vertico.el - VERTical Interactive COmpletion

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vertico.el - VERTical Interactive COmpletion

Vertico provides a performant and minimalistic vertical completion UI based on the default completion system. The focus of Vertico is to provide a UI which behaves correctly under all circumstances. By reusing the built-in facilities system, Vertico achieves full compatibility with built-in Emacs completion commands and completion tables. Vertico only provides the completion UI but aims to be highly flexible, extendable and modular. Additional enhancements are available as extensions or complementary packages. The code base is small and maintainable. The main vertico.el package is only about 600 lines of code without white space and comments.

Table of Contents

1 Features

2 Installation

Vertico is available from GNU ELPA. You can install it directly via ‘M-x package-install RET vertico RET’. After installation, activate the global minor mode with ‘M-x vertico-mode RET’.

3 Key bindings

Vertico defines its own local keymap in the minibuffer which is derived from minibuffer-local-map. The keymap keeps most of the fundamental-mode keybindings intact and remaps and binds only a handful of commands.

Binding/RemappingVertico command
beginning-of-buffer, minibuffer-beginning-of-buffervertico-first
next-line, next-line-or-history-elementvertico-next
previous-line, previous-line-or-history-elementvertico-previous

Note in particular the binding of ‘TAB’ to vertico-insert, which inserts the currently selected candidate, and the binding of ‘RET’ and ‘M-RET’ to vertico-exit and vertico-exit-input respectively.

vertico-exit exits with the currently selected candidate, while vertico-exit-input exits with the minibuffer input instead. Exiting with the current input is needed when you want to create a new buffer or a new file with find-file or switch-to-buffer. As an alternative to pressing ‘M-RET’, move the selection up to the input prompt by pressing the ‘up’ arrow key and then press ‘RET’.

4 Configuration

In order to configure Vertico and other packages in your init.el, you may want to take advantage of use-package. Here is an example configuration:

;; Enable vertico
(use-package vertico

  ;; Different scroll margin
  ;; (setq vertico-scroll-margin 0)

  ;; Show more candidates
  ;; (setq vertico-count 20)

  ;; Grow and shrink the Vertico minibuffer
  ;; (setq vertico-resize t)

  ;; Optionally enable cycling for `vertico-next' and `vertico-previous'.
  ;; (setq vertico-cycle t)

;; Persist history over Emacs restarts. Vertico sorts by history position.
(use-package savehist

;; A few more useful configurations...
(use-package emacs
  ;; Add prompt indicator to `completing-read-multiple'.
  ;; We display [CRM<separator>], e.g., [CRM,] if the separator is a comma.
  (defun crm-indicator (args)
    (cons (format "[CRM%s] %s"
                   "\\`\\[.*?]\\*\\|\\[.*?]\\*\\'" ""
                  (car args))
          (cdr args)))
  (advice-add #'completing-read-multiple :filter-args #'crm-indicator)

  ;; Do not allow the cursor in the minibuffer prompt
  (setq minibuffer-prompt-properties
        '(read-only t cursor-intangible t face minibuffer-prompt))
  (add-hook 'minibuffer-setup-hook #'cursor-intangible-mode)

  ;; Support opening new minibuffers from inside existing minibuffers.
  (setq enable-recursive-minibuffers t)

  ;; Emacs 28 and newer: Hide commands in M-x which do not work in the current
  ;; mode.  Vertico commands are hidden in normal buffers. This setting is
  ;; useful beyond Vertico.
  (setq read-extended-command-predicate #'command-completion-default-include-p))

I recommend to give Orderless completion a try, which is different from the prefix TAB completion used by the basic default completion system or in shells.

;; Optionally use the `orderless' completion style.
(use-package orderless
  ;; Configure a custom style dispatcher (see the Consult wiki)
  ;; (setq orderless-style-dispatchers '(+orderless-consult-dispatch orderless-affix-dispatch)
  ;;       orderless-component-separator #'orderless-escapable-split-on-space)
  (setq completion-styles '(orderless basic)
        completion-category-defaults nil
        completion-category-overrides '((file (styles partial-completion)))))

The ‘basic’ completion style is specified as fallback in addition to ‘orderless’ in order to ensure that completion commands which rely on dynamic completion tables, e.g., completion-table-dynamic or completion-table-in-turn, work correctly. See the Consult wiki for my advanced Orderless configuration with style dispatchers. Additionally enable ‘partial-completion’ for file path expansion. ‘partial-completion’ is important for file wildcard support in ‘find-file’. In order to open multiple files with a wildcard at once, you have to submit the prompt with ‘M-RET’. Alternative first move to the prompt and then press ‘RET’.

See also the Vertico Wiki for additional configuration tips. For more general documentation read the chapter about completion in the Emacs manual. If you want to create your own completion commands, you can find documentation about completion in the Elisp manual.

4.1 Completion styles and TAB completion

The bindings of the minibuffer-local-completion-map are not available in Vertico by default. This means that ‘TAB’ works differently from what you may expect from shells like Bash or the default Emacs completion system. In Vertico ‘TAB’ inserts the currently selected candidate.

If you prefer to have the default completion commands available you can add new bindings or even replace the Vertico bindings. For example you can use ‘M-TAB’ to expand the prefix of candidates (TAB complete) or cycle between candidates if completion-cycle-threshold is non-nil.

;; Option 1: Additional bindings
(keymap-set vertico-map "?" #'minibuffer-completion-help)
(keymap-set vertico-map "M-RET" #'minibuffer-force-complete-and-exit)
(keymap-set vertico-map "M-TAB" #'minibuffer-complete)

;; Option 2: Replace `vertico-insert' to enable TAB prefix expansion.
;; (keymap-set vertico-map "TAB" #'minibuffer-complete)

The orderless completion style does not support expansion of a common candidate prefix, as supported by shells or the basic default completion system. The reason is that the Orderless input string is usually not a prefix. In order to support completing prefixes, combine orderless with substring in your ‘completion-styles’ configuration.

(setq completion-styles '(substring orderless basic))

Alternatively you can use the built-in completion-styles, e.g., ‘partial-completion’, ‘flex’ or ‘initials’. The ‘partial-completion’ style is important if you want to open multiple files at once with find-file using wildcards. In order to open multiple files with a wildcard at once, you have to submit the prompt with ‘M-RET’. Alternative first move to the prompt and then press ‘RET’.

(setq completion-styles '(basic substring partial-completion flex))

Because Vertico is fully compatible with Emacs default completion system, further customization of completion behavior can be achieved by setting the designated Emacs variables. For example, one may wish to disable case-sensitivity for file and buffer matching when built-in completion styles are used instead of orderless:

(setq read-file-name-completion-ignore-case t
      read-buffer-completion-ignore-case t
      completion-ignore-case t)

4.2 Completion-at-point and completion-in-region

The tab completion command ‘completion-at-point’ command is usually bound to ‘M-TAB’ or ‘TAB’. Tab completion is also used in the minibuffer by ‘M-:’ (eval-expression). In case you want to use Vertico to show the completion candidates of ‘completion-at-point’ and ‘completion-in-region’, you can use the function consult-completion-in-region provided by the Consult package.

;; Use `consult-completion-in-region' if Vertico is enabled.
;; Otherwise use the default `completion--in-region' function.
(setq completion-in-region-function
      (lambda (&rest args)
        (apply (if vertico-mode

You may also want to look into my Corfu package, which provides a minimal completion system for ‘completion-in-region’ in a child frame popup. Corfu is a narrowly focused package and developed in the same spirit as Vertico. You can even use Corfu in the minibuffer.

5 Extensions

We maintain small extension packages to Vertico in this repository in the subdirectory extensions/. The extensions are installed together with Vertico if you pull the package from ELPA. The extensions are inactive by default and can be enabled manually if desired. Furthermore it is possible to install all of the files separately, both vertico.el and the vertico-*.el extensions. Currently the following extensions come with the Vertico ELPA package:

See the commentary of those files for configuration details. With these extensions it is possible to adapt Vertico such that it matches your preference or behaves similar to other familiar UIs. For example, the combination ‘vertico-flat’ plus ‘vertico-directory’ resembles Ido in look and feel. For an interface similar to Helm, the extension ‘vertico-buffer’ allows you to configure freely where the completion buffer opens, instead of growing the minibuffer. Furthermore ‘vertico-buffer’ will adjust the number of displayed candidates according to the buffer height.

Configuration example for ‘vertico-directory’:

;; Configure directory extension.
(use-package vertico-directory
  :after vertico
  :ensure nil
  ;; More convenient directory navigation commands
  :bind (:map vertico-map
              ("RET" . vertico-directory-enter)
              ("DEL" . vertico-directory-delete-char)
              ("M-DEL" . vertico-directory-delete-word))
  ;; Tidy shadowed file names
  :hook (rfn-eshadow-update-overlay . vertico-directory-tidy))

Up: Extensions   [Contents]

5.1 Configure Vertico per command or completion category

Vertico offers the ‘vertico-multiform-mode’ which allows you to configure Vertico per command or per completion category. The ‘vertico-buffer-mode’ enables a Helm-like buffer display, which takes more space but also displays more candidates. This verbose display mode is useful for commands like consult-imenu or consult-outline since the buffer display allows you to get a better overview over the entire current buffer. But for other commands you want to keep using the default Vertico display. vertico-multiform-mode solves this configuration problem.

;; Enable vertico-multiform

;; Configure the display per command.
;; Use a buffer with indices for imenu
;; and a flat (Ido-like) menu for M-x.
(setq vertico-multiform-commands
      '((consult-imenu buffer indexed)
        (execute-extended-command unobtrusive)))

;; Configure the display per completion category.
;; Use the grid display for files and a buffer
;; for the consult-grep commands.
(setq vertico-multiform-categories
      '((file grid)
        (consult-grep buffer)))

Temporary toggling between the different display modes is possible. The following commands are bound by default in the ‘vertico-multiform-map’. You can of course change these bindings if you like.

  • M-B’ -> vertico-multiform-buffer
  • M-F’ -> vertico-multiform-flat
  • M-G’ -> vertico-multiform-grid
  • M-R’ -> vertico-multiform-reverse
  • M-U’ -> vertico-multiform-unobtrusive
  • M-V’ -> vertico-multiform-vertical

For special configuration you can use your own functions or even lambdas to configure the completion behavior per command or per completion category. Functions must have the calling convention of a mode, i.e., take a single argument, which is either 1 to turn on the mode and -1 to turn off the mode.

;; Configure `consult-outline' as a scaled down TOC in a separate buffer
(setq vertico-multiform-commands
      `((consult-outline buffer ,(lambda (_) (text-scale-set -1)))))

Furthermore you can tune buffer-local settings per command or category.

;; Change the default sorting function.
;; See `vertico-sort-function' and `vertico-sort-override-function'.
(setq vertico-multiform-commands
      '((describe-symbol (vertico-sort-function . vertico-sort-alpha))))

(setq vertico-multiform-categories
      '((symbol (vertico-sort-function . vertico-sort-alpha))
        (file (vertico-sort-function . sort-directories-first))))

;; Sort directories before files
(defun sort-directories-first (files)
  (setq files (vertico-sort-history-length-alpha files))
  (nconc (seq-filter (lambda (x) (string-suffix-p "/" x)) files)
         (seq-remove (lambda (x) (string-suffix-p "/" x)) files)))

Combining these features allows us to fine-tune the completion display even more by adjusting the vertico-buffer-display-action. We can for example reuse the current window for commands of the consult-grep category (consult-grep, consult-git-grep and consult-ripgrep). Note that this configuration is incompatible with Consult preview, since the previewed buffer is usually shown in exactly this window. Nevertheless this snippet demonstrates the flexibility of the configuration system.

;; Configure the buffer display and the buffer display action
(setq vertico-multiform-categories
         (vertico-buffer-display-action . (display-buffer-same-window)))))

;; Disable preview for consult-grep commands
(consult-customize consult-ripgrep consult-git-grep consult-grep :preview-key nil)

As another example, the following code uses vertico-flat and vertico-cycle to emulate (ido-mode 'buffer), i.e., Ido when it is enabled only for completion of buffer names. vertico-cycle set to t is necessary here to prevent completion candidates from disappearing when they scroll off-screen to the left.

(setq vertico-multiform-categories
      '((buffer flat (vertico-cycle . t))))

6 Complementary packages

Vertico integrates well with complementary packages, which enrich the completion UI. These packages are fully supported:

In order to get accustomed with the package ecosystem, I recommend the following quick start approach:

  1. Start with plain Emacs (emacs -Q).
  2. Install and enable Vertico to get incremental minibuffer completion.
  3. Install Orderless and/or configure the built-in completion styles for more flexible minibuffer filtering.
  4. Install Marginalia if you like rich minibuffer annotations.
  5. Install Embark and add two keybindings for embark-dwim and embark-act. I am using the mnemonic keybindings ‘M-.’ and ‘C-.’ since these commands allow you to act on the object at point or in the minibuffer.
  6. Install Consult if you want additional featureful completion commands, e.g., the buffer switcher consult-buffer with preview or the line-based search consult-line.
  7. Install Embark-Consult and Wgrep for export from ‘consult-line’ to ‘occur-mode’ buffers and from ‘consult-grep’ to editable ‘grep-mode’ buffers.
  8. Fine tune Vertico with extensions.

The ecosystem is modular. You don’t have to use all of these components. Use only the ones you like and the ones which fit well into your setup. The steps 1. to 4. introduce no new commands over plain Emacs. Step 5. introduces the new commands embark-act and embark-dwim. In step 6. you get the Consult commands, some offer new functionality not present in Emacs already (e.g., consult-line) and some are substitutes (e.g., consult-buffer for switch-to-buffer).

7 Child frames and Popups

An often requested feature is the ability to display the completions in a child frame popup. Personally I am critical of using child frames for minibuffer completion. From my experience it introduces more problems than it solves. Most importantly child frames hide the content of the underlying buffer. Furthermore child frames do not play well together with changing windows and entering recursive minibuffer sessions. On top, child frames can feel slow and sometimes flicker. A better alternative is the vertico-buffer display which can even be configured individually per command using vertico-multiform. On the plus side of child frames, the completion display appears at the center of the screen, where your eyes are focused. Please give the following packages a try and judge for yourself.

8 Alternatives

There are many alternative completion UIs, each UI with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Vertico aims to be 100% compliant with all Emacs commands and achieves that with a minimal code base, relying purely on completing-read while avoiding to invent its own APIs. Inventing a custom API as Helm or Ivy is explicitly avoided in order to increase flexibility and package reuse. Due to its small code base and reuse of the Emacs built-in facilities, bugs and compatibility issues are less likely to occur in comparison to completion UIs or monolithic completion systems.

Since Vertico only provides the UI, you may want to combine it with some of the complementary packages, to give a full-featured completion experience similar to Helm or Ivy. The idea is to have smaller independent components, which one can add and understand step by step. Each component focuses on its niche and tries to be as non-intrusive as possible. Vertico targets users interested in crafting their Emacs precisely to their liking - completion plays an integral part in how the users interacts with Emacs.

There are other interactive completion UIs, which follow a similar philosophy:

9 Resources

If you want to learn more about Vertico and minibuffer completion, check out the following resources:

10 Contributions

Since this package is part of GNU ELPA contributions require a copyright assignment to the FSF.

11 Debugging Vertico

When you observe an error in the ‘vertico--exhibit’ post command hook, you should install an advice to enforce debugging. This allows you to obtain a stack trace in order to narrow down the location of the error. The reason is that post command hooks are automatically disabled (and not debugged) by Emacs. Otherwise Emacs would become unusable, given that the hooks are executed after every command.

(setq debug-on-error t)

(defun force-debug (func &rest args)
  (condition-case e
      (apply func args)
    ((debug error) (signal (car e) (cdr e)))))

(advice-add #'vertico--exhibit :around #'force-debug)

12 Problematic completion commands

Vertico is robust in most scenarios. However some completion commands make certain assumptions about the completion styles and the completion UI. Some of these assumptions may not hold in Vertico or other UIs and require minor workarounds.

12.1 org-refile

org-refile uses org-olpath-completing-read to complete the outline path in steps, when org-refile-use-outline-path is non-nil.

Unfortunately the implementation of this Org completion table assumes that the basic completion style is used. The table is incompatible with completion styles like substring, flex or orderless. In order to fix the issue at the root, the completion table should make use of completion boundaries similar to the built-in file completion table. In your user configuration you can prioritize basic before orderless.

;; Alternative 1: Use the basic completion style
(setq org-refile-use-outline-path 'file
      org-outline-path-complete-in-steps t)

(advice-add #'org-olpath-completing-read :around #'vertico-enforce-basic-completion)

(defun vertico-enforce-basic-completion (&rest args)
       (lambda ()
         (let ((map (make-sparse-keymap)))
           (define-key map [tab] #'minibuffer-complete)
           (use-local-map (make-composed-keymap (list map) (current-local-map))))
         (setq-local completion-styles (cons 'basic completion-styles)
                     vertico-preselect 'prompt)))
    (apply args)))

Alternatively you may want to disable the outline path completion in steps. The completion on the full path can be quicker since the input string matches directly against substrings of the full path, which is useful with Orderless. However the list of possible completions becomes much more cluttered.

;; Alternative 2: Complete full paths
(setq org-refile-use-outline-path 'file
      org-outline-path-complete-in-steps nil)

12.2 org-agenda-filter and org-tags-view

Similar to org-refile, the commands org-agenda-filter and org-tags-view do not make use of completion boundaries. The internal completion tables are org-agenda-filter-completion-function and org-tags-completion-function. Unfortunately ‘TAB’ completion (minibuffer-complete) does not work for this reason with arbitrary completion styles like substring, flex or orderless. This affects Vertico and also the Emacs default completion system. For example if you enter +tag<0 TAB the input is replaced with 0:10 which is not correct. With preserved completion boundaries, the expected result would be +tag<0:10. Completion boundaries are used for example by file completion, where each part of the path can be completed separately. Ideally this issue would be fixed in Org.

(advice-add #'org-make-tags-matcher :around #'vertico-enforce-basic-completion)
(advice-add #'org-agenda-filter :around #'vertico-enforce-basic-completion)

12.3 tmm-menubar

The text menu bar works well with Vertico but always shows a ‘*Completions*’ buffer, which is unwanted if you use the Vertico UI. This completion buffer can be disabled with an advice. If you disabled the standard GUI menu bar and prefer the Vertico interface you may also overwrite the default F10 keybinding.

(keymap-global-set "<f10>" #'tmm-menubar)
(advice-add #'tmm-add-prompt :after #'minibuffer-hide-completions)

12.4 ffap-menu

The command ffap-menu shows the ‘*Completions*’ buffer by default like tmm-menubar, which is unnecessary with Vertico. This completion buffer can be disabled as follows.

(advice-add #'ffap-menu-ask :around
            (lambda (&rest args)
              (cl-letf (((symbol-function #'minibuffer-completion-help)
                (apply args))))

12.5 completion-table-dynamic

Dynamic completion tables (completion-table-dynamic, completion-table-in-turn, …) should work well with Vertico. The only requirement is that the ‘basic’ completion style is enabled. The ‘basic’ style performs prefix filtering by passing the input to the completion table (or the dynamic completion table function). The ‘basic’ completion style must not necessarily be configured with highest priority, it can also come after other completion styles like ‘orderless’, ‘substring’ or ‘flex’, as is also recommended by the Orderless documentation because of completion-table-dynamic.

(setq completion-styles '(basic))
;; (setq completion-styles '(orderless basic))
(completing-read "Dynamic: "
                  (lambda (str)
                    (list (concat str "1")
                          (concat str "2")
                          (concat str "3")))))

12.6 Submitting the empty string

The commands multi-occur, auto-insert, bbdb-create read multiple arguments from the minibuffer with completing-read, one at a time, until you submit an empty string. You should type ‘M-RET’ (vertico-exit-input) to finish the loop. Directly pressing ‘RET’ (vertico-exit) does not work since the first candidate is preselected.

The underlying issue is that completing-read always allows you to exit with the empty string, which is called the null completion, even if the REQUIRE-MATCH argument is non-nil. Try the following two calls to completing-read with ‘C-x C-e’:

(completing-read "Select: " '("first" "second" "third") nil 'require-match)
(completing-read "Select: " '("first" "second" "third") nil 'require-match nil nil "")

In both cases the empty string can be submitted. In the first case no explicit default value is specified and Vertico preselects the first candidate. In order to exit with the empty string, press ‘M-RET’. In the second case the explicit default value "" is specified and Vertico preselects the prompt, such that exiting with the empty string is possible by pressing ‘RET’ only.

12.7 Tramp hostname and username completion

NOTE: On upcoming Emacs 29.2 and Tramp the workarounds described in this section are not necessary anymore, since the relevant completion tables have been improved.

In combination with Orderless or other non-prefix completion styles like ‘substring’ or ‘flex’, host names and user names are not made available for completion after entering ‘/ssh:’. In order to avoid this problem, the ‘basic’ completion style should be specified for the file completion category, such that ‘basic’ is tried before ‘orderless’. This can be achieved by putting ‘basic’ first in the completion style overrides for the file completion category.

(setq completion-styles '(orderless basic)
      completion-category-defaults nil
      completion-category-overrides '((file (styles basic partial-completion))))

If you are familiar with the ‘completion-style’ machinery, you may also define a custom completion style which activates only for remote files. The custom completion style ensures that you can always match substrings within non-remote file names, since ‘orderless’ will stay the preferred style for non-remote files.

(defun basic-remote-try-completion (string table pred point)
  (and (vertico--remote-p string)
       (completion-basic-try-completion string table pred point)))
(defun basic-remote-all-completions (string table pred point)
  (and (vertico--remote-p string)
       (completion-basic-all-completions string table pred point)))
 '(basic-remote basic-remote-try-completion basic-remote-all-completions nil))
(setq completion-styles '(orderless basic)
      completion-category-defaults nil
      completion-category-overrides '((file (styles basic-remote partial-completion))))