Vim Macros for Editing DocBook Documents

Macros for key mappings, tags and entities that can be used with DocBook/XML and other similar markup languages.

Recently, while helping Linux Journal convert its editorial process to use DocBook/XML for articles, I had occasion to convert some old Vim macros for use with the new process. The original macros were key maps or abbreviations for inserting Quark tags and special characters. The new editorial process involves marking or tagging a document in DocBook/XML. From there, a stylesheet is applied to convert the document either to Quark for publication in the print magazine or to HTML for publication on the Web site.

DocBook exists in two basic forms, an SGML version and a newer XML version. DocBook is a markup language that looks similar to HTML. It uses tags with attributes and ampersand sequences for specifying special characters and symbols. Listing 1 contains a short DocBook/XML article.

Listing 1. Sample DocBook/XML Article

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1" standalone="no"?>
<!DOCTYPE article SYSTEM "docbookx.dtd">


<!-- Article information. -->
    <!-- Article title and abstract. -->
    <title>This is an Uninteresting Sample article</title>
        <para>This article isn't about anything interesting.</para>

    <!-- Author name and bio. -->
        <firstname>John</firstname> <surname>Doe</surname>
            <para>The author is not a very interesting person.</para>

<!-- Body of article. -->
    <title>This is the first of thankfully only
           one uninteresting section.</title>
    <para>True to form this is not very interesting either.</para>


As you can see, the article structure is similar to HTML, except the tag names are different. The DOCTYPE line refers to the DTD (Document Type Definition) used to validate the file. To write useful DocBook, you need the DTD and a program to validate your document so you can determine if it contains any DocBook or XML errors. See the Resources at the end of the article for sites where you can get the DTD and programs for validating your documents.

Vim primarily is a work-a-like replacement for the original vi editor that came with many UNIX systems. Vim also contains many enhancements, including a quite capable macro/scripting language and a GUI version. Most Linux distributions should include Vim. Vim is a moded text editor; that is, keystrokes have different meanings depending on whether you're entering text or manipulating it.

Overview of Macros

The set of Vim macros used for our project are contained in the following files:

  • tagtmps.vim: contains tag templates. Tag templates are starting and ending tags and some predefined content that can be inserted into the file you're editing.

  • tfuncs.vim: contains functions for manipluating tags. Functions are available for inserting, deleting, moving and changing tags.

  • mfuncs.vim: contains functions that assist in setting up Vim key mappings.

  • maps.vim: uses the mapping functions defined above to define key mappings for accessing the tag functions defined above.

To use these files start vi and type:

:so tagtmps.vim
:so tfuncs.vim
:so mfuncs.vim
:so maps.vim

Normally, however, you would place these commands into a single file and source only it when you enter vim. For example, place the above files in a sub-directory named vim in your home directory. Then, put the following lines in a file named editdb.vim:

so ~/vim/tagtmps.vim      " Tag templates.
so ~/vim/tfuncs.vim       " Tag functions.
so ~/vim/mfuncs.vim       " Map functions.
so ~/vim/maps.vim         " Key mappings.

Now, start vi and type the following to load all the files with one command :so ~/editdb.vim. Another option is to source these files in your .vimrc file so they are loaded whenever you start vim. Your .vimrc file is located in your home directory.

Once these files have been read and processed by vim, the macros are bound to the keyboard. The macros provide the following capabilities:

  • Inserting a tag template.

  • Inserting a start tag.

  • Inserting an end tag.

  • Tagging a word by placing it between a start tag and an end tag.

  • Tagging a range of lines with a start tag and an end tag.

  • Changing a tag.

  • Inserting special symbols such as the copyright symbol.

  • Inserting special characters such as accented characters.

  • Deleting a tag under the cursor.

  • Moving the cursor to the left (right) of the previous (next) tag.

  • Moving a tag to the left (right) of the previous (next) word.

  • Deleting whitespace to the left or right of a tag.

  • Inserting whitespace to the left or right of a tag.


Mitch Frazier is an Associate Editor for Linux Journal.


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Re: Vim Macros for Editing DocBook Documents

Anonymous's picture

i copied the 4 macro files in the article, but i get the following errors when doing, ":so maps.vim"...

i xb

i xc [CDATA[-:-]]?-:-3xi
Error detected while processing function MapTagKey:
line 57:
E121: Undefined variable: etag
E15: Invalid expression: "imap " . s:InsertEndTagKey . a:key . eicmd . etag
line 58:
E121: Undefined variable: etag
E15: Invalid expression: "nmap " . s:InsertEndTagKey . a:key . encmd . etag
line 61:
E121: Undefined variable: etag
E116: Invalid arguments for function escape(etag, """)
E15: Invalid expression: escape(etag, """)

it sort of just gets worse from there...

Re: Vim Macros for Editing DocBook Documents

Anonymous's picture

It works now when downoading the files from the LJ server.

But there is a bug that inserts closing tags...

For example:

<F2><n> produces:


<F2><p> produces:



If this could be fixed it would really make editing a lot easier so plz look over the code and post an update :-)

Morten Damsgaard-Madsen

Where is the linuxjournal ser

Anonymous's picture

Where is the linuxjournal server that you downloaded the files from?

Pablo's picture

Re: Vim Macros for Editing DocBook Documents

Anonymous's picture

As usual the socurce of errors is right in front of the computer ;-).

The script works as expected - I just forgot that I had the xml.vim script installed which interacts with these macros in funny ways...

Nice work!


Re: Vim Macros for Editing DocBook Documents

Anonymous's picture

I use Vim 6.2 and I get the same error.

If you observe the error shown, it says that a variable is undefined.

If you look into mfuncs.vim, you will see that "etags" is defined
in a conditional statement and used anyway subsequently.
Therefore, in the cases where the conditional statement is missed,
"etags" is undefined subsequently.

The author should have a look at the code one again and post here an update.

Re: Vim Macros for Editing DocBook Documents

Anonymous's picture

Same goes for me: the version of vim I use is 6.3. Maybe the macros of this article are meant for an older version ?