Vim Fuzzy Find Files Without Plugins

Ryan Todd Garza
3 min readNov 17, 2020
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Attempting to stick to an ethos of understanding my tools, I try to take my vim configuration as far as possible before reaching for a plugin. Not that plugins are bad. In fact, there are some that I’d have a hard time living without (thanks to Tim Pope). But in doing so, I always manage to learn something about Vim itself which is part of the joy of learning it in the first place. So let’s see what Vim has for us under the hood.

If you learn better by video, this is a great one to get you up and running quick. (Start from finding files)


Configuration requires just two settings in .vimrc to enable fuzzy find behavior and an optional third to specify what not to include. The settings are:

set path+=**
set wildmenu
set wildignore+=comma,separated,list,of,file,patterns

So one by one…

path is a list of directories that will be searched when using various commands such as :find. Use += in order to prevent overriding defaults.

wildmenu enables enhanced command line completion. Pressing tab while searching will invoke completion and if multiple matches occur, show them in a bar above the command line.

wildignore is a comma separated list of file patterns to be ignored. For example, to prevent searching in git, add set wildignore+=*.git/* to your .vimrc. Like path, this setting uses += to prevent overwriting defaults or patterns that might be set in other plugins.


Now, in an instance of Vim, running the command :find {file} will search recursively for {file} in path and :edit it.

Typing :find followed by part of the file name and pressing <Tab> will complete the filename based on a recursive search for files with names that match the pattern. If more than one file is found, the file names will be displayed above the command line and can be cycled through by pressing <Tab> again to move forward by one file or <S-Tab> to move backwards. Press <Enter> to :edit the desired file.

Typing :find followed by a glob pattern and pressing <Tab> will return the results of a recursive search with behavior for multiple files as above. For example, :find *config will return all files containing config. Press <Enter> to :edit the desired file.

I do however want to note this eccentric behavior until I can find a solution: :find *.js will return all files with the extension .js as well as .jsx, .json, etc. files.

Of course, this isn’t a one size fits all solution. You may prefer the way certain plugins handle larger projects or run into edge cases where this is just not the answer for you. But I’ve enjoyed this setup for a while and hope this has been helpful in some way!

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