I have a lot of plaintext documentation of many different programming languages I like to browse with vim. My documents look like

w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/events.html
w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/http.html
w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/net.html

So to just yank paste them in the terminal to get the information. But I end up pipping it to a text document that I end up opening with vim

So to simplify this I learnt either to

:%!w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/path.html

For what I have a shortcut with <f6> in my ~/.vimrc

nmap <F6> :exec '!'.getline('.')

It just takes <f6> and <Enter> to spawn a temporary shell with that website

But I wanted it to be opened in a new tab, for that I learnt that the command to input in vim is

:tab term w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/path.html

But unfortunately using this <f6> and <Enter> on this line will still be spawning a new shell.

Do you know how to change that <f6> keybinding to adapt it to this :tab term functionality?

  • This is irrelevant to your question, but consider using readability-cli for a much better output (readable 'https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/path.html' | w3m -dump -T text/html)
    – r_31415
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 23:27

2 Answers 2


So let's brake down what you want to do:

  1. open a new tab
  2. get the output from a command
  3. put that output into the newly opened tab

So in Vim commands, this would be:

  1. :tabnew
  2. :call system('command')
  3. :call append(previous output)

So now, let put this all together into a "single" command, that can be mapped. To concatenate several commands at once, we can use the | command:

:tabnew |:call systemlist('w3m -dump http...')->append(0)

We can use the method syntax to chain several Vim Script functions to work on the resulting output. It's a bit like piping in the shell from one command to the next.

Now we need to translate this into a mappable sequence. That means to explicitly add <cr> in front of the | to make it clear Vim has to hit Enter. Also we need to translate the | into <Bar> or otherwise this would terminate the mapping and execute the next command right when defining the mapping instead of when the mapping is executed.

So this would turn the sequence into:

nnoremap <f6> :nnoremap <f6> :tabnew <CR><bar>:call systemlist('w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/path.html')->append(0)<cr>

There are perhaps a few minor improvements we can add:

  1. mark the buffer as a nofile buffer, so that vim allows to easily throw away this without complaining about changes
  2. give the buffer a meaning fule name
  3. move the cursor to the top of the buffer

The first can be achieved by setting the 'buftype' option, e.g. :set buftype=nofile. The second by using tabnew <filename> And the third, by executing the normal mode command gg at the end. This would make our mapping:

:nnoremap <f6> :tabnew +set\ buftype=nofile scratch.txt<CR><bar>:call systemlist('w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/path.html')->append(0)<cr><bar>gg
  • It is not working, I am starting step by step. First of all if I execute this manually on vim's console :tabnew |:call systemlist('w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/path.html')->append(0) this will error to E488: Trailing characters Commented May 26, 2022 at 15:46
  • Also the final goal is to be able to in a text document with lines made up of links such as https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/net.html be able to place the cursor on top of them an press a keybinding which will execute that certain command (of opening a new tab with the STDOUT of w3m -dump <VIM-LINE> ) This command does execute the command that is on the line nmap <F6> :exec '!'.getline('.') source Commented May 26, 2022 at 15:53
  • 1
    I am not sure where the E488 comes from. Does the calling the systemlist command throw that error? What Vim version and what is your shell? Commented May 27, 2022 at 16:37
  • 1
    For older versions of vim which do not support the method syntax (->), this will cause that E488 error. In that case the mapping can be rewritten like this: :nnoremap <f6> :tabnew +set\ buftype=nofile scratch.txt<CR><bar>:call append(0, systemlist('w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/path.html'))<cr><bar>gg
    – nickspoon
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 23:10

Not sure if I get the problem right, but with the following mapping I get result in the new tabpage by pressing <F6>:

nnoremap <F6> :tab term w3m -dump https://nodejs.org/dist/latest-v16.x/docs/api/path.html<CR>

without spawning a new shell.

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