fzf - A Fuzzy Finder to Accomplish Anything

~4 minutes to read

Table of contents


I know people who make such a mess when not organizing their files and directories appropriately on their system, they would benefit greatly from fzf.

What is fzf?

From the official GitHub page:

fzf is a general-purpose command-line fuzzy finder. It’s an interactive Unix filter for command-line that can be used with any list; files, command history, processes, hostnames, bookmarks, git commits, etc.

Terminal aliases

One of the main uses of fzf is from the terminal. Being so flexible to use, it can be combined with all kinds of commands with the help of pipes (|) to bend it to your desires. Here are some aliases I am currently using that undoubtedly improve my terminal workflow.

##### Functions

# Select a configuration file with fzf and open it with Neovim
conf() { du -a ~/.dotfiles/* ~/.config/* | awk '{print $2}' | fzf | xargs -r nvim ;}

# Select a file from current folder and recursively with fzf and open it with Neovim
se() { du -a ./* | awk '{print $2}' | fzf | xargs -r nvim ;}

# Select a file recursively from university folder with fzf and open it with default app
sc() { du -a ~/Dropbox/university/* | awk '{print $2}' | fzf | xargs -r xdg-open ;}

The first alias, conf (short for configuration), allows to search only within the two folders specified for configuration files, which makes it pop almost instantaneously since it doesn’t have to scan files scattered anywhere else. You can then type anything that partially matches a file path and even include slashes (/) in your match if you know in which directories to look. You can then type Enter to open the file with your favorite text editor (here set to nvim) or type CTRL + c to abort the command.

The other aliases work in a similar fashion. se (short for search) will simply search recursively for any kind of files in the current directory and open the selected file in a text editor. Of course, certain file types can be excluded and everything else can be tweaked with more piping power. In the case of the third alias, sc (short for school), it will also search recursively for any kind of file in the university folder and will open it with the default application set to open that kind of file (video, image, text, PDF, etc.).

Vim/Neovim integration

Using Vim-Plug from the same author as fzf is as easy as adding the following to Vim/Neovim’s configuration file. First, we make sure that fzf is available on the system and install it if it’s not. Then, we install the fzf.vim plugin to integrate fzf in Vim and optionally, we may configure more options so that fzf can be used more optimally, which can be found on the GitHub plugin page.

Plug 'junegunn/fzf', { 'dir': $HOME . '/.fzf', 'do': './install --all' }
Plug 'junegunn/fzf.vim'

""""" [ FZF ]
" Allows fzf to ignore patterns in .gitignore
let $FZF_DEFAULT_COMMAND = 'ag -g ""'

" Mapping selecting mappings
nmap <leader><tab> <plug>(fzf-maps-n)
xmap <leader><tab> <plug>(fzf-maps-x)
omap <leader><tab> <plug>(fzf-maps-o)

" Insert mode completion
imap <c-x><c-k> <plug>(fzf-complete-word)
imap <c-x><c-f> <plug>(fzf-complete-path)
imap <c-x><c-j> <plug>(fzf-complete-file-ag)
imap <c-x><c-l> <plug>(fzf-complete-line)

" Advanced customization using autoload functions
" (expand word completing window)
inoremap <expr> <c-x><c-k> fzf#vim#complete#word({'left': '20%'})

" Make use of fzf command instead of CtrlP
map <C-p> :FZF<cr>
""" [ / FZF ]

Working with Neovim

fzf really shines when used with Neovim as it is extremely fast, especially when configured with The Silver Searcher which deserves its own article. It integrates with core functionality of Vim and makes it easy to find what you are looking for.

From the above configuration, for instance:

nmap <leader><tab> <plug>(fzf-maps-n)

This allows to search for existing mappings and commands, which can be faster than diving in the help pages when looking for a quick reference.

This one in insert mode is very handy:

imap <c-x><c-k> <plug>(fzf-complete-word)

Without affecting keyword completion with CTRL + n and CTRL + p (unless you have set complete+=k in your configuration file), you can complete words from a custom dictionary of your choice with CTRL + x CTRL + k. The window that appears can be moved and resized, which is what is happening here:

inoremap <expr> <c-x><c-k> fzf#vim#complete#word({'left': '20%'})

In the same way, file paths can be completed from the current working directory CTRL + x CTRL + f and existing lines can be quickly inserted with CTRL + x CTRL + l.


Finally, I use fzf to open any file quickly from the working directory inside Neovim with the mapping CTRL + p, which replaces the CtrlP plugin and can work much faster on larger codebases.


There is much more that can be done with it and I am barely scratching the surface here. Luke Smith shared a great video that will complement the information from this post nicely with a more technical approach. Highly recommended to see more practical ways to use this superb piece of software!

Luke Smith also makes a strong point of combining fzf with dmenu, a tool that I described succinctly in a previous article.