How to Create a ZSH Find and Preview Command Line Widget

How to Create a ZSH Find and Preview Command Line Widget

Like most devs, I like living in the terminal for quick operations (git-ops, quick-edits, moving files around, etc.).

Some of my most used CLI tools, in no particular order, are:

... and many more tools and utilities, preserved in my dotfiles.

Today, I want to show you how you can create a quick find and edit widget like the one shown below:

Widget with a preview window on the side:


Widget with a preview window on the bottom


As a bonus, you can trigger the widget with Ctrl+P shortcut keys similar to text editors like vs-code.

OK — here is how you can get this:

Firstly, we assume you are on Zsh; if not, these widgets will not work with the code I shared below. So, with that clarified, let's move to the setup.

Install these pre-requisites:

  1. fzf - Command-line fuzzy finder:

  2. fd - Very fast alternative to find command:

Next, you want to add the below in a location you can source with your zsh configuration. I typically create a ~/.bin/, which I source in my ~/.zshrc.

Here is the complete snippet, which I will break down in a bit:

Once you have set it up correctly, you can press Ctrl+P or Ctrl+O in a directory of your choice to start looking up the file you want, which will open in the vi editor.

Here the exciting bits are:

  • Making fd traverse the directory structure, ignoring things like .git.

      fd --type f  --hidden --follow --exclude .git
  • Creating a couple of functions with custom fzf styling and configuration. For example, for a layout that opens below your input cursor, we can do the below:

      fzf --height 80% \
          --layout reverse \
          --info inline \
          --border \
          --preview "bat --style=numbers --color=always {} | head -500" \
          --preview-window "down:24:noborder" \
          --color=dark \
          --color=fg:-1,bg:-1,hl:#5fff87,fg+:-1,bg+:-1,hl+:#ffaf5f \
          --color=info:#af87ff,prompt:#5fff87,pointer:#ff87d7,marker:#ff87d7,spinner:#ff87d7 \
          --prompt="File > "


    You should check out the official fzf repository for more examples and documentation.

  • The next bit is capturing the selection from fzf in a buffer, which we do with: --query "$LBUFFER" as seen in the code.

  • And then, the below bits drive it home by asking Zsh to execute the string in the buffer like so:

      if [ -n "$selected_file" ]; then
          BUFFER="vi $selected_file"
          zle accept-line
      zle reset-prompt

    Here zle, short for "Zsh line editor," is a built-in utility for Zsh that we leverage to accept the input and reset if the user changes the mind.

  • One thing to note in the code is the BUFFER="vi $selected_file" bit passes the selected file to vi editor — our editor of choice. You can swap that for code, if you prefer VS Code, or even $EDITOR if you want your default editor to take over.

  • Finally, we can create the ZSH widgets with the below code:

      zle -N psv
      zle -N pbv

    Note: I chose the functions psv and pbv to be named as such (declared previously) to represent a mnemonic, i.e: preview-side-vi and preview-bottom-view.

  • And bind the shortcut keys with this:

      bindkey '^P' psv
      bindkey '^O' pbv

If you want to dig deeper, please feel free to look under the hood in my dotfiles:

I hope you liked this story, until the next one.

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