Test your Neovim plugins with luarocks & busted

Posted on June 6, 2023



In my previous post, I wrote about some pain points in the Neovim plugin ecosystem, and introduced the luarocks-tag-release GitHub action, which allows you to publish your Neovim plugins to LuaRocks, as a call to address those pain points.

At the end, I stated that I was planning to play around with a few ideas:

  • Perhaps a package manager as a proof-of-concept?
  • Maybe a package that can use Neovim as an interpreter to run LuaRocks so that it can use Neovim’s Lua API in test runs?

…and I ended up going down the second rabbit hole.

Why not just use plenary.nvim to test plugins?

Before Neovim 0.9, the status quo for Lua plugins has been to use plenary.nvim for testing. This still seems to be the case for many (including my own plugins, as of writing this post). Popular plugin templates still use plenary-test in their CI.

For example:

What are the downsides of using plenary-test?

For one thing, it is a stripped-down re-implementation of busted. As such, it only supports a small subset of busted items. Functions like setup, teardown, insulate, expose, finally, or features like tagging tests, are not implemented.

Another downside is that different plugins have different approaches at managing the plenary-test dependency. An approach I see quite often is to clone the plenary.nvim repository into $HOME/.local/share/nvim/site/pack/vendor/start and then to symlink it to the project’s root or parent directory. This is not very intuitive for potential contributors. Plus, the fact that many plugins use git clone to fetch the HEAD of plenary.nvim’s master branch, is not ideal for reproducibility.

Enter Neovim 0.9

With the introduction of Neovim 0.9, you can now leverage the -l option to run lua scripts via the command-line interface. Combining this with -c lua [...], Neovim transforms into a full-fledged LuaJIT interpreter, providing access to the Neovim lua API.

To test this out, you can create a sayHello.lua file with the following content:

vim.print { "Hello", name }

Then run

nvim -c 'lua name = "teto"' -l sayHello.lua
> { "Hello", "teto" }

As it turns out, it’s quite easy to run busted tests using Neovim 0.9+ as the interpreter.

How to test your plugin with busted


  • If your plugin has any dependencies, it is a lot easier to set up if they are available on LuaRocks.
  • So in case they aren’t, open an issue asking to publish releases to LuaRocks, e.g. using the luarocks-tag-release GitHub action.
  • Install luarocks using your distro’s package manager and also install LuaJIT or Lua 5.1. The version doesn’t matter, since we’ll be using Neovim as the interpreter. But luarocks needs a real Lua installation that exposes its C header files to install dependencies.

Preparing your plugin

1. Add a .rockspec file

If your plugin has any dependencies, add a rockspec named <my-plugin>-scm-1.rockspec1 to your project’s root.

A minimal rockspec for testing might look something like this:

rockspec_format = '3.0'
package = '<my-plugin>'
version = 'scm-1'

test_dependencies = {
  'lua >= 5.1',

source = {
  url = 'git://github.com/mrcjkb/' .. package,

build = {
  type = 'builtin',

This file tells luarocks and busted how to build your plugin as a Lua package and which dependencies to install before running tests.

2. Add a .busted file

Next, add a .busted file to the root of your project, to configure busted. This file should contain the following content:

return {
  _all = {
    coverage = false,
    lpath = "lua/?.lua;lua/?/init.lua",
  default = {
    verbose = true,
  tests = {
    verbose = true,


The lpath is necessary to tell busted to look for your plugin’s source code in the lua directory.

3. Add luarocks project files to .gitignore

Add the following to your .gitignore:


4. Tell busted to use Neovim as a lua interpreter

Finally, add a run-tests.sh script:

luarocks init
luarocks install busted "$BUSTED_VERSION"
luarocks config --scope project lua_version 5.1
nvim -u NONE \
  -c "lua package.path='lua_modules/share/lua/5.1/?.lua;lua_modules/share/lua/5.1/?/init.lua;'..package.path;package.cpath='lua_modules/lib/lua/5.1/?.so;'..package.cpath;local k,l,_=pcall(require,'luarocks.loader') _=k and l.add_context('busted','$BUSTED_VERSION')" \
  -l "lua_modules/lib/luarocks/rocks-5.1/busted/$BUSTED_VERSION/bin/busted" "$@"

and make it executable:

chmod +x run-tests.sh
git update-index --chmod=+x run-tests.sh

That’s it! The script uses luarocks to install busted and configures Neovim to be able to find it using the -c argument. It then runs busted with the -l argument, and forwards any arguments you pass to the script. The .busted file and the rockspec tell busted how to find your plugin and its dependencies. By passing -u NONE, we tell Neovim to skip loading vimrc files and plugins.

To run your tests located in a directory named tests, simply execute

./run-tests.sh tests

Without any arguments, busted looks for *_spec.lua files in a directory named spec.

Using GitHub Actions to run tests

So far, this post has discussed using busted locally for testing Neovim plugins. However, to ensure thorough testing, compatibility, and bug detection across different environments, it’s essential to make this approach compatible with CI workflows like GitHub Actions.

Starting from version 5.0, the luarocks-tag-release GitHub action will automatically run tests if it detects a .busted file in the project root. By default, it will execute luarocks test with both the stable Neovim release and Neovim nightly as the Lua interpreter2, before publishing the plugin to LuaRocks. You can configure the action to run not only on tags, but also on pull requests (without publishing to LuaRocks.org).


luarocks-tag-release uses neorocks, a (slightly over-engineered) luarocks nix derivation configured to use Neovim’s Lua interpreter, to run the tests.

If you prefer not to publish your plugins to LuaRocks, I’ll leave the exciting exercise of crafting a custom GitHub Action as a challenge for you! 😈

Moving forward

If this has motivated you to try out using luarocks and busted to test your Neovim plugins, I’d love to hear your feedback!

  • Have you run into any issues?
  • Is there still something Neovim-specific that plenary-test provides, which you are missing from this approach?
  • Do you have any other thoughts?

Personally, I would like to see LuaRocks being able to run using Neovim, without having to install Lua. This possibility doesn’t seem far-fetched, especially considering that there are other communities that would also benefit from such an integration.

  1. Replace <my-plugin> with the name of your plugin.↩︎

  2. luarocks-tag-release updates the Neovim interpreters weekly.↩︎