• Fedora 25 (4.9.12-200.fc25.x86_64)
  • GNOME Terminal 3.22.1 Using VTE version 0.46.1 +GNUTLS
  • VIM - Vi IMproved 8.0 (2016 Sep 12, compiled Feb 22 2017 16:26:11)
  • tmux 2.2

I recently started using tmux and have observed that the colors within Vim change depending on whether I'm running inside or outside of tmux. Below are screenshots of Vim outside (left) and inside (right) of tmux while viewing a Git diff:

enter image description here

My TERM variable is

  • Outside tmux: xterm-256color
  • Inside tmux: screen-256color

Vim reports these terminal types as expected (via :set term?):

  • Outside tmux: term=xterm-256color
  • Inside tmux: term=screen-256color

Vim also reports both instances are running in 256-color mode (via :set t_Co?):

  • Outside tmux: t_Co=256
  • Inside tmux: t_Co=256

There are many similar questions out there regarding getting Vim to run in 256-color mode inside tmux (the best answer I found is here), but I don't think that's my problem given the above information.

I can duplicate the problem outside of tmux if I run Vim with the terminal type set to screen-256color:

$ TERM=screen-256color vim

So that makes me believe there's simply some difference between the xterm-256color and screen-256color terminal capabilities that causes the difference in color. Which leads to the question posed in the title: what specifically in the terminal capabilities causes the Vim colors to be different? I see the differences between running :set termcap inside and outside of tmux, but I'm curious as to which variables actually cause the difference in behavior.

Independent of the previous question, is it possible to have the Vim colors be consistent when running inside or outside of tmux? Some things I've tried include:

  • Explicitly setting the default terminal tmux uses in ~/.tmux.conf to various values (some against the advice of the tmux FAQ):
    set -g default-terminal "screen-256color"
    set -g default-terminal "xterm-256color"
    set -g default-terminal "screen.xterm-256color"
    set -g default-terminal "tmux-256color"
  • Starting tmux using tmux -2.

In all cases, Vim continued to display different colors inside of tmux.

  • Could you please start script, start vim, quit vim and then quit script's shell, and attach the resulting typescript file? Then repeat the same steps with TERM=screen-256color vim instead.
    – egmont
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 11:07
  • @egmont Here you go: typescript-xterm-256color and typescript-screen-256color. Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 18:59
  • 1
    I can see 256-color escape sequences in the xterm-256color version (search for "38;5;" in the file), but cannot in the screen-256color. E.g. wherever there's a \e[38;5;81m in xterm-256color (color #81 of the 256-color palette, a middle blue shade), screen-256color contains \e[34m instead (the standard blue of the 8-color palette). So the main question is why does vim not use the 256-color palette in case of TERM=screen-256color.
    – egmont
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 21:04
  • Another interesting thing is that the xterm-256color version seems to print the screen twice, first with the legacy colors and then with the 256-color palette. Search for e.g. "F1" in the file, you'll find two matches in xterm-256color, the first with \e[34m color, the second with \e[38;5;81m. I don't know what's going on here.
    – egmont
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 21:06
  • Adding set -g default-terminal "screen.xterm-256color" in ~/.tmux.conf and reload the config in tmux (<C-s>: source-file ~/.tmux.conf) worked for me (highlight issue). thx
    – dtrckd
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 13:15

7 Answers 7


I had the similar issue before. Comments in blue in Vim were hard to read. In .tmux.conf I set this:

set -g default-terminal "screen-256color"

And in .vimrc:

set background=dark

Now it looks as follows and works both in Gnome Terminal and Cygwin: enter image description here

  • 7
    This solved it for me. For some reason, inside tmux, vim wasn't detecting a dark background. Explicitly setting bg=dark in my vimrc fixed it. Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 17:39
  • Strange - my $TERM both inside and outside tmux was "xterm-256color" and explicitly setting the backgroun did it for me as well. Thank you!
    – nronnei
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 0:36
  • 1
    Worked for me too. I thought the problem was with stterm because in xfce4-terminal everything looked comfortable(comments appearing in cyan instead of blue which is very hard to read with dark background). after this change everything works fine. But remember to add unlet! skip_defaults_vim source $VIMRUNTIME/defaults.vim to vimrc file to use syntax highlighting etc... Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 18:16

tmux doesn't support the terminfo capability bce (back color erase), which vim checks for, to decide whether to use its "default color" scheme.

That characteristic of tmux has been mentioned a few times -


The following settings inside ~/.tmux.conf worked for me:

# file ~/.tmux.conf
# ...

set -g default-terminal "xterm-256color"

# make colors inside tmux look the same as outside of tmux
# see https://github.com/tmux/tmux/issues/696
# see https://stackoverflow.com/a/41786092
set-option -ga terminal-overrides ",xterm-256color:Tc"

# ...
  • 4
    Ummmm you sir, have the only answer that works! Every other answer does not work in my case, Thank you, 1000x upvote if I could.
    – ldog
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 7:20
  • 1
    This should be the approved answer. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 9:12
  • 2
    This answer worked for me (windows terminal + tmux + github.com/cideM/yui colorscheme)
    – jmzagorski
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 18:43
  • Many thanks! This fixed my NeoVim colorscheme with tmux + foot terminal. Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 7:48

Thanks to @egmont's analysis of what colors Vim was outputting when TERM=screen-256color, I was inspired to look at the color scheme Vim is using in the two scenarios.

Vim reports it is using the default color scheme in both cases. I thought that odd because the default color scheme on Fedora 25 (/usr/share/vim/vim80/colors/default.vim) doesn't appear to match the colors I actually see when TERM=xterm-256color. If I explicitly set the color scheme using :colorscheme default when TERM=xterm-256color, Vim's appearance changes to that when TERM=screen-256color. To get the colors back to what they were when I first start Vim, I had to use the ron color scheme. Progress!

I found an Ask Ubuntu answer that suggests that when Vim reports it is using the default color scheme, it doesn't necessarily mean default.vim but rather some theme-specific color scheme. As the answer points out, a dark theme (which I am using) corresponds to the ron color scheme, just as I discovered above. (Even though this post is with respect to Ubuntu, I'm assuming the OP was using GNOME.)

I also found another question that seems to describe the same problem I'm having. I came across it while searching before I posted this question, but, for some reason, the color scheme didn't strike me as being relevant.

I ended up doing what @LapshinDmitry did in his answer and explicitly set colorscheme ron in my ~/.vimrc file. Now, whether I start Vim inside or outside of tmux, the colors appear the same. The only drawback is if I ever change my desktop theme from a dark flavor to a light flavor, Vim won't automatically switch to the "default" light theme color scheme, which is apparently peachpuff. I can live with that, as I'm unlikely to ever change my theme.

I'm not going to accept this answer because I consider explicitly setting the color scheme in my ~/.vimrc a workaround rather than the solution. If someone can explain why Vim loads a different "default" color scheme depending on the value of TERM, I'll be happy to accept that answer, as I'm more interested in understanding the root cause. I suspect it has something to do with how Vim interprets the terminal capabilities between the two terminfo files.

  • I'm also curious why vim behaves this way. After all, the bce capability should have nothing to do with the available number of colors.
    – egmont
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 14:54
  • @egmont I interpreted @ThomasDickey's answer as: 1) Vim checks the bce capability of the terminal, 2) if present, select color scheme "A", 3) otherwise, select color scheme "B". I believe the color depth is the same in both cases (i.e. 256 colors, as t_Co shows). It's just that color scheme "B" on my system happens to only use an 8-color palette even though 256 colors are possible (I think that explains what you observed in your typescript analysis; please correct me if I'm wrong). Remember, after I run :colorscheme ron, I see 256-color escape sequences in the same Vim session. Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 16:14
  • Thanks for the explanation - I still cannot see any rationale behind this though. Nevermind. vim has really weird design decisions.
    – egmont
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 19:47

For me I have to add below into the .tmux.conf to get the RGB color and eliminate the color difference.

set -ag terminal-overrides ",xterm-256color:RGB"
set  -g default-terminal "tmux-256color"

My TERM variable is Outside tmux: xterm-256color Inside tmux: screen-256color

That's correct and working for me. Try it with a different terminal (I use urxvt) to see if Gnome Terminal is the problem. 

Also check COLORTERM (mine is set to rxvt) and unset TERMCAP.

  • Thanks for the suggestions. I ran the same test with urxvt (outer TERM is rxvt-unicode-256color) using an appropriate ~/.Xdefaults and unfortunately still observed different colors inside and outside of tmux. For the gnome-terminal scenario, COLORTERM is truecolor and TERMCAP is empty both inside and outside tmux. For the urxvt scenario, COLORTERM is rxvt-xpm outside and truecolor inside tmux, while TERMCAP is empty both inside and outside tmux. Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 2:32
  • @RustyShackleford this is only for Vim? Are you using 'termguicolors'? Take a look at :help xterm-true-color or try with a more default Vim config.
    – laktak
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 8:08
  • I've only noticed the problem in Vim so far (like I said, I only recently started using tmux). For example, my terminal prompt and Git CLI output appear to have the same colors both inside and outside of tmux. I do not set termguicolors in my .vimrc and :set termguicolors? reports notermguicolors in both cases. I'll look at the help topic you referenced; thanks! Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 19:16

Thanks for all the answers. I have some new findings.

  1. In VIM, there are default color schemes and a color scheme named 'default'. Confusing, huh? The default color schemes are 'ron' for dark background, and 'default' otherwise. Checking https://github.com/vim/vim/blob/master/runtime/colors/default.vim, set bg& is causing the trouble.

  2. Only dark background is affected by this problem because the background is mistaken as light. Query :set background? to find out.

  3. iTerm2 works with no issue when TERM=screen-256color. But it still does not work when you run tmux in iTerm2. The reason is iTerm use COLORFGBG, which vim can use to determine bg. This explains many magic behaviours. iTerm2 sometimes adds COLORFGBG, but sometimes not.


  1. Explicitly set colorscheme, e.g. colorscheme ron
  2. set background=dark
  3. Passing query of bg to outer terminal by
if exists("$TMUX")
    let &t_RB = "\ePtmux;\e\e]11;?\007\e\\"

So far, this is the method I'm using. The best would be tmux to implement support of osc 11 sequences and Vim recognize tmux and set t_RB accordingly.

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