An ack.vim alternative mimics Ctrl-Shift-F on Sublime Text 2


An ack/ag/pt/rg powered code search and view tool, like ack.vim or :vimgrep but together with more context, and let you edit in-place with powerful edit mode.

Search and Explore

ctrlsf demo

Edit Mode

Here we rename a method named MoveCursor() to Cursor() in multiple files, using vim-multiple-cursors.


Table of Contents


  • Search and display result in a user-friendly view with adjustable context.

  • Edit mode which is incredible useful when you are doing project-wide refactoring. (Inspired by vim-ags)

  • Preview mode for fast exploring.

  • View results in a quickfix window if you feel more familiar with quickfix window.

  • Various options for customized search, view and edit.


  1. Make sure you have ack, ag, pt or rg installed. (Note: currently only Ack2 is supported by plan)

  2. An easy way to install CtrlSF is using a package manager, like pathogen, vundle, neobundle or vim-plug.

    In vim-plug:

    Plug 'dyng/ctrlsf.vim'
  3. Read Quick Start for how to use.

Quick Start

  1. Run :CtrlSF [pattern], it will split a new window to show search result.

  2. Press Enter to open corresponding file, or press q to quit.

  3. Press p to explore file in a preview window if you only want a glance.

  4. You can edit search result as you like. Whenever you apply a change, you can save your change to actual file by :w.

  5. If you change your mind after saving, you can always undo it by pressing u and saving it again.

  6. :CtrlSFOpen can reopen CtrlSF window when you have closed CtrlSF window. It is free because it won’t invoke a same but new search. A handy command :CtrlSFToggle is also available.

  7. Alternatively run :CtrlSFQuickfix [pattern], it will only open a quickfix window to show search result.

Key Maps

In CtrlSF window:

  • Enter - Open corresponding file of current line in the window which CtrlSF is launched from.
  • <C-O> - Like Enter but open file in a horizontal split window.
  • t - Like Enter but open file in a new tab.
  • p - Like Enter but open file in a preview window.
  • P - Like Enter but open file in a preview window and switch focus to it.
  • O - Like Enter but always leave CtrlSF window opening.
  • T - Like t but focus CtrlSF window instead of new opened tab.
  • q - Quit CtrlSF window.
  • <C-J> - Move cursor to next match.
  • <C-K> - Move cursor to previous match.

In preview window:

  • q - Close preview window.

Some default defined keys may conflict with keys you have been used to when you are editing. But don’t worry, you can customize your mapping by setting g:ctrlsf_mapping. :h g:ctrlsf_mapping for more information.

Use Your Own Map

CtrlSF provides many maps you can use for quick accessing all features, here I list some most used maps.

  • <Plug>CtrlSFPrompt

    Input :CtrlSF in command line for you, just a handy shortcut.

  • <Plug>CtrlSFVwordPath

    Input :CtrlSF foo in command line where foo is the current visual selected word, waiting for further input.

  • <Plug>CtrlSFVwordExec

    Like <Plug>CtrlSFVwordPath, but execute it immediately.

  • <Plug>CtrlSFCwordPath

    Input :CtrlSF foo in command line where foo is word under the cursor.

  • <Plug>CtrlSFCCwordPath

    Like <Plug>CtrlSFCwordPath, but also add word boundary around searching word.

  • <Plug>CtrlSFPwordPath

    Input :CtrlSF foo in command line where foo is the last search pattern of vim.

There are also some maps for quickfix mode, for example:

  • <Plug>CtrlsfQuickfixPrompt

    like <Plug>CtrlSFPrompt but instead invoking :CtrlSFQuickfix.

For a full list of maps, please refer to the document.

I strongly recommend you should do some maps for a nicer user experience, because typing 8 characters for every single search is really boring and painful experience. Another reason is that one of the most useful feature ‘Search Visual Selected Word’ can be accessed by map only.


nmap     <C-F>f <Plug>CtrlSFPrompt
vmap     <C-F>f <Plug>CtrlSFVwordPath
vmap     <C-F>F <Plug>CtrlSFVwordExec
nmap     <C-F>n <Plug>CtrlSFCwordPath
nmap     <C-F>p <Plug>CtrlSFPwordPath
nnoremap <C-F>o :CtrlSFOpen<CR>
nnoremap <C-F>t :CtrlSFToggle<CR>
inoremap <C-F>t <Esc>:CtrlSFToggle<CR>
nmap     <C-F>l <Plug>CtrlSFQuickfixPrompt
vmap     <C-F>l <Plug>CtrlSFQuickfixVwordPath
vmap     <C-F>L <Plug>CtrlSFQuickfixVwordExec

Edit Mode

  1. Edit mode is not really a ‘mode’. You don’t need to press any key to enter edit mode, just edit the result directly.

  2. When your editing is done, save it and CtrlSF will ask you for confirmation, ‘y’ or just enter will make CtrlSF apply those changes to actual files. (You can turn off confirmation by setting g:ctrlsf_confirm_save to 0)

  3. Undo is the same as regular editing. You just need to press ‘u’ and save again.

  4. Finally I recommend using vim-multiple-cursors together with edit mode.


  • You can modify or delete lines but you can’t insert. (If it turns out that inserting is really needed, I’ll implement it later.)

  • If a file’s content varies from last search, CtrlSF will refuse to write your changes to that file (for safety concern). As a rule of thumb, invoke a new search before editing, or just run :CtrlSFUpdate.

Quickfix Mode

The primary motivation of creating CtrlSF is being tired of small, context free quickfix window, so there is no Quickfix Mode in CtrlSF at first. But some users requested for Quickfix Mode as they need it in some cases, I accepted, Quickfix Mode was then finally added into CtrlSF (#94).

You can access Quickfix Mode by commands and maps.


  • :CtrlSFQuickfix [pattern]


  • CtrlSFQuickfixPrompt
  • CtrlSFQuickfixVwordPath
  • CtrlSFQuickfixVwordExec

But, as I’ve no idea about reinventing another ack.vim, only minimum features are implemented in Quickfix Mode. Actually no customization beyond normal quickfix window is applied currently, I choose to leave it to users.


CtrlSF has a lot of arguments you can use in search. Most arguments are similar to Ack/Ag’s but not perfectly same. Here are some most frequently used arguments:

  • -R - Use regular expression pattern.
  • -I, -S - Search case-insensitively (-I) or case-sensitively (-S).
  • -C, -A, -B - Specify how many context lines to be printed, identical to their counterparts in Ag/Ack.

Read :h ctrlsf-arguments for a full list of arguments.


  • Search a regular expression pattern case-insensitively:

    :CtrlSF -R -I foo.*
  • Search a pattern that contains space:

    :CtrlSF 'def foo():'
  • Search a pattern with characters requiring escaping:

    :CtrlSF '"foobar"'
    " or
    :CtrlSF \"foobar\"


  • CtrlSF searches pattern literally by default, which is different from Ack/Ag. If you need to search a regular expression pattern, run :CtrlSF -R regex. If you dislike this default behavior, turn it off by let g:ctrlsf_regex_pattern = 1.

  • By default, CtrlSF use working directory as search path when no path is specified. But CtrlSF can also use project root as its path if you set g:ctrlsf_default_root to project, CtrlSF does this by searching VCS directory (.git, .hg, etc.) upward from current file. It is useful when you are working with files across multiple projects.

  • -filetype is useful when you only want to search in files of specific type. Read option --type in ack’s manual for more information.

  • If -filetype does not exactly match your need, there is an option -filematch with which you have more control on which files should be searched. -filematch accepts a pattern that only files match this pattern will be searched. Note the pattern is in syntax of your backend but not vim’s. Also, a shortcut -G is available.

  • Running :CtrlSF without any argument or pattern will use word under cursor.


  • g:ctrlsf_auto_close defines if CtrlSF close itself when you are opening some file. By default CtrlSF window will close automatically but you can prevent it by setting g:ctrlsf_auto_close to 0.

    let g:ctrlsf_auto_close = 0
  • g:ctrlsf_case_sensitive defines default case-sensitivity in search. Possible values are yes, no and smart, smart works the same as it is in vim. The default value is smart.

    let g:ctrlsf_case_sensitive = 'no'
  • g:ctrlsf_context defines how many context lines will be printed. Please read ack’s manual for acceptable format. The default value is -C 3, and you can set another value by

    let g:ctrlsf_context = '-B 5 -A 3'
  • g:ctrlsf_default_root defines how CtrlSF find search root when no explicit path is given. Two possible values are cwd and project. cwd means current working directory and project means project root. CtrlSF locates project root by searching VCS root (.git, .hg, .svn, etc.)

    let g:ctrlsf_default_root = 'project'
  • g:ctrlsf_extra_backend_args is a dictionary that defines extra arguments that will be passed literally to backend, especially useful when you have your favorite backend and need some backend-specific features. For example, using ptignore file for pt should be like

    let g:ctrlsf_extra_backend_args = {
        \ 'pt': '--home-ptignore'
        \ }
  • g:ctrlsf_mapping defines maps used in result window and preview window. Value of this option is a dictionary, where key is a method and value is a key for mapping. An empty value can disable that method. You can just define a subset of full dictionary, those not defined functionalities will use default key mapping.

    let g:ctrlsf_mapping = {
        \ "next": "n",
        \ "prev": "N",
        \ }
  • g:ctrlsf_populate_qflist defines if CtrlSF will also feed quickfix and location list with search result. By default this feature is disabled but you can enable it by

    let g:ctrlsf_populate_qflist = 1
  • g:ctrlsf_regex_pattern defines CtrlSF using literal pattern or regular expression pattern as default. Default value is 0, which means literal pattern.

    let g:ctrlsf_regex_pattern = 1
  • g:ctrlsf_position defines where CtrlSf places its window. Possible values are left, right, top and bottom. If nothing specified, the default value is left.

    let g:ctrlsf_position = 'bottom'
  • g:ctrlsf_winsize defines the width (if CtrlSF opens vertically) or height (if CtrlSF opens horizontally) of CtrlSF main window. You can specify it with percent value or absolute value.

    let g:ctrlsf_winsize = '30%'
    " or
    let g:ctrlsf_winsize = '100'

A full list of options can be found in :help ctrlsf-options.

For user comes from pre v1.0

Difference between v1.0 and pre-v1.0

There are many features and changes introduced in v1.0, but the most important difference is v1.0 breaks backward compatibility.

Where and why backward compatibility is given up?

CtrlSF is at first designed as a wrapper of ag/ack within vim, and the principle of interface design is sticking to the interface of ag/ack running upon shell. This fact lets user get access to all features of ag/ack, and it’s easier to implement too. However I found it is not as useful as I thought, what’s worse, this principle limits features I could add to CtrlSF and makes CtrlSF counter-intuitive sometimes.

So I want to change it.


Case-insensitive searching in pre-v1.0 CtrlSF is like this

CtrlSF -i foo

In v1.0, that will be replaced by

CtrlSF -ignorecase foo

For those most frequently used arguments, an upper case short version is available

CtrlSF -I foo

Related Repositories



An ack.vim alternative mimics Ctrl-Shift-F on Sublime Text 2 ...

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