I am building custom text object in lua. With the following code, I am able to change content within certain symbols. This is my code:

local in_symbol = function(start_symbol, end_symbol, mode)
  local v = vim.api
  local currentLineNum = v.nvim_win_get_cursor(0)[1]
  local end_match = vim.api.nvim_call_function("searchpos", {start_symbol, "", currentLineNum})
  local start_match = vim.api.nvim_call_function("searchpos", {start_symbol, "b", currentLineNum})
  if start_match[1] == 0 then
  if end_match[1] == 0 then
    end_match = vim.api.nvim_call_function("searchpos", {start_symbol, "n", currentLineNum})
  if end_match[1] == 0 then
  local end_symbol_length = string.len(end_symbol)
  local end_offset = mode == 'i' and end_match[2] - end_symbol_length - 1 or end_match[2] - 1

  local start_symbol_length = string.len(start_symbol)
  local start_offset = mode == 'i' and start_match[2] or start_match[2]
  if end_match[2] - start_match[2] == 1 then
    v.nvim_win_set_cursor(0, { currentLineNum, start_offset - 1})
    print('no content')
  v.nvim_win_set_cursor(0, { currentLineNum, start_offset})
  vim.cmd('normal! v')
  v.nvim_win_set_cursor(0, { currentLineNum, end_offset})

return {
  in_symbol = in_symbol,

For a custom text object for *(i.e. ci*), I have the following mapping

vim.cmd [[xnoremap <silent> i* :lua require('plugins.custom_text_objects').in_symbol('*' ,'*', 'i')<cr>]] 
vim.cmd [[onoremap <silent> i* :lua require('plugins.custom_text_objects').in_symbol('*' ,'*', 'i')<cr>]] 

This works well with a sentence like this:


But when there is no content (i.e. **), it will just eat up the first or the second * on ci*. How can I fix this behavior? I cannot think of a good solution right now.

  • Nothing to do with your question but it looks like you're assigning to start_offset the result of boolean expression mode == 'i' and start_match[2] or start_match[2]. That's a redundant way of saying start_match[2]. ;)
    – B Layer
    May 7, 2021 at 14:48
  • You might like the "targets.vim" plug-in: github.com/wellle/targets.vim, it implements many smarts around text objects such as i* etc. It will find the most appropriate one (if you're in it, sitting on the last character, find next one in line if you're not inside one) and in many cases properly handle multiple pairs of occurrences in the same line. (If you have this *word* and that *word* it will not select the ` and that ` part if you use an i* there, since *word* is the appropriate match.)
    – filbranden
    May 7, 2021 at 15:00
  • 1
    @BLayer Thanks. I getting crazy with this and totally overlooked this mistake. May 7, 2021 at 15:50
  • No problem. It's not a critical error; logic isn't changed. It could come back to bite you later, though, so I figured I'd give you a heads up. Cheers.
    – B Layer
    May 7, 2021 at 18:46

1 Answer 1


An onoremap will not act on anything if you exit the function without moving the cursor, so you should try to do that.

Your initial calls to searchpos() don't include the n flag, so they're doing that.

Here's a very simple and naive proof of concept (in pure Vimscript) to show how this works:

function! FindStar()
  let [_, s] = searchpos('*', 'bcn', line('.'))
  if s <= 0
  let [_, e] = searchpos('*', 'n', line('.'))
  if e <= 0 || e <= s+1
  call cursor('.', s+1)
  execute 'normal! v'
  call cursor('.', e-1)

onoremap <silent> i* :<C-u>call FindStar()<CR>

Note how both calls to searchpos() are passing the n flag, so they're not moving the cursor. The initial one also passes c to possibly match at the current position.

They both check for the result being zero (or negative, which shouldn't happen) to cover for the case of no match being found in the current line.

But then the second case also checks for e <= s+1, which is exactly the case where the stars are next to each other and the content is empty in that case. Simply going ahead and returning in that case, without having moved the cursor, will ensure nothing will have been selected.

The code then goes ahead to move the cursor and prepare a visual selection.

Take that for a spin (or perhaps convert this to Lua if you like), you'll see it covers that corner case nicely.

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer. But it seems that it doens't work when the cursor is one the last symbol initially like this *hello[*]. It will not pick up the symbol correctly. May 7, 2021 at 16:27
  • Also for **, if my cursor is on the [*]*, it will jump to []** instead of *[]*. May 7, 2021 at 16:31
  • Yes, correct, it will not handle cursor over the last character and there are other corner cases that will break. Like I mentioned, what I wrote is a "very simple and naive" proof of concept. My point was just to demonstrate how to handle an empty selection of **, which is what your question is asking... To handle all corner cases, you need code that's way more complex than this. For that, I recommend picking up a plug-in such as "targets.vim" which implements this all in a very smart way!
    – filbranden
    May 7, 2021 at 17:06
  • 1
    of course, targets.vim just defers answering the stated question as it uses quite crazy tricks to implement this itself
    – Mass
    May 7, 2021 at 20:03
  • 1
    Hi John would you accept to validate the answer or do you expect a better one, supposing it exist? Jan 27, 2023 at 18:56

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