Supercharge your VIM into IDE with CTagsPublished on May 9, 2014

CTags generates index file of all your classes, methods and all other identifiers. You can use that index in your editor to jump straight to the methods you're interested in. In this article, I'll show you how to use them with Vim and Rails.


You need to install Exuberant CTags, on OSX just run

$ brew install ctags

or on Ubuntu/Debian

$ sudo apt-get install exuberant-ctags

Generating CTags manually

In your rails project you can generate CTags for you project with

$ ctags -R --languages=ruby --exclude=.git --exclude=log .

But what about generating CTags for our bundled libraries too? Easy task, let's add bundle paths

$ ctags -R --languages=ruby --exclude=.git --exclude=log . $(bundle list --paths)


You can jump into the method with

:ta attr_accessor

or using regular expressions like that

:ta /^before_*
  • If you position cursor over the method and hit CTRL+] it will take you into the method.
  • CTRL-T will take you back from that method.
  • CTRL-I and CTRL-O will take you In and Out from the method.
:ts [expr]  # Lists tags matching expression
:[count]tn  # Jumps to the next matching tag
:[count]tp  # Jumps to the previous matching tag
:[count]tf  # Jumps to the first matching tag
:[count]tl  # Jumps to the last matching tag


If you're using CtrlP, you can use CtrlPTag to browser your tags. You can bind that command to a key and add this line to your .vimrc

nnoremap <leader>. :CtrlPTag<cr>

Getting Advanced

Since we want to DRY this workflow a little, we'll install Ruby gem to auto-generate those tags for us.

We'll be using Guard-CTags-Bundler

Install the gem:

$ gem install guard-ctags-bundler

Add it to your Gemfile (inside development group):

group :development do
  gem 'guard-ctags-bundler'

Now add it to your Guardfile with

$ guard init ctags-bundler

Now you can run guard and it will start watching your files will generate tags and gems.tags files. Since Vim is not looking for gems.tags by default, you'll need to edit your .vimrc and add set tags+=gems.tags line, then restart Vim.


Since you don't want to commit those files into the GIT index, add them to .gitignore or I like to add them to my global ~/.gitignore.

$ cat <<EOT >> ~/.gitignore

Path depends on your configuration git config --global core.excludesfile "~/.gitignore"


Vim has very nice build-in help that can be accessed by

:help tags

Bonus: Inspecting Gems

I like to inspect Gems a lot. Just set your $EDITOR variable and then run command bundle open rails to open it in your favourite editor. I recommend you to try Tim Pope's automatic RubyGems CTags invoker gem-ctags.

Just install the gem

$ gem install gem-ctags

and generate CTags for already installed Gems (needs to be run only first time).

$ gem ctags
Written by Jan Votava of

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