Open Markdown files from vim

, 2 min read

Here's my most recent addition to my vimrc. I was looking for a way to open Markdown or HTML files in the browser, with a single keystroke from vim.

In vim you can execute shell commands with :!command. This will put vim in the background and execute the given command. You have to hit enter in order to go back to vim.

So, to open the current file in Firefox you can use :!firefox %. Where % is expanded to the current active file in vim.

To make this a bit more flexible, on Debian based systems you can use :!sensible-browser % to open the file in your default browser. On a Mac it should be :!open %, although you will have to try that one for yourself.

Now, there's one thing that is getting in the way: You still have to press enter to get back to vim. So, the next step is to prepend a :silent execute to our command:

  :silent execute "!sensible-browser %"

This should work on most systems. However if your vim turns blank when executing your command, you will have to force a redraw afterwards with :redraw!. You could also hit CTRL+L to achieve the same thing, however we can use :redraw! in combination with the other command:

function! OpenCurrentFileInBrowser()
  " Open current file in browser
  :silent execute "!sensible-browser %"

  " Fix empty vim window by forcing a redraw

Now we can conveniently bind it to a shortcut:

augroup filetype_markdown
  au BufNewFile,BufRead *.md set filetype=markdown

  au FileType markdown nnoremap <leader>f :call OpenCurrentFileInBrowser()<cr>
augroup END

Actually opening Markdown files in your browser

By now, the browser should open a download dialogue when executing our command. To fix this, we have to install an addon that provides a markdown parser.

For Google Chrome, install Markdown Reader, MarkView or Markdown Viewer. Be sure to give the plugin access to file URLs after installing it.

For Firefox there's pretty much only Markdown Viewer available. And chances are it doesn't work out of the box on Linux. If it doesn't, you are probably missing an entry in ~/.mozilla/firefox/*default/mimeTypes.rdf.

Add the following to mimeTypes.rdf to make it recognize .md files as text/plain:

<RDF:Description RDF:about="urn:mimetype:text/plain"
        NC:description="Text Document">
    <NC:handlerProp RDF:resource="urn:mimetype:handler:text/plain"/>

Source: Getting Markdown Viewer To Display HTML Formatted Markdown Content in Firefox Under Linux

Now restart your browser and give it a try.


Philipp Hansch

Full Stack Developer

Philipp is a full stack developer currently heavily involved with Rust. Most notably he's a member of the Clippy team where he helps with bugfixing and documentation. You can follow him on Mastodon and find him on GitHub as well as Patreon.