Why would I use this plugin over neovim 0.9's remote TUI?
The primary difference to consider is that the neovim remote TUI functionality operates on keystrokes and mouse input while distant does networking through actions:
With keystrokes and mouse input, everything you type such as navigating through a file, highlighting text, yanking text, or changing a word gets communicated to the remote neovim instance. This means that network latency can have a major impact on your editing experience causing stuttering or other noticeable delays.
In contrast with actions, distant only sends network traffic for operations like writing and reading a file or executing a program. This means that your typing experience is not impacted by network latency. Distant only sends requests when you do something that needs to interact remotely.
In addition to reducing the impact of network latency, distant also offers some additional features which - at the time of neovim 0.9 - are additional advantages over neovim's TUI:
Security: distant provides authentication and encryption using a modern AEAD algorithm, ChaCha20-Poly1305 (specifically XChaCha20-Poly1305).
Programability: distant and distant.nvim provide a well-defined API to leverage the full suite of functionality including file IO, searching, watching, and process execution.
Persistence: distant supports persistent connections over TCP that will reconnect when the network is dropped, enabling more stable and consistent interactions with the remote machine.
How does this plugin differ from using neovim with sshfs?
There are a couple of primary differences that come to mind:
Filesystem: sshfs is built using FUSE, meaning that you need support for it as a userland filesystem. distant.nvim requires no special filesystem as the file contents are only reflected in buffers. Anything you read goes into a buffer and anything you write gets transmitted across the network directly through the distant library.
Program locations: distant supports running programs on the remote machine, colocated with your files. Language servers would run on the remote machine, for instance. When using sshfs to mount the remote file system on your local machine, you would then run programs locally and point them to the mounted files.
With distant, you are leveraging the resources of a remote machine. This can be advantageous if you want to perform CPU or GPU intensive operations without heavily impacting your local machine. With sshfs, you are leveraging the resources of a local machine for programs that you run. Depending on what you're doing, this can be much more expensive.
If a program needs to access the filesystem frequently, this would transmit a lot of requests over the network, especially if working over a large set of files. With distant, all of the filesystem operations would happen directly on the remote machine and only the program's output would be transmitted over the network.
Strengths & weaknesses
There are other technical differences, but the distinctions above are - at the moment - the differences that stand out. In some cases, using sshfs might be preferred, but for my use personally and at work this is the preferred method.