Ditching tmux

3 minute read

This week I started an experiment. I wanted to know whether I would be able to completely ditch tmux.

Don’t get me wrong here, I absolutely love how tmux makes terminal multiplexing transparent for me. I’m also very used to <C-b>c, <C-b>1-0 and so on. I also have a custom set of keymaps and plugins I use frequently, such as tmux-copycat, which helps me find paths or urls on the terminal.

With that said, I found that my workflow was not optimal, a certain day, where I was constantly switching tabs on neovim and panes on tmux. This was unlikely the best scenario and I challenged me to overcome this by runnig neovim as my terminal multiplexer.

In case you don’t know neovim yet, it is an awesome fork of vim with several enhancements, such as built-in terminal emulator and asynchronous jobs.

Defeating Muscle Memory

Well, some times you get way too much used to some keymaps. This is the case. I use <C-b> for everything. Even on plain terminal, I use <C-b><C-l> (custom bind) for clearing the screen.

So my first step to remove tmux out of my way was to bind several of the keybinds I’m used to in neovim. And I came up with nvimux. This is just a fancy name for ‘tmux bindings on neovim’. It is very simple and has almost no fancy stuff, such as configurable keybinds, conditional mappings and so on. It just enables tmux bindings if tmux is off. Feel free to use if you get interested.

Overcoming the limitations

Now that I can <C-b>c instead of :tabe and <C-b>1 instead of 1gt (which I normally use, but I used to navigate tmux’s panes way more often), its time to handle the limitations.

The first thing is editing files from the shell. While on tmux, I normally typed vim path/to/some/file to edit it. This was fine inside tmux but from within neovim’s terminal, this would cause a nested vim session, which is not what I wanted.

So I found an excellent tool called neovim-remote. It is fantastic. I have written a small wrapper around it on my .zshrc, but just for faster typing:

if [ -n "${NVIM_LISTEN_ADDRESS+x}" ]; then
  alias h='nvr -o'
  alias v='nvr -O'
  alias t='nvr --remote-tab'

Now, from inside neovim I can type t path/to/some/file to open it on another tab or replace t with h to open horizontally (or v for vertically) on the same tab I’m now.

Another plugin that helped me deeply was neoterm. I mapped <C-b>q to be my quick terminal and I can open the same instance on every screen. It just wraps neovim terminal in an easy and reusable way.


I’m still adjusting all the stuff, so there are several things I miss or need to improve my usage.

  • Tab-local pwd. As of writing this arcticle, the feature is still a pending PR on neovim.
  • Toggling a specific terminal instance on neoterm. Neoterm only toggles the last instance, which makes it weird if I have two term instances open.
  • Better buffer management for nvimux. I wish I could open a terminal and jump right into it, but instead I have to <C-w>l<CR> every time to navigate and enter on terminal mode.

Other than that, I has been a quite interesting week and I feel I’m making a better usage of other tools such as vim-fugitive instead of git directly on command line. As for productivity I think it is still too early to say.

Edit: As this post has made some discussion happen on hackernews, I’ve added some more information about it on this post