Saturday, April 6, 2013



We've all been there before; all too often, in fact. There you are in the middle of a serious edit when all of a sudden some vile little gremlin spits at you from deep within Vim. "Argh!" You instantly seethe with indignant rage, vowing to righteously lance that festering pustule...! when the terrifying realisation strikes you - you don't know where this bug is coming from. "Gack." You say as you think to yourself: "It must be one of the plugins... surely? Ok... it could be in my ~/.vimrc... But no! I watered it only yesterday and there were hardly any weeds there. So, it's a plugin... But... which one? How am I supposed to find the menacing little urchin among all those other well behaving citizens in my plugin pool?" Historically the Vimmer faced with this situation has had very little option but to manually move plugins aside until the faulty one is found. This is a laborious, boring and very frustrating task. Even if you knew well enough to use binary search to speed up the process, it's still not something anyone wants to do. Thankfully now, you don't have to. Now, you can do it with Bisectly.

Bisectly is a plugin-manager agnostic fault localisation tool for finding which plugin is causing you nose-bleeds.

Bisectly uses BSFL (Binary Search Fault Localisation) to quickly whittle down the set of loaded plugins in search of the one causing you pain. It uses a cutesy command interface to identify which sessions the user considers fault-free (:Unicorns) or faulty (:Zombies). This process continues until a single plugin remains, which Bisectly considers to be the guilty party.

Plugin Manager Agnostic

Bisectly interrogates your normal Vim for its final set of &runtime paths before juggling those in the BSFL algorithm. As such, it should be completely independent of any plugin manager. I have tested it with pathogen only, but I don't foresee any issues with Vam or Vundle. Feedback appreciated on this.

Possible Futures

My original idea for the Zombies Vs Unicorns theme was actually in regard to using BSFL on locating faults within a user's ~/.vimrc file. I have a plugin that is all-but-finished for this purpose but it has been delayed until a better vimscript parser can be completed. Work on that is currently in progress.

I have dabbled with various solutions to this problem over the last year or so. Most of the other solutions were tied to pathogen or were broader, more generic endeavours (stretching beyond the realm of Vim). All of those solutions, though, utilised an automated testing framework to very rapidly locate the faulty component - in a matter of seconds. I had the idea for this incarnation of Bisectly today and rushed out the simpler manual code while it was fresh in my mind. However, I do intend to revisit this plugin to add support for an automated test framework.


  1. Hey Barry,

    if you manage your vim configuration via git, you get this whole approach for free.


    1. Iszzy! Good to hear from you, mate. :-)
      Git's bisection is cool and would be a solution to this problem for those using git to manage their vim files. I am not one of those people. Some other people are not those people. Bisectly is not only plugin-manager agnostic but it is also vim-files management agnostic too. :-p
      Another 'problem' with the git approach is the size of the commits. The offending commit might be nice and small and the location of the bug is obvious. If the commit contained "those cool top ten plugins recommended by the_isz" then you'd wanna hope that Bisectly was in that set. ;-)