Zsh Plugin Standard#

This document defines the Zsh Plugin Standard. Zplugin fully supports this standard.

This document is also available as a PDF.

What is a Zsh plugin?#

Historically, Zsh plugins were first defined by Oh My Zsh. They provide for a way to package together files that extend or configure the shell’s functionality in a particular way.

At a simple level, a plugin:

  1. Has its directory added to $fpath (Zsh documentation).

  2. Has its first *.plugin.zsh file sourced (or *.zsh, init.zsh, *.sh, these are non-standard).

The first point allows plugins to provide completions and functions that are loaded via Zsh’s autoload mechanism (a single function per-file).

From a more broad perspective, a plugin consists of:

  1. A directory containing various files (main script, autoload functions, completions, Makefiles, backend programs, documentation).

  2. A sourcable script that obtains the path to its directory via $0 (see the next section for a related enhancement proposal).

  3. A Github (or other site) repository identified by two components username/pluginname.

  4. A software package containing any type of command line artifacts – when used with advanced plugin managers that have hooks, can run Makefiles, add directories to $PATH.

Below follow proposed enhancements and codifications of the definition of a "Zsh plugin" and the actions of plugin managers – the proposed standardization.

1. Standardized $0 Handling#

To get the plugin’s location, plugins should do:


# Then ${0:h} to get plugin’s directory

The one-line code above will:

  1. Be backwards-compatible with normal $0 setting and usage.

  2. Use ZERO if it’s not empty,

    • the plugin manager will be easily able to alter effective $0 before loading a plugin,

    • this allows for e.g. eval "$(<plugin)", which can be faster than source (comparison, note that it’s not for a compiled script).

  3. Use $0 if it doesn’t contain the path to the Zsh binary,

    • plugin manager will still be able to set $0, although more difficultly (requires unsetopt function_argzero before sourcing plugin script, and 0=…​ assignment),

    • unsetopt function_argzero will be detected (it causes $0 not to contain plugin-script path, but path to Zsh binary, if not overwritten by a 0=…​ assignment),

    • setopt posix_argzero will be detected (as above).

  4. Use %N prompt expansion flag, which always gives absolute path to script,

    • plugin manager cannot alter this (no advanced loading of plugin is possible), but simple plugin-file sourcing (without a plugin manager) will be saved from breaking caused by the mentioned *_argzero options, so this is a very good last-resort fallback.
  5. Finally, in the second line, it will ensure that $0 contains an absolute path by prepending it with $PWD if necessary.

The goal is flexibility, with essential motivation to support eval "$(<plugin)" and definitely solve setopt no_function_argzero and setopt posix_argzero cases.

A plugin manager will be even able to convert a plugin to a function (author implemented such proof of concept functionality, it’s fully possible – also in an automatic fashion), but performance differences of this are yet unclear. It might however provide a use case.

The last, 5th point also allows to use the $0 handling in scripts (i.e. runnables with the hashbang #!…) to get the directory in which the script file resides.

2. Unload Function#

If a plugin is named e.g. kalc (and is available via an-user/kalc plugin-ID), then it can provide a function, kalc_plugin_unload, that can be called by a plugin manager to undo the effects of loading that plugin.

A plugin manager can implement its own tracking of changes made by a plugin so this is in general optional. However, to properly unload e.g. a prompt, dedicated tracking (easy to do for the plugin creator) can provide better, predictable results. Any special, uncommon effects of loading a plugin are possible to undo only by a dedicated function.

However, an interesting compromise approach is available – to withdraw only the special effects of loading a plugin via the dedicated, plugin-provided function and leave the rest to the plugin manager. The value of such approach is that maintaining of such function (if it is to withdraw all plugin side-effects) can be a daunting task requiring constant monitoring of it during the plugin develoment process.

3. Plugin Manager Activity Indicator#

Plugin managers should set the $zsh_loaded_plugins array to contain all previously loaded plugins and the plugin currently being loaded (as the last element). This will allow any plugin to:

  1. Check which plugins are already loaded.
  2. Check if it is being loaded by a plugin manager (i.e. not just sourced).

The first item allows a plugin to e.g. issue a notice about missing dependencies. Instead of issuing a notice, it may be able to satisfy the dependencies from resources it provides. For example, pure prompt provides zsh-async dependency library within its source tree, which is normally a separate project. Consequently, the prompt can decide to source its private copy of zsh-async, having also reliable $0 defined by previous section (note: pure doesn’t normally do this).

The second item allows a plugin to e.g. set up $fpath, knowing that plugin manager will not handle this:

if [[ (${+zsh_loaded_plugins} = 0 || ${zsh_loaded_plugins[-1]} != */kalc) \
    && -z ${fpath[(r)${0:h}]} ]]
    fpath+=( "${0:h}" )

This will allow user to reliably source the plugin without using a plugin manager.

4. Global Parameter With PREFIX For Make, Configure, Etc.#

Plugin managers may export the parameter $ZPFX which should contain a path to a directory dedicated for user-land software, i.e. for directories $ZPFX/bin, $ZPFX/lib, $ZPFX/share, etc. Suggested name of the directory is polaris, Zplugin uses this name and places this directory at ~/.zplugin/polaris by default.

User can then configure hooks (feature of e.g. zplug and Zplugin) to invoke e.g. make PREFIX=$ZPFX install at clone & update of the plugin to install software like e.g. tj/git-extras. This is a developing role of Zsh plugin managers as package managers, where .zshrc has a similar role to Chef or Puppet configuration and allows to declare system state, and have the same state on different accounts / machines.

No-narration facts-list related to $ZPFX:

  1. export ZPFX="$HOME/polaris" (or e.g. $HOME/.zplugin/polaris)
  2. make PREFIX=$ZPFX install
  3. ./configure --prefix=$ZPFX
  5. zplugin ice make"PREFIX=$ZPFX install"
  6. zplug … hook-build:"make PREFIX=$PFX install"

Zsh Plugin-Programming Best Practices#

The document is to define a Zsh-plugin but also to serve as an information source for plugin creators. Therefore, it covers also a best practices information in this section.

Use Of add-zsh-hook To Install Hooks#

Zsh ships with a function add-zsh-hook. It has the following invocation syntax:

add-zsh-hook [ -L | -dD ] [ -Uzk ] hook function

The command installs a function as one of the supported zsh hook entries. which are one of: chpwd, periodic, precmd, preexec, zshaddhistory, zshexit, zsh_directory_name. For their meaning refer to the Zsh documentation.

Use Of add-zle-hook-widget To Install Zle Hooks#

Zle editor is the part of the Zsh that is responsible for receiving the text from the user. It can be said that it’s based on widgets, which are nothing more than Zsh functions that are allowed to be ran in Zle context, i.e. from the Zle editor (plus a few minor differences, like e.g.: the $WIDGET parameter that’s automatically set by the Zle editor).

The syntax of the call is:

add-zle-hook-widget [ -L | -dD ] [ -Uzk ] hook widgetname

The call resembles the syntax of the add-zsh-hook function. The only difference is that it takes a widgetname, not a function name, and that the hook is being one of: isearch-exit, isearch-update, line-pre-redraw, line-init, line-finish, history-line-set, or keymap-select. Their meaning is explained in the Zsh documentation.

The use of this function is recommended because it allows to install multiple hooks per each hook entry. Before introducing the add-zle-hook-widget function the "normal" way to install a hook was to define widget with the name of one of the special widgets. Now, after the function has been introduced in Zsh 5.3 it should be used instead.

Appendix A: Revision History (History Of Updates To The Document)#

v0.95, 07/31/2019: Plugin unload function *_unload_plugin --> *_plugin_unload
v0.94, 07/20/2019: Add initial version of the best practices section
v0.93, 07/20/2019: 1/ Add the second line to the $0 handling.
v0.93, 07/20/2019: 2/ Reformat to 80 columns
v0.92, 07/14/2019: 1/ Rename LOADED_PLUGINS to zsh_loaded_plugins.
v0.92, 07/14/2019: 2/ Suggest that $ZPFX is optional.
v0.91, 06/02/2018: Fix the link to the PDF for Github.
v0.9, 12/12/2017: Remove ZERO references (wrong design), add TOC.

Reminder: The date format that uses slashes is MM/DD/YYYY.