If you have used Sublime Text before, you may be familiar with its snippet feature. Snippets let us type a trigger word and expand it to some boilerplate code or texts that we do not want to repeat typing. We will increase our efficiency dramatically with the help of snippets.

Several snippet plugins are available for Vim/Neovim: snipmate, neosnippet and ultisnips etc. All these plugins are good enough for simple use cases. If you don’t know which one to use, just try ultisnips. In this post, I would like to share how to configure ultisnips and use your own snippets in Neovim.


In fact, ultisnips is just a snippet engine. To use the real snippets, you also need to install vim-snippets, which provides a comprehensive list of snippets for various filetypes. You can install the two plugins with your favorite plugin manager.

Ultisnips integrates automatically with the auto-completion engine deoplete. If you have installed deoplete, you will see the auto-completion menu for your snippet keywords without any settings.

The minimum settings for ultisnips are:

" Trigger configuration. Do not use <tab> if you use
" https://github.com/Valloric/YouCompleteMe.
let g:UltiSnipsExpandTrigger='<tab>'

" shortcut to go to next position
let g:UltiSnipsJumpForwardTrigger='<c-j>'

" shortcut to go to previous position
let g:UltiSnipsJumpBackwardTrigger='<c-k>'

In the above setting, we set the trigger key to Tab, i.e., after typing the trigger word for a snippet, we can then press Tab to trigger snippet expansion. We may define several positions (these positions may optionally contains placeholder texts) in a snippet, which are called tabstops by Ultisnips. In the above settings, Ctrl-J and Ctrl-K are used to jump forward and backward in these tabstops.

How to use

All the snippets provided by vim-snippets can be found here. The snippet file for filetype FOO has name FOO.snippets, e.g., for python, the snippet file is python.snippets. Filetype snippets are only available for the specific file types. There is also a special snippet file named all.snippets, which means that snippets inside are available for all file types.

A snippet has the following form:

snippet KEYWORD "some description" [FLAG]

snippet body...


, where KEYWORD is the trigger for the snippet. If you type KEYWORD and press the trigger key, it will be expanded to the snippet body.

For example, there is a date keyword in all.snippets, if you type date, and then press Tab, it will be expanded to the current date.

How to use your own snippets

It is easy to write a simple snippet. For example, to create a kbd tag quickly when writing Markdown files, we can create a snippet for it. Here is how to do it.

First, create a file named markdown.snippets and add the following content:

snippet kbd "HTML kbd tag"

This will create a snippet named kbd for filetype markdown.

Where to store my custom snippets?

After creating the snippet file, we should put it in a directory where ultisnips can find it. This is a little tricky for Neovim.

The documentation of UltiSnips has explained how the snippet files are searched (see :h UltiSnips-how-snippets-are-loaded). However, it is still not crystal clear how to configure so that our custom snippets can be found by UltiSnips.

From the documentation of UltiSnips:

UltiSnips will search each ‘runtimepath’ directory for the subdirectory names defined in g:UltiSnipsSnippetDirectories in the order they are defined. For example, if you keep your snippets in ~/.vim/mycoolsnippetsand you want to make use of the UltiSnips snippets that come with other plugins, add the following to your vimrc file.

let g:UltiSnipsSnippetDirectories=[“UltiSnips”, “mycoolsnippets”]

The description above is both informative and confusing since it is written for Vim users, not Neovim users. Because the Neovim config file follows the XDG Base Directory specification and is stored under $HOME/.config/nvim, not $HOME/.vim! As a result, if you follow the above example, you will find that your custom snippets are not available.

In the following, I will summarize what is working for Neovim.

First, open nvim and use the command :echo &runtimepath. This command will print all the runtime paths that Neovim will search. According to the documentation, your custom snippets directory should be put under one of these runtime paths. On my Windows machine, the output is like (the full output is omitted for brevity):


On my Linux machine, the output is like (the full output is omitted):


Different runtime paths are separated by a comma. The steps of configuring custom snippets are the same for both Windows and Linux. So in the following part, I will only focus on Linux since it is more popular.

One of the runtime paths on Linux is /home/jdhao/.config/nvim. This directory is where the neovim config file init.vim1 is stored. We choose this directory and create a folder named my_snippets under it. Then move the markdown.snippets file into this folder2.

mkdir -p $HOME/.config/nvim/my_snippets
mv markdown.snippets $HOME/.config/nvim/my_snippets

In the third step, we add the following setting to init.vim:

" `my_snippets` is the directory we created before
let g:UltiSnipsSnippetDirectories=["UltiSnips", "my_snippets"]

Now, open a Markdown file and start typing kbd and you should be able to see the kbd auto-complete item:

The completion engine I am using is deoplete and US means that this completion item is from UltiSnips.

A common error to avoid

You may have write your own snippet for a filetype and put it under the custom snippet directory. However, the snippet does not seem to work.

One reason for this is that you have used the wrong name for the filetype. For example, for LaTeX, the filetype is actually tex. So you need to create a file named tex.snippets, not latex.snippets under your custom snippet directory.


  1. To check the location of this directory for your computer, use command :echo stdpath('config') inside Neovim. ↩︎

  2. You can find all my snippets here↩︎