The Editor Module (edit:)

Table of Content:

The edit: module is the interface to the Elvish editor.

Function usages are given in the same format as in the reference for the builtin module.

This document is incomplete.


Modes and Submodules

The Elvish editor has different modes, and exactly one mode is active at the same time. Each mode has its own UI and keybindings. For instance, the default insert mode lets you modify the current command. The completion mode (triggered by Tab by default) shows you all candidates for completion, and you can use arrow keys to navigate those candidates.

~/go/src/> vim 
COMPLETING argument ━━━━━━━━━━━━ Gopkg.toml edit getopt
Dockerfile LICENSE cover errors glob
Gopkg.lock Makefile daemon eval main.go

Each mode has its own submodule under edit:. For instance, builtin functions and configuration variables for the completion mode can be found in the edit:completion: module.

The primary modes supported now are insert, completion, navigation, history, histlist, location, and lastcmd. The last 4 are “listing modes”, and their particularity is documented below.


Elvish has two prompts: the (normal) left-hand prompt and the right-side prompt (rprompt). Most of this section only documents the left-hand prompt, but API for rprompt is the same other than the variable name: just replace prompt with rprompt.

To customize the prompt, assign a function to edit:prompt. The function may write value outputs or byte outputs. Value outputs may be either strings or edit:styled values; they are joiend with no spaces in between. Byte outputs are output as-is, including any newlines, but control characters will be escaped: you should use edit:styled to output styled text. If you mix value and byte outputs, the order in which they appear is non-deterministic.

The default prompt and rprompt are equivalent to:

edit:prompt = { tilde-abbr $pwd; put '> ' }
edit:rprompt = (constantly (edit:styled (whoami)@(hostname) inverse))

More prompt functions:

~> edit:prompt = { tilde-abbr $pwd; edit:styled '> ' green }
~> # ">" is now green
~> edit:prompt = { echo '$' }
# Cursor will be on the next line as `echo` outputs a trailing newline

Stale Prompt

Elvish never waits for the prompt function to finish. Instead, the prompt function is always executed on a separate thread, and Elvish updates the screen when the function finishes.

However, this can be misleading when the function is slow: this means that the prompt on the screen may not contain the latest information. To deal with this, if the prompt function does not finish within a certain threshold - by default 0.2 seconds, Elvish marks the prompt as stale: it still shows the old stale prompt content, but transforms it using a stale transformer. The default stale transformer applies reverse-video to the whole prompt.

The threshold is customizable with $edit:prompt-stale-threshold; it specifies the threshold in seconds.

The transformer is customizable with $edit:prompt-stale-transform. It is a function; the function is called with no arguments, and styled values as inputs, and the output is interpreted in the same way as prompt functions. Since styled values can be used as outputs in prompt functions, a function that simply passes all the input values through as outputs is a valid stale transformer.

As an example, try running following code:

n = 0
edit:prompt = { sleep 2; put $n; n = (+ $n 1); put ': ' }
edit:-prompt-eagerness = 10 # update prompt on each keystroke
edit:prompt-stale-threshold = 0.5

And then start typing. Type one character; the prompt becomes inverse after 0.5 second: this is when Elvish starts to consider the prompt as stale. The prompt will return normal after 2 seconds, and the counter in the prompt is updated: this is when the prompt function finishes.

Another thing you will notice is that, if you type a few characters quickly (in less than 2 seconds, to be precise), the prompt is only updated twice. This is because Elvish never does two prompt updates in parallel: prompt updates are serialized. If a prompt update is required when the prompt function is still running, Elvish simply queues another update. If an update is already queued, Elvish does not queue another update. The reason why exactly two updates happen in this case, and how this algorithm ensures freshness of the prompt is left as an exercise to the reader.

Prompt Eagerness

The occassions when the prompt should get updated can be controlled with $edit:-prompt-eagerness:

  • The prompt is always updated when the editor becomes active – when Elvish starts, or a command finishes execution, or when the user presses Enter.

  • If $edit-prompt-eagerness >= 5, it is updated when the working directory changes.

  • If $edit-prompt-eagerness >= 10, it is updated on each keystroke.

The default value is 5.

RPrompt Persistency

By default, the rprompt is only shown while the editor is active: as soon as you press Enter, it is erased. If you want to keep it, simply set $edit:rprompt-persistent to $true:

edit:rprompt-persistent = $true


Each mode has its own keybinding, accessible as the binding variable in its module. For instance, the binding table for insert mode is $edit:insert:binding. To see current bindings, simply print the binding table: pprint $edit:insert:binding (replace insert with any other mode).

A binding tables is simply a map that maps keys to functions. For instance, to bind Alt-x in insert mode to exit Elvish, simply do:

edit:insert:binding[Alt-x] = { exit }

Outputs from a bound function always appear above the Elvish prompt. You can see this by doing the following:

edit:insert:binding[Alt-x] = { echo 'output from a bound function!' }

and press Alt-x in insert mode. It allows you to put debugging outputs in bound functions without messing up the terminal.

Internally, this is implemented by connecting their output to a pipe. This does the correct thing in most cases, but if you are sure you want to do something to the terminal, redirect the output to /dev/tty. For instance, the following binds Ctrl-L to clearing the terminal:

edit:insert:binding[Ctrl-L] = { clear > /dev/tty }

Bound functions have their inputs redirected to /dev/null.

Format of Keys


Listing Modes

The modes histlist, loc and lastcmd are all listing modes: They all show a list, and you can filter items and accept items.

Because they are very similar, you may want to change their bindings at the same time. This is made possible by the $edit:listing:binding binding table (listing is not a “real” mode but an “abstract” mode). These modes still have their own binding tables like $edit:histlist:binding, and bindings there have highter precedence over those in the shared $edit:listing:binding table.

Moreover, there are a lot of builtin functions in the edit:listing module like edit:listing:down (for moving down selection). They always apply to whichever listing mode is active.

Caveat: Bindings to Start Modes

Note that keybindings to start modes live in the binding table of the insert mode, not the target mode. For instance, if you want to be able to use Alt-l to start location mode, you should modify $edit:insert:binding[Alt-l]:

edit:insert:binding[Alt-l] = { edit:location:start }

One tricky case is the history mode. You can press ▲︎ to start searching for history, and continue pressing it to search further. However, when the first press happens, the editor is in insert mode, while with subsequent presses, the editor is in history mode. Hence this binding actually relies on two entries, $edit:insert:binding[Up] and $edit:history:binding[Up].

So for instance if you want to be able to use Ctrl-P for this, you need to modify both bindings:

edit:insert:binding[Up] = { edit:history:start }
edit:history:binding[Up] = { edit:history:up }

Completion API

Argument Completer

There are two types of completions in Elvish: completion for internal data and completion for command arguments. The former includes completion for variable names (e.g. echo $Tab) and indicies (e.g. echo $edit:insert:binding[Tab). These are the completions that Elvish can provide itself because they only depend on the internal state of Elvish.

The latter, in turn, is what happens when you type e.g. catTab. Elvish cannot provide completions for them without full knowledge of the command.

Command argument completions are programmable via the $edit:completion:arg-completer variable. When Elvish is completing an argument of command $x, it will call the value stored in $edit:completion:arg-completer[$x], with all the existing arguments, plus the command name in the front.

For example, if the user types man 1Tab, Elvish will call:

$edit:completion:arg-completer[man] man 1

If the user is starting a new argument when hitting Tab, Elvish will call the completer with a trailing empty string. For instance, if you do man 1SpaceTab, Elvish will call:

$edit:completion:arg-completer[man] man 1 ""

The output of this call becomes candidates. There are several ways of outputting candidates:

  • Writing byte output, e.g. “echo cand1; echo cand2”. Each line becomes a candidate. This has the drawback that you cannot put newlines in candidates. Only use this if you are sure that you candidates will not contain newlines – e.g. package names, usernames, but not file names, etc..

  • Write strings to value output, e.g. “put cand1 cand2”. Each string output becomes a candidate.

  • Use the edit:complex-candidate command:

    edit:complex-candidate &code-suffix='' &display-suffix='' &style='' $stem

    TODO: Document this.

After receiving your candidates, Elvish will match your candidates against what the user has typed. Hence, normally you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) do any matching yourself.

That means that in many cases you can (and should) simpy ignore the last argument to your completer. However, they can be useful for deciding what kind of things to complete. For instance, if you are to write a completer for ls, you want to see whether the last argument starts with - or not: if it does, complete an option; and if not, complete a filename.

Here is a very basic example of configuring a completer for the apt command. It only supports completing the install and remove command and package names after that:

all-packages = [(apt-cache search '' | eawk [0 1 @rest]{ put $1 })]

edit:completion:arg-completer[apt] = [@args]{
n = (count $args)
if (== $n 2) {
# apt x<Tab> -- complete a subcommand name
put install uninstall
} elif (== $n 3) {
put $@all-packages

Here is another slightly more complex example for the git command. It supports completing some common subcommands and then branch names after that:

fn all-git-branches {
# Note: this assumes a recent version of git that supports the format
# string used.
git branch -a --format="%(refname:strip=2)" | eawk [0 1 @rest]{ put $1 }

common-git-commands = [
add branch checkout clone commit diff init log merge
pull push rebase reset revert show stash status

edit:arg-completer[git] = [@args]{
n = (count $args)
if (== $n 2) {
put $@common-git-commands
} elif (>= $n 3) {


As stated above, after the completer outputs candidates, Elvish matches them with them with what the user has typed. For clarity, the part of the user input that is relevant to tab completion is called for the seed of the completion. For instance, in echo xTab, the seed is x.

Elvish first indexes the matcher table – $edit:completion:matcher – with the completion type to find a matcher. The completion type is currently one of variable, index, command, redir or argument. If the $edit:completion:matcher lacks the suitable key, $edit:completion:matcher[''] is used.

Elvish then calls the matcher with one argument – the seed, and feeds the text of all candidates to the input. The mather must output an identical number of booleans, indicating whether the candidate should be kept.

As an example, the following code configures a prefix matcher for all completion types:

edit:completion:matcher[''] = [seed]{ each [cand]{ has-prefix $cand $seed } }

Elvish provides three builtin matchers, edit:match-prefix, edit:match-substr and edit:match-subseq. In addition to conforming to the matcher protocol, they accept two options &ignore-case and &smart-case. For example, if you want completion of arguments to use prefix matching and ignore case, use:

edit:completion:matcher[argument] = [seed]{ edit:match-prefix $seed &ignore-case=$true }

The default value of $edit:completion:matcher is [&''=$edit:match-prefix~], hence that candidates for all completion types are matched by prefix.


Hooks are functions that are executed at certain points in time. In Elvish, this functionality is provided by lists of functions.

There are current two hooks:

  • $edit:before-readline, whose elements are called before the editor reads code, with no arguments.

  • $edit:after-readline, whose elements are called, after the editor reads code, with a sole element – the line just read.

Example usage:

edit:before-readline = [{ echo 'going to read' }]
edit:after-readline = [[line]{ echo 'just read '$line }]

Then every time you accept a chunk of code (and thus leaving the editor), just read followed by the code is printed; and at the very beginning of an Elvish session, or after a chunk of code is executed, going to read is printed.

Functions and Variables

Functions and variables who name start with - are experimental, will have their names or behaviors changed in the near future. Others are more stable (unless noted explicitly) but are also subject to change before the 1.0 release.


Dump the content of onscreen buffer as HTML. This command is used to generate “ttyshots” on the homepage.


ttyshot = ~/a.html
edit:insert:binding[Ctrl-X] = { edit:-dump-buf > $tty }


edit:complete-filename @args

Produces a list of filenames found in the directory of the last argument. All other arguments are ignored. If the last argument does not contain a path (either absolute or relative to the current directory), then the current directory is used. Relevant files are output as edit:complex-candidate objects.

This function is the default handler for any commands without explicit handlers in $edit:completion:arg-completer. See Argument Completer.


~> edit:complete-filename ''
▶ (edit:complex-candidate Applications &code-suffix=/ &display-suffix='' &style='01;34')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate Books &code-suffix=/ &display-suffix='' &style='01;34')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate Desktop &code-suffix=/ &display-suffix='' &style='01;34')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate Docsafe &code-suffix=/ &display-suffix='' &style='01;34')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate Documents &code-suffix=/ &display-suffix='' &style='01;34')
~> edit:complete-filename .elvish/
▶ (edit:complex-candidate .elvish/aliases &code-suffix=/ &display-suffix='' &style='01;34')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate .elvish/db &code-suffix=' ' &display-suffix='' &style='')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate .elvish/epm-installed &code-suffix=' ' &display-suffix='' &style='')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate .elvish/lib &code-suffix=/ &display-suffix='' &style='01;34')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate .elvish/rc.elv &code-suffix=' ' &display-suffix='' &style='')


edit:complete-getopt $args $opts $handlers

Produces completions according to a specification of accepted command-line options (both short and long options are handled), positional handler functions for each command position, and the current arguments in the command line. The arguments are as follows:

  • $args is an array containing the current arguments in the command line (without the command itself). These are the arguments as passed to the Argument Completer function.
  • $opts is an array of maps, each one containing the definition of one possible command-line option. Matching options will be provided as completions when the last element of $args starts with a dash, but not otherwise. Each map can contain the following keys (at least one of short or long needs to be specified):
    • short contains the one-letter short option, if any, without the dash.
    • long contains the long option name, if any, without the initial two dashes.
    • arg-optional, if set to $true, specifies that the option receives an optional argument.
    • arg-required, if set to $true, specifies that the option receives a mandatory argument. Only one of arg-optional or arg-required can be set to $true.
    • desc can be set to a human-readable description of the option which will be displayed in the completion menu.
    • completer can be set to a function to generate possible completions for the option argument. The function receives as argument the element at that position and return zero or more candidates.
  • $handlers is an array of functions, each one returning the possible completions for that position in the arguments. Each function receives as argument the last element of $args, and should return zero or more possible values for the completions at that point. The returned values can be plain strings or the output of edit:complex-candidate. If the last element of the list is the string ..., then the last handler is reused for all following arguments.


~> for args [ [''] ['-'] ['-n' ''] ['-a' ''] [ arg1 '' ] [ arg1 arg2 '']] {
echo "args = "(to-string $args)
edit:complete-getopt $args [ [&short=a &long=all &desc="Show all"] [&short=n &desc="Set name" &arg-required=$true &completer= [_]{ put name1 name2 }] ] [ [_]{ put first1 first2 } [_]{ put second1 second2 } ... ]
args = ['']
▶ first1
▶ first2
args = [-]
▶ (edit:complex-candidate -a &code-suffix='' &display-suffix=' (Show all)' &style='')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate --all &code-suffix='' &display-suffix=' (Show all)' &style='')
▶ (edit:complex-candidate -n &code-suffix='' &display-suffix=' (Set name)' &style='')
ags = [-n '']
▶ name1
▶ name2
args = [-a '']
▶ first1
▶ first2
args = [arg1 '']
▶ second1
▶ second2
args = [arg1 arg2 '']
▶ second1
▶ second2


edit:styled $text $styles

Construct an abstract styled text. The $text argument can be an arbitrary string, while the $styles argument is a list or semicolon-delimited string of the following styles:

  • Text styles: bold, dim, italic, underlined, blink, inverse.

  • Text colors: black, red, green, yellow, blue, magenta, cyan, lightgray, and their corresponding light colors: gray, lightred, lightgreen, lightyellow, lightblue, lightmagenta, lightcyan and white.

  • Background colors: any of the text colors with a bg- prefix (e.g. bg-red for red background), plus bg-default for default background color.

  • An ANSI SGR parameter code (e.g. 1 for bold), subject to terminal support.

Note that the result of edit:styled is an abstract data structure, not an ANSI sequence. However, it stringifies to an ANSI sequence, so you rarely have to convert it. To force a conversion, use to-string:

~> edit:styled haha green
▶ (edit:styled haha [green])
~> echo (edit:styled haha green) # output is green
~> to-string (edit:styled haha green)
▶ "\e[32mhaha\e[m"

The forced conversion is useful when e.g. assigning to $value-out-indicator:

~> value-out-indicator = (to-string (edit:styled '> ' green))
~> put lorem ipsum # leading '> ' is green
> lorem
> ipsum

The styled text can be inspected by indexing:

~> s = (edit:styled haha green)
~> put $s[text] $s[styles]
▶ haha
▶ [green]


Contains the content of the current input. Setting the variable will cause the cursor to move to the very end, as if edit-dot = (count $edit:current-command) has been invoked.

This API is subject to change.


Contains the current position of the curosr, as a byte position within $edit:current-command.


Maximum height the editor is allowed to use, defaults to +Inf.

By default, the height of the editor is only restricted by the terminal height. Some modes like location mode can use a lot of lines; as a result, it can often occupy the entire terminal, and push up your scrollback buffer. Change this variable to a finite number to restrict the height of the editor.


See the Matcher section.


See Prompts.


See Prompt Eagerness.


See Stale Prompt.


See Stale Prompt.


See Prompts.


See Prompt Eagerness.


See RPrompt Persistency.


See Stale Prompt.


See Stale Prompt.

Location Mode (edit:location)

Work in progress.




History Mode (edit:history)


Import command history entries that happened after the current session started.