the client rather than the server. What exactly is rsync doing that makes the load on the server so high?

The Meat

For the purposes of explanation, let’s say you ran the command: rsync α β.

The rsync algorithm boils down to 5 steps

  1. Split file β into chunks of length n.
  2. Calculate a weak (adler32) and strong (md4) checksum for each chunk of file β.
  3. Send those checksums to the rsync server (where file α is)
  4. Find all the chunks of length n in α that are in β by comparing checksums
  5. Create a list of instructions to recreate α from β


Do it then

I actually think it would have been easier for me to understand a bad python implementation of the rsync algorithm, than to read a tech report on rsync. So with that in mind, here’s a bad python implementation of the rsync algorithm.


First it might be helpful to define my block size, and create a couple of helper functions to create the rolling checksums.

import collections
import hashlib
import zlib


# Helper functions
# ----------------
def md5_chunk(chunk):
    Returns md5 checksum for chunk
    m = hashlib.md5()
    return m.hexdigest()

def adler32_chunk(chunk):
    Returns adler32 checksum for chunk
    return zlib.adler32(chunk)

I’ll also need a function that creates a rolling checksum of a file. The checksums_file function will read in BLOCK_SIZE bytes through to the end of the file, calculate both the adler32 checksum and the md5 checksum for those chunks, and then put those chunks in a data structure.

I’d like a nice interface beyond primitives for both the signatures and the list of checksums – I’ll create 2 objects Signature and Chunks to make that interface. Chunks is basically a list of Signatures with a few other methods for fanciness.

# Checksum objects
# ----------------
Signature = collections.namedtuple('Signature', 'md5 adler32')

class Chunks(object):
    Data stucture that holds rolling checksums for file B
    def __init__(self):
        self.chunks = []
        self.chunk_sigs = {}

    def append(self, sig):
        self.chunk_sigs.setdefault(sig.adler32, {})
        self.chunk_sigs[sig.adler32][sig.md5] = len(self.chunks) - 1

    def get_chunk(self, chunk):
        adler32 = self.chunk_sigs.get(adler32_chunk(chunk))

        if adler32:
            return adler32.get(md5_chunk(chunk))

        return None

    def __getitem__(self, idx):
        return self.chunks[idx]

    def __len__(self):
        return len(self.chunks)

# Build Chunks from a file
# ------------------------
def checksums_file(fn):
    Returns object with checksums of file
    chunks = Chunks()
    with open(fn) as f:
        while True:
            chunk =
            if not chunk:


        return chunks

Now I need a couple of methods to complete the algorithm – one that will find the BLOCK_SIZE chunks in file β that are in file α, and one that will produce instructions that can be used to assemble the new and improved β from the β we’ve already got.

The _get_block_list function will return a list of chunk indices and bytes. The chunk indices are indices of chunks already present in file β (we know from the checksums_file function), the bytes are raw bytes that are in α but may not be in β. If a chunk is found in α that is not in β then the first byte of that chunk is appended to the output list and a checksum is calculated for the next BLOCK_SIZE chunk.

This is why network IO for rsync is so efficient – the only raw data that is sent is the information missing from the remote. This is also why rsync causes higher load on the server than the client – it’s not just checksumming files, it’s checksumming, comparing, and building a diff. And it’s doing that process for every machine to which it is attempting to sync.

def _get_block_list(file_one, file_two):
    The good stuff.

    1. create rolling checksums file_two
    2. for each chunk in file one, determine if chunk is already in file_two
        a. If so:
            i. return the index of that chunk
            ii. move the read head by the size of a chunk
        b. If not:
            i. return the next byte
            ii. move the read head by 1 byte
    3. start over at 2 until you're out of file to read
    checksums = checksums_file(file_two)
    blocks = []
    offset = 0
    with open(file_one) as f:
        while True:
            chunk =
            if not chunk:

            chunk_number = checksums.get_chunk(chunk)

            if chunk_number is not None:
                offset += BLOCK_SIZE
                offset += 1

    return blocks

The poorly named file function (but it’s in the module, so rsync.file is good…right? No? OK.) takes the list of chunk indices and raw bytes from _get_block_list, finds the chunks in β referenced by the index, combines those chunks with the raw bytes from α and returns a string that is the same as file α – it just took a weird route to get there :)

def file(file_one, file_two):
    Essentially this returns file one, but in a fancy way :)

    The output from get_block_list is a list of either chunk indexes or data as

    If it's a chunk index, then read that chunk from the file and append it to
    output. If it's not a chunk index, then it's actual data and should just be
    appended to output directly.
    output = ''
    with open(file_two) as ft:
        for block in _get_block_list(file_one, file_two):
            if isinstance(block, int):
       * BLOCK_SIZE)
                output +=
                output += block

    return output

Creating a python file that imports this script as a module, and invokes file is all you need to actually run it. I wrote a bunch of tests to help me write the script. The core of the test file was simply:

import rsync

if __name__ == '__main__':
    rsync.file('fixtures/foo.txt', 'fixtures/bar.txt')

And at the end of our python-ing, we came to see the rsync beast in a new light – not a beast at all, just a misunderstood algorithm with a lot of command line flags. The End.

Literate Vimrc
Tyler Cipriani Posted

Literate ~/.vimrc

This blog post is my ~/.vimrc now.

Hold on, let me explain.

Why would anyone do a thing like this?

I have tons of comments in my ~/.vimrc file. I try to leave a lot of comments because everything in my Vim configuration is hard-won knowledge. My ~/.vimrc is accumulated knowledge from the day I first opened the editor and couldn’t figure out how to leave until now, many years later, when I open my editor and don’t have any reason to leave. I have tweaked, cajoled, and tamed this beast called Vim. I think a lot of folks have configuration kind of like that – it’s knowledge that is locked-away, not privately or purposefully, just badly-documented and ubiquitous. This is a problem.

So I made a thing.

This is an experiment that seeks to answer: can my ~/.vimrc be a page on my website?

Literate programming

Literate programming is the idea that your code should work as a narrative as well as a functional piece of software. This is a practice that was popularized by Donald Knuth and was utilized in writing the source code for TeX.

The are times when literate programming may not be appropriate; however, in this instance – the case of a .vimrc – I feel like literate programming will be helpful to remind me what a setting is and why I applied it. This also may mean that my accumulated Vim knowledge (however limited it may be) is more generally accessible than if it were just a plaintext documents sitting in my dotfiles.

Literate Vimscript

My resolve to make a literate ~/.vimrc led to some searching on DuckDuckGo and a slow, settling realization that I was going to have to write the plugin that does this. Keeping your Emacs configuration as a literate document written in org-mode is pretty common practice at this point, so I made the faulty assumption that a Vim configuration written in Markdown would be a common aspiration as well.

I was wrong and thus was the genesis of LiterateVimrc.

“Literate” Vimrc is more than a bit of a misnomer. It, unlike Donald Knuth’s vision of Literate Programming, does not support a loosely coupled web of macros – instead it just lets you write a file in Markdown that has codeblocks (as defined by v0.27 of the CommonMark spec) containing Vimscript as your ~/.vimrc file.


To install LiterateVimsrc copy the autoload/literavevimrc.vim file into your ~/.vim/autoload directory, move your current ~/.vimrc to ~/ and add ~~~ to to first and last lines of that file (to create fenced codeblock). Inside your (now empty) ~/.vimrc add the line execute literatevim#load("~/") and everything should remain the same.

Now you are free to add text explaining your configuration and divide your configuration into blocks. This blog post is currently acting as my ~/.vimrc file, as of this writing. This may be a bad idea. I do expect to update it somewhat regularly, but his frontmatter should remain the same.

My ~/.vimrc

This begins the content of my ~/.vimrc file. It includes various explanations and links that may only make sense to me. Here be dragons. You have been warned.

The first lines that should be in every ~/.vimrc – disabling arrow keys – because it’s not enough to use vim, you’ve got to live it.

noremap <up> <nop>
inoremap <up> <nop>

noremap <down> <nop>
inoremap <down> <nop>

noremap <left> <nop>
noremap <right> <nop>
inoremap <left> <nop>
inoremap <right> <nop>
" B A start

What is this ‘Vee-Eye’ of which you speak?

Vim’s compatible mode means lots of plugins won’t work. It evidently means that you can’t use \ in vim scripts to break a command across a few lines. nocompatible is also necessary for Vundle which is my vim packagemanager of choice.

set nocompatible


All of my plugins. To install all of my plugins on a brand new machine I can run vim +PluginInstall +qall, which is pretty neat.

filetype off " required
set rtp+=~/.vim/bundle/Vundle.vim
call vundle#begin()

" let Vundle manage Vundle, required
Plugin 'gmarik/Vundle.vim'

" Other plugins
Plugin 'vim-pandoc/vim-pandoc-syntax'
Plugin 'tpope/vim-surround'
Plugin 'groenewege/vim-less'
Plugin 'kchmck/vim-coffee-script'
Plugin 'kien/ctrlp.vim'
Plugin 'Lokaltog/vim-easymotion'
Plugin 'jistr/vim-nerdtree-tabs'
Plugin 'scrooloose/syntastic'
Plugin 'godlygeek/tabular'
Plugin 'majutsushi/tagbar'
Plugin 'goldfeld/vim-seek'
Plugin 'altercation/vim-colors-solarized'
Plugin 'joonty/vdebug'
Plugin 'vim-airline/vim-airline'
Plugin 'vim-airline/vim-airline-themes'
Plugin 'scrooloose/nerdtree'
Plugin 'Shougo/neocomplete'
Plugin 'Shougo/neosnippet'
Plugin 'juvenn/mustache'
Plugin 'nathanaelkane/vim-indent-guides'
Plugin 'tpope/vim-fugitive'
Plugin 'tpope/vim-rsi'
Plugin 'dag/vim-fish'
Plugin 'rodjek/vim-puppet'
Plugin 'ClockworkNet/vim-vcl'
Plugin 'airblade/vim-gitgutter'
Plugin 'fatih/vim-go'

call vundle#end()            " required
filetype plugin indent on    " required

A Random solution to a random problem

This disables Background Color Erase (BCE) when the $TERM env var contains the text 256color. The problem I was seeing is summarized on Suraj N. Kurapati’s blog post.

This may, in fact, not be necessary. At least according to reddit

if &term =~ '256color'
   set t_ut=

Basic options

let mapleader=','
set t_Co=256              " My terminal's got all those colors, yo

set title                 " Change the terminal title
set encoding=utf-8        " Show utf-8 chars
set showcmd               " count highlighted
set ruler                 " Show where I am in the command area
set showmode              " -- INSERT (appreciation)-- :)
set laststatus=2          " always show the status line
                          " ↪ (0 = never, 1 = default [multi-window only])
set mouse=a               " Use the mouse

set modelines=0           " Don't read first/last lines of file for settings
set hidden                " Stash unwritten files in buffer
set vb                    " Don't beep at me
set cursorline            " Highlight current line
set scrolloff=3           " Start scrolling when I'm 3 lines from top/bottom
set history=1000          " Remember commands and search history
set backspace=2           " Backspace over indent, eol, and insert
set mousehide             " Hide the mouse pointer while typing

set number                " Show linenumbers
set nowrap                " Turn off linewrap
set list                  " Show invisible chars
set tabstop=4             " 4 spaces
set shiftwidth=4          " 4 spaces
set softtabstop=4         " 4 spaces
set expandtab             " Expand tabs to spaces

set hlsearch              " highlight my search
set incsearch             " incremental search
set wrapscan              " Set the search scan to wrap around the file

set ignorecase            " when searching
set smartcase             " …unless I use an uppercase character


I have actually been considering what it would be like to work without syntax highlighting. I may be too far gone to start trying, but it’d certainly make me more attune to various code problems rather than code colors. In any event, with some of the huge files I view the syntax sync minline option and the synmaxcol=2048 are lifesavers.

syntax on                 " Syntax highlighting
syntax sync minlines=256  " Makes big files slow
set synmaxcol=2048        " Also long lines are slow
set autoindent            " try your darndest to keep my indentation
set smartindent           " Be smarter about indenting dummy

Format options

c - Auto-wrap comments using textwidth, inserting the current comment leader automatically.

o - Automatically insert the current comment leader after hitting ‘o’ or ‘O’ in Normal mode.

t - Auto-wrap text using textwidth

q - Allow formatting of comments with “gq”.

r - Automatically insert the current comment leader after hitting in Insert mode.

I have a different setting for format options when emailing in mutt. There I use set formatoptions=aw which works for format-flowed emails.

set formatoptions=cotqr  " I like smart comments


At some point in the past I used to use the marker for folding (which was opened with {{{ and closed by }}}) I found this a nice way to divide up things like my ~/.vimrc for instance; however, what’s even nicer is folding on indent. It makes reading yaml files super easy. I read lots of very (VERY) large yaml files. I suppose I could do this with an autocmd, but I set it globally instead ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

" set foldmethod=marker     " Fold on 3x{
set foldmethod=indent
set nofoldenable          " But turn it off initially


I needed this for running some commands in Vim inside fishshell which I used for a time and then abandoned. I think that fishshell is really great (and it’s an actual programming language), the problem with it is two-fold:

  1. Nobody wants to push fishshell on a server – which I understand
  2. Using it requires a million little hacks like the one below

This is the flip side of fixing all the dumb decisions of the bourne shell – everyone else has already worked around them (obligatory xkcd).

" set shell=/bin/bash\ --login
" set shell=bash            " Needed if using fishshell

Backup and Swap files

I hate all the little backup and swap files all over the place. There has been 1 time when these would have come in handy in the past decade as far as I can remember.

set nobackup
set nowritebackup
set noswapfile


" Colorscheme
" colorscheme solarized
" let darkcolorbg='#839496'

set background=dark
let darkcolorbg=234
colorscheme Tomorrow-Night

" GUI Font (same as my gnome-terminal font)
set guifont=Source\ Code\ Pro\ 14

" Use the same symbols as TextMate for tabstops and EOLs
set listchars=tab:▸\ ,eol:¬\,trail:·

Vim 7.0.3 new features

Maybe I should update the stuff that hedges on a machine not having Vim 7.0.3 since version 8 is out now. This is a project for later.

if v:version >= 703
  set colorcolumn=75
  hi ColorColumn ctermbg=234
  set undodir=~/.vim-undo
  set undofile
  set undolevels=1000 "max number of changes that can be undone
  set undoreload=10000 "max number lines to save for undo on buffer reload

  " Toggle line numbers in normal mode, set by default
  set number relativenumber
  function! NumberToggle()
    if(&relativenumber == 1)
      set number norelativenumber
      set number relativenumber

  nnoremap <leader>n :call NumberToggle()<cr>


I don’t really know why I still have OSX hacks in all my dotfiles. Maybe someday I’ll be forced to jump off the Linux ship. I assume I’ll be jumping to a BSD or something at that point though.

if has("unix")
    let s:uname = system("uname")
    if s:uname == "Darwin\n"
        set clipboard=unnamed

Very Magic

I’m not sure if I should turn this off. Half the time I think it’s great, the other half it’s a pain. I guess leaving it on for now seems fine.

nnoremap / /\v


" Vimrc editing
nnoremap <silent><leader>ev :vsplit $MYVIMRC<cr>
nnoremap <silent><leader>sv :source $MYVIMRC<cr>

" un-highlight search results
nnoremap <silent><leader><space> :noh<cr>

" Toggle auto-indent before clipboard paste
set pastetoggle=<leader>p

" Shortcut to rapidly toggle `set list`
nnoremap <silent><leader>l :set list!<cr>

" Normal/Visual tab for bracket pairs
nnoremap <tab> %
vnoremap <tab> %

"Opens a vertical split and switches over (,v)
nnoremap <leader>v <C-w>v<C-w>l

"Moves around split windows
nnoremap <leader>w <C-w><C-w>

"Close a window
nnoremap <silent><leader>q :q<cr>

" Close buffer
noremap <silent><leader>d :bd<cr>

" Buffer previous
noremap <silent><leader>z :bp<CR>

" Buffer next
noremap <silent><leader>x :bn<CR>

nnoremap <S-Tab> gT
nnoremap <silent> <S-t> :tabnew %<CR>

" Set working directory
nnoremap <leader>. :lcd %:p:h<CR>

" Vmap for maintain Visual Mode after shifting > and <, prevents the use of
" '.' to repeat
" vmap < <gv
" vmap > >gv

" Better use of folding
" nnoremap <leader>z za

Status Line

I leave this status line here more as a reference than anything. Currently (as can be seen in the Plugins section) I’m using vim-airline for my statusbar.

augroup ft_statuslinecolor
    au InsertEnter * hi StatusLine ctermfg=196 guifg=#FF3145
    au InsertLeave * hi StatusLine ctermfg=130 guifg=#CD5907
augroup END
set statusline=%f    " Path.
set statusline+=%m   " Modified flag.
set statusline+=%r   " Readonly flag.
set statusline+=%w   " Preview window flag.
set statusline+=\    " Space.
set statusline+=%=   " Right align.
" Line and column position and counts.
set statusline+=\ %l\/%L\ \/\/\ %03c)


Don’t expand tabs in Makefiles or php files

autocmd FileType make setlocal noexpandtab
autocmd Filetype php setlocal noexpandtab
autocmd Filetype go setlocal noexpandtab

Highlight any trailing whitespace in red

highlight ExtraWhitespace ctermbg=red guibg=red
match ExtraWhitespace /\s\+$/
autocmd BufWinEnter * match ExtraWhitespace /\s\+$/
autocmd InsertEnter * match ExtraWhitespace /\s\+\%#\@<!$/
autocmd InsertLeave * match ExtraWhitespace /\s\+$/
autocmd BufWinLeave * call clearmatches()

Ensure that puppet files are handled properly in Vim. IIRC I pulled this line from the office wiki somewhere…

" detect puppet filetype
autocmd BufRead,BufNewFile *.pp set filetype=puppet
autocmd BufRead,BufNewFile *.pp setlocal tabstop=4 shiftwidth=4 softtabstop=4 expandtab textwidth=80 smarttab

These are the settings I use for my email. I try to send format=flowed emails that sill look good in terminal readers like Mutt.

augroup mail_filetype
    autocmd VimEnter /tmp/mutt* set formatoptions=aw tw=72
augroup END

Plugin settings

" Tagbar (requires Exuberant ctags 5.5+)
nnoremap <silent><leader>c :TagbarToggle<cr>

It’s kind of insane that you can use Vim to drive a debugger like XDebug. As evidenced by the path maps here, I haven’t used this in a while and it was a pain to setup when I did. Kept here as a reminder that Vim is amazing.

" Xdebug local debugger
let g:vdebug_options = {
\    'server': '',
\    'port': '9000',
\    'path_maps' : {
\        '/srv/www/': '/Users/tyler/Development/upsync-vagrant/shared/people'
\    }
let g:syntastic_javascript_jshint_conf="$HOME/.jshintrc"
let g:syntastic_error_symbol = '✘'
let g:syntastic_warning_symbol = "▲"
" let g:syntastic_python_python_exec = '/usr/bin/python3'
let g:jedi#force_py_version=2

NERDTree was the first plugin I ever installed.

" NERDTree Settings---------------------------------------------------- {{{
"map <leader>t :NERDTreeToggle<cr>
nnoremap <leader>t :NERDTreeTabsToggle<cr>
" Close vim if NERDTree is the last thing standing
autocmd bufenter * if (winnr("$") == 1 && exists("b:NERDTreeType") && b:NERDTreeType == "primary") | q | endif
" }}}

" Included for Airline ------------------------------------------------ {{{
let g:airline_theme = 'tomorrow'
let g:airline_powerline_fonts = 1
" let g:airline#extensions#tabline#enabled = 1
" }}}

" CtrlP --------------------------------------------------------------- {{{
let g:ctrlp_max_files = 0 " Set no max file limit
let g:ctrlp_working_path_mode = 0 " Search current directory not project root
if executable("ag")
  set grepprg=ag\ --nogroup\ --nocolor
"  let g:ctrlp_user_command = 'ag %s -l --nocolor -g ""'
  let g:ctrlp_user_command = {
    \ 'types': {
      \ 1: ['.git', 'git --git-dir=%s/.git ls-files -oc --exclude-standard'],
      \ 2: ['.hg', 'hg --cwd %s locate -I .'],
      \ },
    \ 'fallback': 'ag %s -l --nocolor -g ""'
    \ }


let g:ctrlp_show_hidden = 1

These are all settings for neocomplete and neosnippet which requires Vim 7.0.4 or higher and +lua when you do vim --version.

if v:version >= 704 && has("lua")
  " Neocomplete.vim --------------------------------------------------- {{{
  " Disable AutoComplPop.
  let g:acp_enableAtStartup = 0
  " Use neocomplete.
  let g:neocomplete#enable_at_startup = 1
  " Use smartcase.
  let g:neocomplete#enable_smart_case = 1
  " Set minimum syntax keyword length.
  let g:neocomplete#sources#syntax#min_keyword_length = 3
  let g:neocomplete#lock_buffer_name_pattern = '\*ku\*'
  " I will probably never hit <TAB> 10 times
  let g:neocomplete#max_list = 10

  " Automatically open and close the popup menu / preview window
  au CursorMovedI,InsertLeave * if pumvisible() == 0|silent! pclose|endif
  set completeopt=menuone,menu,longest

  " Define dictionary.
  let g:neocomplete#sources#dictionary#dictionaries = {
      \ 'default' : '',
      \ 'vimshell' : $HOME.'/.vimshell_hist',
      \ 'scheme' : $HOME.'/.gosh_completions'
          \ }

  " Define keyword.
  if !exists('g:neocomplete#keyword_patterns')
      let g:neocomplete#keyword_patterns = {}
  let g:neocomplete#keyword_patterns['default'] = '\h\w*'

  " Plugin key-mappings.
  inoremap <expr><C-g>     neocomplete#undo_completion()
  inoremap <expr><C-l>     neocomplete#complete_common_string()

  " Recommended key-mappings.
  " <CR>: close popup and save indent.
  inoremap <silent> <CR> <C-r>=<SID>my_cr_function()<CR>
  function! s:my_cr_function()
    return neocomplete#smart_close_popup() . "\<CR>"
    " For no inserting <CR> key.
    "return pumvisible() ? neocomplete#close_popup() : "\<CR>"
  " <TAB>: completion.
  inoremap <expr><TAB>  pumvisible() ? "\<C-n>" : "\<TAB>"
  " <C-h>, <BS>: close popup and delete backword char.
  inoremap <expr><C-h> neocomplete#smart_close_popup()."\<C-h>"
  inoremap <expr><BS> neocomplete#smart_close_popup()."\<C-h>"
  inoremap <expr><C-y>  neocomplete#close_popup()
  inoremap <expr><C-e>  neocomplete#cancel_popup()

  " Close popup by <Space>.
  " inoremap <expr><Space> pumvisible() ? neocomplete#close_popup() : "\<Space>"

  " Enable omni completion.
  autocmd FileType css setlocal omnifunc=csscomplete#CompleteCSS
  autocmd FileType html,markdown setlocal omnifunc=htmlcomplete#CompleteTags
  autocmd FileType javascript setlocal omnifunc=javascriptcomplete#CompleteJS
  autocmd FileType python setlocal omnifunc=pythoncomplete#Complete
  autocmd FileType xml setlocal omnifunc=xmlcomplete#CompleteTags
  autocmd FileType php set omnifunc=phpcomplete#CompletePHP

  " Enable heavy omni completion.
  if !exists('g:neocomplete#sources#omni#input_patterns')
    let g:neocomplete#sources#omni#input_patterns = {}
  let g:neocomplete#sources#omni#input_patterns.php = '[^. \t]->\h\w*\|\h\w*::'
  let g:neocomplete#sources#omni#input_patterns.c = '[^.[:digit:] *\t]\%(\.\|->\)'
  let g:neocomplete#sources#omni#input_patterns.cpp = '[^.[:digit:] *\t]\%(\.\|->\)\|\h\w*::'

  " For perlomni.vim setting.
  let g:neocomplete#sources#omni#input_patterns.perl = '\h\w*->\h\w*\|\h\w*::'
  " }}}

  " Neosnippet.vim ------------------------------------------------------ {{{
  " Plugin key-mappings.
  imap <C-k>     <Plug>(neosnippet_expand_or_jump)
  smap <C-k>     <Plug>(neosnippet_expand_or_jump)
  xmap <C-k>     <Plug>(neosnippet_expand_target)

  " SuperTab like snippets behavior.
  imap <expr><TAB> neosnippet#expandable_or_jumpable() ?
  \ "\<Plug>(neosnippet_expand_or_jump)"
  \: pumvisible() ? "\<C-n>" : "\<TAB>"
  smap <expr><TAB> neosnippet#expandable_or_jumpable() ?
  \ "\<Plug>(neosnippet_expand_or_jump)"
  \: "\<TAB>"

  " For snippet_complete marker.
  if has('conceal')
    set conceallevel=2 concealcursor=i

  " Enable snipMate compatibility feature.
  let g:neosnippet#enable_snipmate_compatibility = 1

  " Tell Neosnippet about the other snippets
  let g:neosnippet#snippets_directory='~/.vim/bundle/vim-snippets/snippets'
  " }}}
" }}}

Indent guides are neat. I need to figure out a way to have the ctermbg vary with colorscheme though :

" Indent Guides ------------------------------------------------------- {{{
let g:indent_guides_enable_on_vim_startup = 1
let g:indent_guides_auto_colors = 0
let g:indent_guides_space_guides = 1
autocmd VimEnter,Colorscheme * :hi IndentGuidesOdd  ctermbg=234
autocmd VimEnter,Colorscheme * :hi IndentGuidesEven ctermbg=none
" }}}

Custom Functions

:BangOpen lets you open the file that results from the output of a command. I was sort of surprised I had to write a function that did this. The most common use case would be: :BangOpen which script_I_wrote_thats_in_my_path_but_I_forget_where.

SetSpaces is a function that Steve Barbera wrote that I think is kinda neat. It sets all of your spaces and things to the same value with one command. This is kinda what modelines are for, but modelines have always struck me as weird and potentially dangerous (which is why I have them disabled in Basic Setting).

" BangOpen ------------------------------------------------------------ {{{
function! BangOpen(arg)
    execute 'tabe ' . system(a:arg)

command! -nargs=1 BangOpen :call BangOpen(<f-args>)
" }}}

function! SetSpaces(arg)
    echo "settings spaces to: " . a:arg
    execute 'set tabstop=' . a:arg
    execute 'set shiftwidth=' . a:arg
    execute 'set softtabstop=' . a:arg

command! -nargs=1 SetSpaces :call SetSpaces(<f-args>)

I must’ve been having some trouble with keycode mapping and added these. I can’t remember the context of these.

set timeout
set timeoutlen=2500
set ttimeoutlen=10