I recently upgraded from OS X 10.6 (I think) to 10.9. Since then it seems, while editing in vim, the arrow keys will "spontaneously" stop working.

At one point, in frustration I "mashed" one of the arrow keys and was eventually shown a "E388 Couldn't find a definition" error. All other times I've experienced it, the arrows, having worked for awhile, suddenly start dinging at me!

Quitting and reopening solves the problem temporarily. But, I'd like to prevent it!

Anyone know what this might be? And how to fix it?

It looks like my default vimrc was modified during the update. If my memory is correct, it was a pretty big file previously. Now, it just contains this:

" Configuration file for vim
set modelines=0         " CVE-2007-2438

" Normally we use vim-extensions. If you want true vi-compatibility
" remove change the following statements
set nocompatible        " Use Vim defaults instead of 100% vi compatibility
set backspace=2         " more powerful backspacing

" Don't write backup file if vim is being called by "crontab -e"
au BufWrite /private/tmp/crontab.* set nowritebackup
" Don't write backup file if vim is being called by "chpass"
au BufWrite /private/etc/pw.* set nowritebackup

I have no idea what these options do yet. I'll look into it -- but, hopefully someone here knows more quickly than I can google and read ...

  • I also just realized there's an Apple-centric forum here that this question might be better suited for. So, if this is more likely a condition of OS X than vim, perhaps a mod could migrate this for me. – svidgen Feb 22 '14 at 3:55
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    Reminds me of working on a "Prime" mainframe in college. The professor taught that you should never use the arrow keys in vi. Always use hjkl. That's where the "arrow" keys use to be on ancient hardware. – Red Cricket Feb 22 '14 at 3:56
  • OK... But, the arrow keys should work. Regardless of whether your professor thinks I should use them. And I find them convenient at times. So, looking forward to see the solution. – svidgen Feb 22 '14 at 15:28
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    what happens when you insert the key literal into a buffer? go into insert mode, and press Ctrl+v, then an arrow key. Vim on my Mac shows the up arrow key as ^[OA, down as ^[OB, right as ^[OC, and left as ^[OD. check before and after the problem presents itself – Nathan Wallace Feb 26 '14 at 18:21
  • @NathanWallace not sure how I overlooked your question. I'll try that when I'm at my Mac next. – svidgen Mar 4 '14 at 4:53

Found in James Hodgkinson's blog, the following command works for me. Note it will refresh the vim screen.

  • Not sure how I overlooked this answer, but it looks very promising! – svidgen Mar 17 '15 at 17:07
  • In fact ... Hitting Ctrl+R as described in the article reproduces the issue in full consistency with the wrong arrow-key mappings noted in my response to Nathan above. And the reset command solves it in that case. And .. I can't reliably reproduce the problem any other way, so this is definitely the most useful answer! – svidgen Mar 17 '15 at 17:15

I have run into this problem a few times as well. I happened to be running GNU screen on another computer that I was logged in to via SSH. To fix the problem, I detached my screen(s) (Ctrl-a d), logged off of the machine, logged back in, and reattached using screen -x. It may work without logging off of the machine, just by detaching and reattaching screen. I cannot remember though.

  • Closing my screen session and restarting it fixed it for me. – Eno Aug 12 '15 at 18:50
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    that was the problem for me. Somehow screen got in a state of funk (over an ssh connection). Closing that terminal, then ssh again, and screen -rd did the trick. Thanks! – Pierre D Mar 31 '16 at 12:40
  • @PierreD correct, I've run into this issue a few times already as well - also in a screen session, Detach & Reattach solved the problem, thanks! – stdcerr Jul 11 at 18:34

In the path /usr/share/vim/ I found the .vimrc file... There I added the line

set term=ansi 

It worked for me. Now the arrow keys are working properly in Vim editor.

  • 2
    This fixed it for me too, since latest Windows 10 WSL/Ubuntu update broke it. – Gray Fox May 27 '18 at 16:25

This sounds very much like your issue. The article is titled: Cursor Keys in Vim: You Mac’ing Me Crazy!.


Vim is useful in many situations, particularly for quick edits (especially as root), and editing files on a remote server. One annoyance I've had during my nine months with a Mac Book Pro is cursor keys in Vim ringing the bell in both insert or command mode instead of changing lines. Upgrading to version 7 via MacPorts yielded the same results. The cursor keys worked after switching my TERM to VT220 from rxvt! The downside was syntax highlighting stopped working.

Luckily, adding VT220 to my Google search parameters turned up a reference to vt100-cursor-keys in the Vim documentation. Add the following code to your .vimrc file to fix the problem:

    :set notimeout          " don't timeout on mappings
    :set ttimeout           " do timeout on terminal key codes
    :set timeoutlen=100     " timeout after 100 msec

In the same article there's another suggestion of setting your $TERM to linux instead on OSX.


A better solution is to change the default value for TERM to either linux or dtterm since the TERM value will be picked up on the remote server. In this day and age, I would bet most servers support both these terminal types.

  • Hmm ... I'm even more confused now. I'd thought I had global/default .vimrc files. Would these have been moved or removed during an OS X update? – svidgen Mar 5 '14 at 2:35
  • @svidgen - No I don't think that would've changed, but that issue sounded er-rely similar to yours, and the fix is easy enough to try out, so I thought I'd share it with you. Incidentally the $TERM could've gotten changed on you. – slm Mar 5 '14 at 2:39
  • Whelp, this is definitely the most relevant answer here. +1 for that. Not sure whether it fixes it yet, unfortunately, since I can't consistently reproduce the problem. – svidgen Mar 5 '14 at 3:07
  • After having applied this fix, the issue has occurred again. Still a relevant answer, leaving the +1. But, please see my comment above if you're interested in supplying an additional answer. – svidgen Mar 9 '14 at 3:43

Congrats on the update. I did my own update over the weekend and have been dealing with some of my own odd keyboard issues.

Here are a couple of things I needed to to:

  • Remove old Logitech gaming software and upgrade. Prior to doing this I was having issues using my square and curly braces. Special keys often send esc-[ sequences in the VIM context so this might be relevant.
  • Go into System Prefs:Security and Privacy:Privacy:Accessibility and enable a couple of apps (synergy_server and Logitech gaming software). Prior to this change I was unable to control my other computers with synergy or use macros with my G11. I doubt this is a direct connection for you but the Accessibility options are new and might apply to some other app of yours.

If you are working in .sql files in vim (you don't mention) this could help you. I just dealt with this the other day.

In file ~/.vimrc

let g:omni_sql_no_default_maps = 1

this particular issue is discussed here

If you're not experiencing this problem with .sql files in vim then I apologize, my only thought would be to verify the mapping within vim when the problem occurs.

:map Ctrl V → when you lose your ability to use your arrow, do that command and see if the mapping disappeared. if it did, this gives you a place to start digging in.


I had this problem in an SSH session and solved it by logging out then back in again:

ssh ...
  • Thanks for weighing in. The selected answer has consistently worked for me though. Have you tried it? – svidgen Oct 19 '18 at 17:52
  • Yes, the accepted solution didn't work on Ubuntu 18. I even uninstalled and reinstalled vim (in the same ssh session) and no dice. Only logging out then back in again restored arrow functionality. – duhaime Oct 19 '18 at 18:12

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