Vim: When Copy and Paste doesn't work ...

I used to remember that copying and pasting to the clipboard used to work a long while ago, but I just couldn’t remember what exactly did I do in order to get it to work. That were the days where I was still bothered enough to tweak things to get it running - these days I just want to get things to work, which many will arguably retort that what I’m asking for isĀ impossible.

While Linux may be perceived as still a much less-accessible OS compared to the ones that you have to pay for, it actually works pretty well once you’ve gone past the learning curve. But from time-to-time, you can still be surprised with what you don’t know. It can feel like a hassle sometimes, but on the flip-side, learning new things is what makes using it fun. (Sure many may disagree on that too - and if you are one of them, I’ll save you the torture; shut your brain down and go back to surf your Facepage instead ;p)

I remembered about having to recompile vim from dog years ago, and started to look at what’s missing in the standard vim-enhanced package; lo-and-behold, the version flag shows the following:

$ /usr/bin/vim --version
VIM - Vi IMproved 7.3 (2010 Aug 15, compiled Nov 16 2010 17:05:25)
Included patches: 1-56
Modified by 
Compiled by 
Huge version without GUI.  Features included (+) or not (-):
+arabic +autocmd -balloon_eval -browse ++builtin_terms +byte_offset +cindent 
-clientserver -clipboard +cmdline_compl +cmdline_hist +cmdline_info +comments 
+conceal +cryptv +cscope +cursorbind +cursorshape +dialog_con +diff +digraphs 
-dnd -ebcdic +emacs_tags +eval +ex_extra +extra_search +farsi +file_in_path 
+find_in_path +float +folding -footer +fork() +gettext -hangul_input +iconv 
+insert_expand +jumplist +keymap +langmap +libcall +linebreak +lispindent 
+listcmds +localmap -lua +menu +mksession +modify_fname +mouse -mouseshape 
+mouse_dec +mouse_gpm -mouse_jsbterm +mouse_netterm -mouse_sysmouse 
+mouse_xterm +multi_byte +multi_lang -mzscheme +netbeans_intg -osfiletype 
+path_extra +perl +persistent_undo +postscript +printer +profile +python 
-python3 +quickfix +reltime +rightleft +ruby +scrollbind +signs +smartindent 
-sniff +startuptime +statusline -sun_workshop +syntax +tag_binary 
+tag_old_static -tag_any_white -tcl +terminfo +termresponse +textobjects +title
 -toolbar +user_commands +vertsplit +virtualedit +visual +visualextra +viminfo 
+vreplace +wildignore +wildmenu +windows +writebackup -X11 -xfontset -xim -xsmp
 -xterm_clipboard -xterm_save 
   system vimrc file: "/etc/vimrc"
     user vimrc file: "$HOME/.vimrc"
      user exrc file: "$HOME/.exrc"
  fall-back for $VIM: "/etc"
 f-b for $VIMRUNTIME: "/usr/share/vim/vim73"
Compilation: gcc -c -I. -Iproto -DHAVE_CONFIG_H     -O2 -g -pipe -Wall  -fexceptions -fstack-protector --param=ssp-buffer-size=4 -m64 -mtune=generic -D_GNU_SOURCE -D_FILE_OFFSET_BITS=64  -D_FORTIFY_SOURCE=1     
Linking: gcc   -L.  -rdynamic -Wl,-export-dynamic  -Wl,--enable-new-dtags -Wl,-rpath,/usr/lib64/perl5/CORE   -L/usr/local/lib -Wl,--as-needed -o vim       -lm -lnsl  -lselinux  -lncurses -lacl -lattr -lgpm -ldl    -Wl,--enable-new-dtags -Wl,-rpath,/usr/lib64/perl5/CORE  -fstack-protector  -L/usr/lib64/perl5/CORE -lperl -lresolv -lnsl -ldl -lm -lcrypt -lutil -lpthread -lc -L/usr/lib64/python2.7/config -lpython2.7 -lpthread -ldl -lutil -lm -Xlinker -export-dynamic   -lruby -lpthread -lrt -ldl -lcrypt -lm   

The compiler flag xterm_clipboard isn’t compiled with standard text mode vim, that was the main reason that I had to recompile vim in the past!

But these days, I’m lazy. I much rather not have to recompile and maintain my own packages if I have to, and it turns out that I’m in luck

So just do:

$ sudo yum install vim-X11
$ alias vim=$(which vimx)

The alias command just makes it easier given I’m so used to typing vim than vimx, so that I don’t have to undo my habit :)

So how do you make use of the clipboard? Let say you have mouse mode on (set mouse=a), and selected some text using your mouse; in order to send it to the clipboard, do


Note that the quote isn’t a typo. To paste from the clipboard into vim, do:


Bonus trick. You can make your selection in normal mode automatically be sent to the x11 clipboard by making this configuration:

set go+=a

Have fun! :D