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intermediate Tip #780: Generalized VISUAL CONTENT onto COMMAND-LINE

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created:   September 3, 2004 19:41      complexity:   intermediate
author:   Maxwell Pincer      as of Vim:   6.0

Key idea:  Yank the visual area for use on the command-line.

Key use:  searches, complex substitutions, etc.

Refinement:  Make sure all magic characters are escaped.
(Thanks to vimtip #777 for this.)
Focus on the content of the visual -- independent
of how it was formatted.

Usage:  visual on the area, and hit the TAB key.

DISCUSSION:  imagine searching for this line in your text:
"The price of foobars is $1.89 [see page 7]."

Typing it out literally will not work:

     :/The price of foobars is $1.89 [see page 7]./

The problem is the magic characters.  Escaping them will make it work:

     :/The price of foobars is \$1\.89 \[see page 7\]\./

We really don't have to type it out, just use yank and the " register.
And let vim automatically figure out how to properly escape...

Now suppose elsewhere in the text we have this:
"The price of foobars
is $1.89 [see page 7]."

Will our previous command work?  No.   It's MULTI-LINE.
Here's what would work:

That would work even on this:
"The price
of foobars is     $1.89
[see page 7]."

That's independence from formatting!
The secret is the substitution function using whitespace \_s\+
and the 'one or more' operator.

The CODE which magically puts the discussion
into action (three versions):

"               Yank the " register onto the command-line.
"X- vmap <C-I>  y:/<C-R>"/
"                       ^ plain version without escaping out of magic characters.
"X- vmap <C-I>  y:/<C-R>=escape(@", '\/.*$^~[]')<CR>/
"                        ^ now more fancy.
vmap     <C-I>  y:/<C-R>=substitute(escape(@", '\/.*$^~[]'), "[ \t\n]\\+", "\\\\_s\\\\+", "g")<CR>/
"                                    visual ^ HIGHLIGHTED text placed on the COMMAND LINE.
"                      Input <CR> to perform a SEARCH-,
"                      otherwise EDIT the COMMAND-LINE containing the yanked text.
"                 Function ESCAPE to prevent magic characters.
"                 4-tuple function SUBSTITUTE will generalize white spaces & EOL,
"                                  ^ so that string will be independent of formatting!
"  USAGE:  visual on desired area, and simply hit TAB.
"          To search, follow up by carriage return.
"          Else, you may modify the command line to suit your purpose.

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Additional Notes

Anonymous, September 4, 2004 8:08
Finally!   I have been trying to figure this out
for 2 years.   Thanks very much for adding to
visual mode toolset.   Those functions are gems
in combination with vmap = visual mapping.

For a review, see

:help visual.txt
:help vmap

Now I can search for meaningful context without
worrying about how the text was shaped.
Even the period appearing in generic sentences
was a minor annoyance -- now solved with 'escape'.
mosh @ albany, September 7, 2004 17:06
Awesome, I had been asking for this since vim57 something like:

:set whitemagic=1

and all white spaces are treated identically as [\s\n]\+ inside regexp!

I thought of modifying the regexp engine to do it for everything
including search and replace.

- Mohsin.
Breadman, September 9, 2004 15:27
Combining this with another tip or two by Michael Naumann and Jürgen Krämer, I now have:

" Visually select text, then search for it, forwards or backwards
vmap <silent> * :<C-U>let old_reg=@"<cr>
      \escape(@", '\\/.*$^~[]'), "[ \t\n]\\+", '\\_s\\+', 'g')<CR><CR>
      \:let @"=old_reg<cr>
vmap <silent> # :<C-U>let old_reg=@"<cr>
      \escape(@", '\\?.*$^~[]'), "[ \t\n]\\+", '\\_s\\+', 'g')<CR><CR>
      \:let @"=old_reg<cr>
salmanhalim@hotmail.com, February 25, 2006 22:37
I use the following:

vmap <silent> * "yy:let @/='\(' . substitute( escape( @y, '$*^[]~\/.' ), '\_s\+', '\\_s\\+', 'g' ) . '\)'<cr>:set hls<cr>

The only thing this one does that seems to be an improvement on the example above (rather than simply being different) is the substitution for whitespace:  '\_s\+' instead of '[ \t\n]\+'.

The differences between this and the example above:

- This doesn't move the cursor; it just highlights matches, allowing n to move forward and N to move back.  (I like that it doesn't move the cursor.  I usually just want to SEE the matches, not actually move to them.)

- It clobbers @y mercilessly.  I don't use it elsewhere and haven't yet had any reason to try to save/restore it -- of course, it would be trivial to do so.

- If you don't use 'hlsearch', simply remove the last bit that sets it (simply setting @/ doesn't turn on the highlight back if :nohls was called before; this does...)
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