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Formatting SQL code with pgFormatter within Vim

Josh Tolley

By Josh Tolley
April 26, 2022

Outdoor view of a creek bank with dry trees and old wooden buildings against a blue sky Photo by Garrett Skinner

Sometimes a little, seemingly simple tip can make a world of difference. I’ve got enough gray hair these days that it would be pretty easy for me to start thinking I’d seen an awful lot, yet quite frequently when I watch a colleague working in a meeting or a tmux session or somewhere, I learn some new and simple thing that makes my life demonstrably easier.

Luca Ferrari recently authored a post about using pgFormatter in Emacs; essentially the same thing works in Vim, my editor of choice, and it’s one of my favorite quick tips when working with complicated queries. I don’t especially want to get involved an editor war, and offer the following only in the spirit of friendly cooperation for the Vim users out there.

As Luca mentioned, pgFormatter is a convenient way to make SQL queries readable, automatically. It’s easy enough to feed it some SQL, and get a nice-looking result as output:

$ pg_format < create_outbreaks.sql
INSERT INTO outbreak                      
    extract('year' FROM now())::text || '-' || nextval('outbreak_number_seq')::text, --number
LIMIT 1), -- name
    NOW() - interval '1 day' * random() * 100, (

In my perfect world I might quibble with some of its formatting decisions, such as the lack of indent on the LIMIT 1 line above. But in practice the results are good enough for my tastes that I haven’t bothered to investigate whether I can improve them. I just use it, and it’s good enough for me.

And because Vim lets me highlight a region, pipe it through an external program, and replace the region with that program’s output, it’s easy to use it simply by selecting a section of code and typing :!pg_format like this:

pgformatter example animation of terminal

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