I'm trying to figure out how to get vim and tmux play together.

My problem is: When I use xterm-256color I get vim to work nicely, but the background doesn't render properly.

I fixed this by using screen-256color. This looks nice but breaks the Ctrl + arrow keys (they go in insert mode and delete 4 lines). I want to use these mappings instead to switch tabs in vim.

How do I get this to work?

4 Answers 4


There are several levels of configuration that need to be set up correctly for the best functionality.

  1. Configure tmux to recognize the sequences. Before launching tmux, set a TERM value that is appropriate for your terminal emulator (e.g. xterm-256color). The terminfo database entry identified by the TERM environment variable tells tmux how to recognize the sequences for the modified arrow keys (the user-defined capabilities {kUP,kDN,kRIT,kLFT}{,3..7}).
  2. Configure tmux to generate the sequences. Set the xterm-keys session option to on so that tmux will generate its own xterm-style sequence when it receives a sequence that its TERM identifies. In your ~/.tmux.conf:

    set-option -g xterm-keys on
  3. Configure the programs running inside tmux to use/expect the majority of its sequences. Make sure you are using a screen-based TERM inside tmux (e.g. screen-256color). This tells programs running inside tmux how to control tmux’s terminal (re)emulation and what responses they should expect from tmux.
  4. Unfortunately, screen-based terminfo database entries often do not define any sequences for the modified arrow keys (i.e. they may not have kUP, et cetera), so the programs running inside tmux may not know to expect such sequences. You will need to manually configure any programs that you want to recognize these keys. In Vim, you can put this in your ~/.vimrc:

    if &term =~ '^screen'
        " tmux will send xterm-style keys when xterm-keys is on
        execute "set <xUp>=\e[1;*A"
        execute "set <xDown>=\e[1;*B"
        execute "set <xRight>=\e[1;*C"
        execute "set <xLeft>=\e[1;*D"

    You may want to use the variants without x (i.e. <Up> instead of <xUp>, et cetera) if you find that using the x-variant causes your normal arrow keys to stop working.

    The advantage of defining the keys like this is that you do not have to map each of the modifier combinations separately (Shift, Control, Contol+Shift, Meta, Meta+Shift, Meta+Control, Meta+Control+Shift); the * gets special interpretation to handle all the related sequences (see :help xterm-modifier-keys).

  5. Then you can map the keys instead of their hard-coded sequences:

    nnoremap <C-Right> gt
    nnoremap <C-Left> gT

Run cat within tmux and press the keys in question to find out the escape codes they generate. For me this gives ^[[D and ^[[C. Then just map those escape codes directly.

nnoremap ^[[D gT
nnoremap ^[[C gt

where the ^[ is an escape character, that you can insert by pressing <CTRL-v><ESC> in vim.

  • That didn't change the behaviour of my vim.
    – outsmartin
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 21:02
  • What's printed when you start cat within tmux and press the keys? Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 22:38
  • ^[[1;5C and ^[[1;5D. Good idea, I didn't know how to get those. Just tried it. It works! Thank you.
    – outsmartin
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 9:14
  • Great. I edited my ansewer to incorporate the method to get the right escape codes. Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 12:19

As explained here, disable Background Color Erase (BCE) by clearing the t_ut terminal option (run :set t_ut= in Vim and then press Control+L to refresh the terminal's display) so that color schemes work properly when Vim is used inside tmux and GNU screen.

This way, you can keep your TERM value as xterm-256color for proper key detection while also getting proper Vim color scheme rendering too! :-)


Does setting set t_Co=256 in your ~/.vimrc help at all? This is just a colour setting but may help clear some problems.

You could re-map the ctrl+Arrow keys in your ~/.vimrc as well...

Edit: did you try ctrl+Arrow in a GNU screen session? I think this maybe your problem.

  • it looks and works fine in screen with xterm-256color
    – outsmartin
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 16:41
  • set t_Co=256 is done aswell
    – outsmartin
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 16:47
  • Did any of it help? Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 16:50
  • unfortunately no. What do you exactly mean with remapign ctrl+arrow? I use them already remapped to switch tabs in vim.
    – outsmartin
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 16:53
  • its mapped like this: map <C-Right> gt
    – outsmartin
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 16:55

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