Laptop Driven Development

Any time someone sees me working on my (1st generation) Macbook Air, I get asked, “Do you do actual development on that?” And the answer is, “Absolutely!” It’s been my primary work / personal machine since I got it. I wanted to share my latest preferred workflow, for anyone else frustrated by developing on a laptop.

For me, the key is getting as much out of my shell, and avoiding all possible context switches. Screen real-estate is sacred – there’s no room for two terminal sessions side-by-side, and even tabs take up precious space.

For those who just want the answer: use \C-z and set up bindings to jump back to where you were.


For me, the ideal setup requires just two additional lines in ~/.bash_profile:

# ~/.bash_profile
export HISTIGNORE="fg*"
bind '"\C-f": "fg %-\n"'

The first line tells bash to omit any commands that start with fg from the history. This will come in handy later. The second line sets up a readline binding to foreground the process. We’re not using a simple fg or fg %, because we want to be able to swap back and forth between multiple processes, which is exactly what fg %- gets us.

Use Case #1: switch between your editor and a short-lived process.

So you’re writing an integration test with Capybara, and you can’t remember what the API is to visit a particular page (I know, bear with me).

Editing integration test in vim

Normally you might open a new tab, navigate to the project’s directory, and then bundle open capybara.

But we can do better than that! Let’s send C-z (or :stop) to the current process.

Return to the console

Okay. So now we can bundle open capybara, poke around the source, and see, “Oh, duh! It’s ‘visit’!” So we close it up, and then jump back into our code using the binding we set up before (\C-f).

Now we're back where we were

And we’re right back where we started!

This technique is also incredibly useful for running specs. \C-z to get back to the console, run the spec, and then \C-f to get back to your spec. If you’ve forgotten what line a failure occured on, just do :! to see the terminal’s history. And since we ignored fg commands, when we want to run the spec again, it’s as simple as \C-z \C-p <enter> (or \C-j if you want to be fancy).

Use Case #2: switch between your editor and another process.

The use case here might be for testing out some changes from an irb or rails console session.

An IRB session

And… what’s that method again? Easy! \C-z and \C-f to hop back to vim.

Back to VIM session

Oh, yeah! \C-z and \C-f and you’re back at your IRB prompt.

Back to the IRB session

And that’s it! I have found this to be a much more pleasant and productive way to work on a laptop than, say, switching between an external editor and the console, or even running commands in a separate tab from vim. And remember, with vim-fugituve, you don’t need to leave vim to commit and push your code!