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🔀 Common Syntax


It is recommended to familiarize with getting_started/oveview before this.

The make syntax

zi ice as"program" pick"$ZPFX/bin/git-*" make"PREFIX=$ZPFX"zi light tj/git-extras

The Makefile of the project above has only 2 tasks:

  1. Install the target.
  2. Build scripts that are required for installation.

The Makefile with 2 tasks, can use:

  1. make"all install PREFIX=…",
  2. pick'…' will chmod +x all matching files and add $ZPFX/bin/ to $PATH.

$ZPFX is provided by ZI, it is set to ~/.zi/polaris by default.

However, it can be changed by specifying the custom $ZPFX= target if required.

Compiling programs

zi ice as"program" atclone"rm -f src/auto/config.cache; ./configure" \  atpull"%atclone" make pick"src/vim"zi light vim/vim
as'program'Add file selected by pick'…' to $PATH, and do not source it.
atclone'…'Execute code after downloading.
atpull'%atclone'Execute the same code atclone'…' is given, but after successful update.
makeRun make after atclone'…' and atpull'…' (note: make'!' will execute before them).
pick'src/vim'Set executable flag on src/vim, hint that src/ should be added to $PATH.

The same but with installation (make install) under $ZPFX by default:

zi ice as'program' atclone'rm -f src/auto/config.cache; \  ./configure --prefix=$ZPFX' atpull'%atclone' make'all install' pick'$ZPFX/bin/vim'zi light vim/vim
as'program'As above.
atclone'…'As above plus pass --prefix=$ZPFX to ./configure, to set the installation directory.
atpull'%atclone'As above.
makeAs above, but also run the install target.
pick'src/vim'as above, but for different path $ZPFX/bin/vim.


A repository trapd00r/LS_COLORS provides a file with color definitions for GNU ls command, and also for ogham/exa.

Typically one does eval $( dircolors -b $HOME/LS_COLORS) to process this file and set the environment for ls. This means dircolors is run every shell startup.

This costs much time because a fork has to be done and the program, i.e. dircolors, binary needs to be loaded and executed, and because dircolors loads the colors' definitions and processes them. Following ZI invocation solves this problem:

zi ice atclone'dircolors -b LS_COLORS > clrs.zsh' \  atpull'%atclone' pick"clrs.zsh" nocompile'!' \  atload'zstyle ":completion:*" list-colors “${(s.:.)LS_COLORS}”'zi light trapd00r/LS_COLORS
atclone'…'Generate shell script, but instead of passing it to eval. More: [1^]
atpull'%atclone'Do the same at any update of the plugin. More: [2^]
pick"clrs.zsh"Source the previously generated file clrs zsh.
nocompile'!'Invokes compilation after the atclone'…' ice-modifier and the exclamation mark causes this.
atload'…'Additionally sets up the Zsh completion to use the colors provided by the trapd00r package.

[1^]: Save it to file. The atclone'…' is being ran on the installation while the atpull'…' hook is being run on an update of the trapd00r/LS_COLORS plugin. [2^]: The %atclone is just a special string that denotes the atclone'…' hook and is copied onto the atpull'…' hook.

This way, except for the plugin installation and update, dircolors isn't ran, just normal sourcing is done. The everyday sourced file, i.e. clrs.zsh, is being compiled to speed up the loading.


The project direnv/direnv registers itself in Z shell to modify the environment on directory change. This registration is most often done by eval "$(direnv hook zsh)" added to .zshrc.

zi ice as"program" make'!' atclone'./direnv hook zsh > zhook.zsh' \  atpull'%atclone' src"zhook.zsh"zi light direnv/direnv
  • make'!' – execute make before atclone'…' and before atpull'…' (see make above),
  • src'zhook.zsh' – source file zhook.zsh.

In general, direnv works by hooking up to Zsh. The code that does this is provided by program direnv (built by make'…').

Above atclone'…' puts this code into file zhook.zsh, src'' sources it. This way direnv hook zsh is executed only on clone and update, and Zsh starts faster.

Glance at the 'for' syntax

The drawback of this standard procedure is that the direnv binary is run on every shell startup and significantly slows it down. ZI allows to solve this in the following way:

zi as"program" make'!' atclone'./direnv hook zsh > zhook.zsh' \  atpull'%atclone' pick"direnv" src"zhook.zsh" for \    direnv/direnv
make'!'Compile direnv, the exclamation mark means: run the make first, before atclone'…' and atpull'…' hooks.
atclone'…'As soon as plugin installed generate the registration code and save it to zhook.zsh, instead of passing to eval.
atpull'%atclone'The atclone'…' runs on installation while atpull'…' runs on update of the plugin.
src'zhook.zsh'Load generated registration code
pick'direnv'Ensure +x permission on the binary
as'program'The plugin is a program, there's no main file to the source.

This way registration code is generated once every installation and update, to then be simply sourced without running direnv.

The project is also available as a binary GitHub releases. This distribution can be installed by:

zi from"gh-r" as"program" mv"direnv* -> direnv" \  atclone'./direnv hook zsh > zhook.zsh' atpull'%atclone' \  pick"direnv" src="zhook.zsh" for \    direnv/direnv
from'gh-r'Install from direnv from GitHub releases.
mv'direnv* -> direnv'After installation, rename direnv.linux-386 or similar file to direnv.
atclone'…', atpull'…'As in above example.
pick'direnv'As in above example.
as'program'As in above example.

Standart syntax

zi …zi ice …zi load …zi light …zi unload …zi snippet …

The normal way of specifying ices and their values:

zi wait"1" from"gh-r" atload"print Hello World"zi load …

There's no ice subcommand - that is currently being fully allowed.

The alternative syntaxes

However, ZI supports also other syntaxes: the equal (=) syntax:

zi wait=1 from=gh-r atload="print Hello World"
zi load …

The colon (:) syntax:

zi wait:1 from:gh-r atload:"print Hello World"zi load …

And also – in conjunction with all of the above – the GNU syntax:

zi --wait=1 --from=gh-r --atload="print Hello World"zi load …


It's up to the user which syntax to choose.

The original motivation behind the standard syntax was: to utilize the syntax highlighting of editors like Vim – and have the strings following ice names colorized with a distinct color and this way separated from them. However, with the zi/zi-vim-syntax syntax definition this motivation can be superseded with the ZI-specific highlighting, at least for Vim.