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Developing In OS X

As everyone who happens upon this site probably knows, I prefer to develop software in linux. The toolset is just better. Having and being proficient with a good shell is an invaluable tool for working with files. And regardless of what windows-ey, gui-IDE-ey developers like to say – software development is working with plain text files.

My work computer is now a Macbook. It’s about a million steps in the right direction from my last work-provided computer, but it’s still not linux.

That said, it’s damn close. It’s a unix variant originally based on BSD, it’s got a good shell and just about every linux tool I’ve grown accustomed to can be easily and quickly installed and utilized here.

So, this post is intended to describe the things I’ve installed and configured to get my development environment the way I like it on this platform.

The Terminal

It all starts with the terminal… and Terminal.app ain’t it. For a long time, I used iTerm simply because it supported 256 colors which no other Mac terminal does.

It was recently that I noticed there was a general lag when scrolling line by line in commandline-vim inside iTerm. This was unacceptable and prompted me to try working in MacVim for some time.

MacVim was fine and all, but then I found there was an iTerm2. There’s no lag in the newer terminal version, the preferences pane seems more thought out, and it’s just generally better. So go out and download iTerm2 as your terminal-of-choice on the Mac.

The Multiplexer

A terminal multiplexer offers a number of benefits. Of these, the biggest ones in my opinion are:

  1. Detach and reattach sessions

If you work in a multiplexer, your terminal never closes. All of your work is bundled up in this workspace-terminal that’s running inside and on top of your real terminal. If your ssh connection dies, your terminal crashes, or you actively “detach”, your work is still sitting there in that workspace. You can pull it up and reattach it to some other terminal whenever you want.

You can also have multiple named sessions which you can detach and reattach to shift gears or just stay generally organized.

  1. Split into regions

In linux I have a great tiling window manager. My desktop can be neatly split into multiple terminals where I can spread out my work.

I don’t really have that on the Mac. I tried for a while to get a good WM going in X11, but it just never clicked. So as an alternative, I can use a multiplexer to split one full-screen iTerm instance into any number of tabs, and/or vertical and horizontal regions.

I typically leave one half-term column for vim (which itself can be split any number of ways) then use the other side for running a tail -f on the log, a mysql console, and possibly autotest or watchr.

  1. Keyboard driven navigation

Navigation between regions, copy/paste, and everything else is completed by fully configurable key bindings. Not needing to reach for the mouse is a huge productivity win for me.

So, what multiplexer?

Well, in my opinion screen does 1 and 3 great. It’s what I use and will always use on linux – when I have the WM to do the screen-splitting.

However, tmux owns in the screen-splitting department. So on the Mac, I recommend tmux. Google around for a good tmux.conf and spend some time with the manpage; you won’t regret it.

The Editor

In my opinion there is no alternative to a good vim setup. Luckily, it works just fine on the Mac. In fact, my vim-config worked without any modifications whatsoever.

If anyone’s interested, here are the plugins I currently roll with:

ls ~/.vim/bundle
additional-surroundings
command-t
haskellmode
hoogle
nerdcommenter
simplefold
supertab
surround
vim-endwise
vim-fugitive
vim-git
vim-rails
vim-ruby

And If you’re not using pathogen, get to googlin.

The Other Stuff

Pretty much any unix commandline utility can be installed via ports or homebrew. I recommend grabbing GNU coreutils so you’ve got a better ls and friends. bash-completion and proctools are two others that will make things feel a bit more linux-ey.

Also do yourself a favor and upgrade bash to 4.0. It comes with globstar which itself is more than worth it.

The Bottom Line

Learn to live in a terminal – use an editor and utilities that fit there. Use a multiplexer like tmux or screen in a quality terminal like iTerm2.

13 Oct 2011, tagged with osx