Tom MacWright

A day using zed

I am a pretty faithful neovim user. I’ve been using vim/neovim since around 2011, and tolerate all of its quirks and bugs because the core idea of modal editing is so magical, and it has staying power. VIM is 32 years old and will probably be around in 30 years: compare that to all of the editors that were in vogue before VS Code came around - TextMate, Atom, Brackets, Sublime Text. They’ve all faded in popularity, though most of them are still around and used by some people, though Atom is officially done.

But using VIM to develop TypeScript is painful at times: I’m relying on a bunch of Lua plugins that individuals have developed, and because Microsoft somehow has developed LSP, the standard for editors communicating with language tools, and also developed TypeScript, a language tool, and somehow, has still not made the “TypeScript server” speak LSP, these tools have to work around little inconsistencies about how TypeScript works, and instead of using Neovim’s built-in LSP support, they have TypeScript-specific tooling. Because Microsoft can’t get their wildly successful product to speak the wildly-successful specification that they also created.

So, I dabble with Zed, which is a new editor from the same team as Atom, but this time written in Rust and run as a standalone startup instead of a unit inside of GitHub.

Now Zed is pretty good. The latency of VS Code, Atom, and other web-technology-based editors is very annoying to me. Zed is extremely fast and its TypeScript integration is pretty good. Plus, it’s now open source. I think its chances of being around in 30 years are probably lower than VS Code’s: Zed is built by a pre-revenue startup, and releasing complex code as open source is absolutely no guarantee of longevity: there is no skilled community that will swoop in and maintain the work of a defunct startup, if they were to ever go defunct.

So, on days when neovim is annoying me, I use Zed. Today I’m using it and I’ll take some notes.

VIM support is overall pretty good

Zed’s vim mode is not half-assed. It’s pretty darn good. It’s not actually vim - it’s an emulation layer, and not a complete one, but enough that I’m pretty comfortable with navigation and editing right off the bat.

That said, it needs a little extra to be usable for me. I used the little snippet of extra keybindings in their docs to add a way to switch between panes in a more vim-like fashion:

    "context": "Dock",
    "bindings": {
      "ctrl-w h": ["workspace::ActivatePaneInDirection", "Left"],
      "ctrl-w l": ["workspace::ActivatePaneInDirection", "Right"],
      "ctrl-w k": ["workspace::ActivatePaneInDirection", "Up"],
      "ctrl-w j": ["workspace::ActivatePaneInDirection", "Down"]

Still looking for a way to bind ctrl-j and ctrl-k to “previous tab” and “next tab”. The docs for keybindings are okay, but it’s hard to tell what’s possible: I don’t get autocomplete hints when I type workspace:: into a new entry in the keybindings file.

Shortcut hints in the UI are the default shortcuts, not the vim versions

  • Another mild annoyance with using Zed as a vim-replacement is that if I right-click something like a variable, the UI shows potential actions and the shortcuts to trigger those actions, but the shortcuts are the defaults, not the vim bindings. I don’t want to hit F2 to rename a symbol, I want to type cd.
  • Next thing I miss is my ripgrep-based search in neovim which I used constantly (through telescope). Unless you have a perfect file-per-React-component system or have a great memory for which files contain what, it’s pretty important to have great search. Zed’s search is fine, but it’s a traditional search mode, not geared for quick navigation.
  • Creating new files: in vim I almost always do :tabnew %, hit enter, which expands % into the current filename, and then edit the filename of the current file to produce a new name. This workflow doesn’t work in Zed: % doesn’t expand to the current filename. The only way I can find to save a new file is through the file dialog, which is super tedious. Without this tool in general, I’m kind of left with less efficient ways to do things: to delete the currently-open file, I’d usually do ! rm %, but I can’t.

Overall, Zed’s TypeScript integration is great, and it’s a very fast, pretty well-polished experience. When I tested it a few months ago, I was encountering pretty frequent crashes, but I didn’t encounter any crashes or bugs today. Eventually I might switch, but this trial made me realize how custom-fit my neovim setup is and how an editor that makes me reach for a mouse occasionally is a non-starter. I’ll need to find Zed-equivalent replacements for some of my habits.