Compiling vim with python3 support!


sudo apt-get install -y python3-distutils python3-dev
git clone
cd vim
./configure --prefix=/usr/local \
     --enable-python3interp \
sudo make install

The Longer Version

Note: I put the commands at the top of the post because I hate it when people start with the story and the TL;DR comes at the end of the blog post. I strongly believe that the TL;DR of all blog posts and long text-filled posts should be at the top of the piece.

I started compiling vim from source a few months ago. See, I needed to get an extension called vim-search-me. This extension was calling a function called trim() but only newer versions of vim had this function. I opened a PR on the original repository to ensure that the call wasn’t made if the function didn’t exist, but I also wanted a version of vim which actually had this function so I could use the extension.

Digging into the vim issues, pull requests and source code a little bit, I realized that the function was introduced in a recent commit. I wanted to build a version of vim which was newer or equal to this and would allow me to actually use this function.

Surprisingly, the first time around, building vim was extremely easy. I downloaded the source code using git clone, switched to the appropriate release tag, configured the build with a prefix of /usr/local (./configure --prefix=/usr/local), make and sudo make install! Voila, I had a custom built version of vim! The part I probably “dig”-ed the most was that the vim --version output actualy printed the name of the computer and the date/time when I compiled it! This was pretty interesting and I realized that now I could get patches that were made on the original vim code base whenever I wanted. There was no need to depend on the vim that comes packaged inside the apt-get repositories or inside macOS.

Requiring Python support

At work, I write a lot of Go code and almost all the code has to have tests. The code coverage threshold is around 80%. So, adding any new function immediately necessitates the addition of a test for that function. Now, there’s a way that tests are written for Go functions and I was beginning to realize which pattern I liked and it turns out I was re-writing a lot of the templating code to set-up the test, every single time I started writing a new test.

UltiSnips is a vim extension that lets you store Language specific snippets which can be inserted into a file when the filetype matches the snippet you have stored. I heard good things about the extension from my co-workers and found it in some of their dotfiles repositories! I installed the extesnion and tried to start vim and it said that it needed python support! I hadn’t compiled vim with python support, so I had to find out how!

$ vim --version | ag "python"
+cmdline_hist      +langmap           -python            +visual
+cmdline_info      +libcall           -python3           +visualextra

Finding the correct ./configure flags

The configuration script output prints all the flags, their values, and the output when the checks required to enable their inclusion in the build were performed. The python related flags were --enable-pythoninterp and --enable-python3interp. System python on both my work computer and my home computer was python 3.6, but I didn’t want to take a chance. So, I explicitly specified python3 and ran the configuration script.

On my work computer (a Macbook Pro from last year), supplying just the --enable-python3interp to my configuration script made everything work fine. I didn’t actually realize that something else might be necessary because it worked fine. make and sudo make install and I had Python support in vim!

On my home computer (a Thinkpad) with Ubuntu 18.04, things were slightly more involved.

The first error I saw with just the --enable-python3interp flag was the configuration script’s inability to import distutils.sysconfig inside Python3. A couple StackOverflow answers later I realized that the python3-distutils package installed that python3 module.

$ dpkg -l | ag "python3-distutils"
$ sudo apt-get install -y python3-distutils
$ python -c "import distutils.sysconfig"

This error being fixed now, I ran into my second error. This was a slightly weirder one. It said that it couldn’t find the configuration directory for my Python installation. This StackOverflow answer pointed me to a configuration script flag which allowed me to explicitly specify the path to my Python configuration directory.

The third error I ran into was stranger:

Unable to find the Python.h file inside the python configuration directory

And it was showing an #include <Python.h> line from some file containing C code. The above answer also had a line about having to install the python2-dev package using apt-get because it isn’t pre-packaged inside the Ubuntu installation.

On Ubuntu 10.04 you have to install ‘python2.6-dev’

So, I installed the python3-dev package.

$ dpkg -l | ag "python3-dev"
$ sudo apt-get install -y python3-dev

After this, the configure command worked and succeeded! The python related lines were succinct, and didn’t really indicate success. But they didn’t indicate failure either. So, I ran make. make creates the binary inside the vim/src folder. Running the binary from there will immediately tell you if the feature is installed or not.

$ ./src/vim --version | ag "python"
+cmdline_hist      +langmap           -python            +visual
+cmdline_info      +libcall           +python3           +visualextra

I had built vim with python3 support! Now, the lines at the top of vim --version which tell you when vim was last built and who built it:

$ vim --version | head -n4
VIM - Vi IMproved 8.1 (2018 May 18, compiled Aug 31 2019 11:32:55)
Included patches: 1-1949
Compiled by siddharth@home-thinkpad
Huge version without GUI.  Features included (+) or not (-):