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Setting up Neovim for C++ Development with LSP

··1254 words·6 mins·
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  • 2022-02-08: update fastgit URL

In this post, I would like to share how to set up Neovim for writing simple C++ programs.


First, we need to install additional packages or tools. The installation sections below are mostly aimed at Linux. For macOS, clang is already installed, and for ccls (a LSP server for C++/C), you can simply install it via HomeBrew:

brew install ccls

Install gcc

LLVM requires gcc to be at least 5.1, first, we need to update gcc.

Install gcc-7 on CentOS 7

# How to do it on Ubuntu
sudo yum install centos-release-scl
sudo yum install devtoolset-7-gcc*
scl enable devtoolset-7 bash
which gcc
gcc --version


Install gcc-7 on Ubuntu 16.04

Install a newer version of GCC since it is required to compile ccls1. On Ubuntu, you can install newer gcc via the following command:

sudo apt-get install -y software-properties-common
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-toolchain-r/test
sudo apt update
sudo apt install g++-7 -y

Set up gcc-7 to be the default:

update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/gcc gcc /usr/bin/gcc-7 60 --slave /usr/bin/g++ g++ /usr/bin/g++-7
sudo update-alternatives --config gcc


Install CMake

Ccls requires newer version of cmake. The cmake on my system is tool old. First, we need to download cmake binary release:

mkdir $HOME/tools/cmake
bash --prefix=$HOME/tools/cmake --exclude-subdir --skip-license

Add cmake executable to PATH:

export PATH="$HOME/tools/cmake/bin:$PATH"


Install llvm and clang

To install clang, either build it from source or install the binary release if it is available for your system.

Build from source

Follow the guide here on building Clang and LLVM on your platform.

git clone --depth=1
mkdir -p llvm-project/build
cd llvm-project/build
cmake -G "Unix Makefiles" -DLLVM_ENABLE_PROJECTS="clang;clang-tools-extra" -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=~/tools/llvm -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release ../llvm

# Note that make -j may error out due to excessive memory usage, so we restrict
# the number of processor used to compile llvm.
make -j 16

The option -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX specify where we want to install llvm and clang. Since I do not have root rights, I install it under $HOME/tools/llvm. You may change it to other directory. We add clang-tools-extra to option DLLVM_ENABLE_PROJECTS so that extra tools like clangd and clang-tidy can also be built.

Install binary release

Note that for some systems, clang also has pre-built binary so you do not need to build from source yourself, see here.

For example, there is binary release for Ubuntu 16.04:

tar xvf clang+llvm-11.0.0-x86_64-linux-gnu-ubuntu-16.04.tar.xz

Do not forget to add the binary and include path to your PATH and LD_LIBRARY_PATH env variable.


ccls is a Language Server implementation for C++/C etc. It can be used for C++ code completion, linting, formatting etc. Ccls build instruction can be found here.

Build ccls

With all its dependencies installed, we can now build ccls:

git clone --depth=1 --recursive
cd ccls
cmake -H. -BRelease -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release -DCMAKE_PREFIX_PATH=$HOME/tools/clang+llvm-11.0.0-x86_64-linux-gnu-ubuntu-16.04
cmake --build Release

If you see the following error:

src/utils.hh:18:20: fatal error: optional: No such file or directory

This is because ccls can not find the optional header files. Your gcc version is too old, you should install gcc-7. See above section on how to install gcc-7 on Ubuntu.

Another error I met is that libtinfo is not found when compiling:

/usr/bin/ld: cannot find -ltinfo

Just install libtinfo-dev using apt:

sudo apt install libtinfo-dev

After all these steps, ccls should be compiled successfully. Add the executable directory to your PATH.


Neovim config

Now comes to the configuration for Neovim.


For auto-completion, we use vim-lsp, together with deoplete-vim-lsp and deoplete.

An example config is shown below:

Plug 'prabirshrestha/vim-lsp'

Plug 'Shougo/deoplete.nvim'
Plug 'lighttiger2505/deoplete-vim-lsp'

" setting with vim-lsp
if executable('ccls')
   au User lsp_setup call lsp#register_server({
      \ 'name': 'ccls',
      \ 'cmd': {server_info->['ccls']},
      \ 'root_uri': {server_info->lsp#utils#path_to_uri(
      \   lsp#utils#find_nearest_parent_file_directory(
      \     lsp#utils#get_buffer_path(), ['.ccls', 'compile_commands.json', '.git/']))},
      \ 'initialization_options': {
      \   'highlight': { 'lsRanges' : v:true },
      \   'cache': {'directory': stdpath('cache') . '/ccls' },
      \ },
      \ 'whitelist': ['c', 'cpp', 'objc', 'objcpp', 'cc'],
      \ })

If you are on Linux, the above config should work as expected. As soon as you started editing C++ source files, code auto-completion for standard C++ header and for methods/class in standard library should work.

However, if we only use the above config, auto-completion only works for standard C++ libraries, since ccls does not know where to find the header file for other packages we use. We can create a .ccls under the project root to tell ccls our compilation flags. An example config for a source file using OpenCV is like the following:

%h -x c++-header
%cpp -std=c++11
%c -std=c11

On macOS, I have encountered completion issues even for standard libraries. It seems that clang can not find the correct directory for the header files of standard libraries. The following is a working .ccls file:

%cpp -std=c++11

The directory /Library/Developer/CommandLineTools/usr/include/c++/v1 is where macOS stores the standard C++ header files. It uses the system clang. If you do not know where that directory is, use the following command:

clang -v -fsyntax-only -x c++ /dev/null

Some of the output will show the possible directories where standard C++ may exist:

#include <...> search starts here:
 /Library/Developer/CommandLineTools/SDKs/MacOSX.sdk/System/Library/Frameworks (framework directory)

If you install ccls on macOS via HomeBrew, it will also install a separate clang/llvm package on your system. The llvm directory is like /usr/local/Cellar/llvm/11.0.0. If that is the case, the following .ccls file is also working for macOS:

%cpp -std=c++11
%cpp -stdlib=libc++

It uses clang installed via homebrew. The standard C++ header file location now becomes /usr/local/Cellar/llvm/11.0.0/include/c++/v1/, also see here.

If your project is a CMake project, you can also generate a compile_commands.json file for ccls to work. For the details, see here.


Syntax highlighting

If you do not want to use lsp-based highlight, you may try chromatica.nvim or vim-cpp-enhanced-highlight. Vim-cpp-enhanced highlight is base on regex matching to highlight symbols. It does not understand the code. It may not be accurate compared to LSP.

For lsp highlight, use vim-lsp-cxx-highlight. I can not make it work with nvim-lsp though. It works with vim-lsp.

Example config:

Plug 'jackguo380/vim-lsp-cxx-highlight'

tags and navigation

We can use gutentags to generate tags for us. Example config below:

let  g:gutentags_ctags_tagfile = '.tags'
let  s:vim_tags = expand('~/.cache/tags')
let  g:gutentags_cache_dir = s:vim_tags
let  g:gutentags_ctags_extra_args = ['--fields=+niazS', '--extra=+q']
let  g:gutentags_ctags_extra_args += ['--c++-kinds=+px']
let  g:gutentags_ctags_extra_args += ['--c-kinds=+px']

Compilation and run

If you are writing a large code project, you should use make or other build tools. For simple programs, using clang directly is convenient.

This is how to compile and run a simple program via the built-in terminal:

nnoremap <silent> <buffer> <F9> :call <SID>compile_run_cpp()<CR>

function! s:compile_run_cpp() abort
  let src_path = expand('%:p:~')
  let src_noext = expand('%:p:~:r')
  " The building flags
  let _flag = '-Wall -Wextra -std=c++11 -O2'

  if executable('clang++')
    let prog = 'clang++'
  elseif executable('g++')
    let prog = 'g++'
    echoerr 'No compiler found!'
  call s:create_term_buf('v', 80)
  execute printf('term %s %s %s -o %s && %s', prog, _flag, src_path, src_noext, src_noext)

function s:create_term_buf(_type, size) abort
  set splitbelow
  set splitright
  if a:_type ==# 'v'
  execute 'resize ' . a:size


  1. Strictly speaking, you can build ccls via clang, but I find it hard and can not seem to make it work. ↩︎


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