I don't usually navigate my filesystem from Vim, but instead use a file manager and sometimes even the good, old interactive shell (command line).

Issuing vim file from the command line or from a terminal based file manager (MC, Vifm, Ranger, ...) totally defeats their purpose of navigation, since Vim takes over the terminal, blocking the shell or file manager. Of course, even this is impossible for GUI file managers since they don't run in a terminal.

A general solution is to use xterm -e vim file & to open each desired file in its own terminal, but after some time I end up with various open terminals, each with a file, and cycling through them with AltTab becomes cumbersome.

Is there a way to open every new file from my navigation utility (whatever it is) in a new buffer/tab of a same existing Vim instance?


First make sure vim --version | grep clientserver returns +clientserver. If it returns - instead of +, an easy way to enable that capability is to install Gvim, even though we won't use it. In Debian and Ubuntu, sudo apt install vim-athena0 installs it. An alternative for experienced users who definetly want to skip Gvim is to build Vim from sources with flags --with-x=yes --disable-gui.

Now that you have +clientserver, create the file vimserver with contents:

case "$(vim --serverlist)" in
    *XTVIM*) vim --servername XTVIM --remote-tab "$@" ;;
    *) xterm -e vim -p --servername XTVIM "$@" & ;;

Don't forget to put vimserver in a directory in your $PATH and to make it executable with chmod +x vimserver. If you use other terminal, find in its manpage what is the appropriate flag to execute the command in a new terminal window1.

Test it on some files (multiple files can be passed in the arguments):

vimserver file1 file2
vimserver file3 file4 file5

Each file will be opened in a new tab of a same Vim instance. If you want new files to be in a new buffer, just change --remote-tab to --remote and remove the -p flag.

Explaining vimserver

The case statement checks if the Vim server XTVIM — the name is arbitrary — exists. If yes (3rd line), XTVIM loads the file. If not (4th line), a new terminal is launched and new Vim server (named XTVIM) with it. The file is loaded in that new Vim instance.

Requesting focus

The terminal is not focused when a file is opened in an already existing server. For XTerm, URxvt and Kitty, setting an instance name for the window and adding a Xdotool line solves that:

case "$(vim --serverlist)" in
        xdotool search --classname XTVIM windowactivate
        vim --servername XTVIM --remote-tab "$@" ;;
    *) xterm -name XTVIM -e vim -p --servername XTVIM "$@" & ;;

Because of the -name option, Xdotool can locate the Vim window and request focus to it. Some terminals lack that option, in which case try to match the window title by substituting the Xdotool line with wmctrl -a XTVIM or xdotool search --name XTVIM windowactivate (assuming you did not fuss with Vim's titlestring option).

File managers


Edit ~/.config/vifm/vifmrc:

filextype <text/*> vimserver %f

Multiple files can be opened at the same via visual mode or tagging.

Midnight Commander

Edit the extension file ~/.config/mc/mc.ext:

 Open=vimserver %s

Tagging multiple files is also possible in MC.

GUI file-managers

For many of them, the procedure is right clicking a text file, Open with... > Custom command line / Use a custom command. In the command text field, enter vimserver and, if any, mark a checkbox or press the button that sets it as default.


If you are OK with Gvim2, do not bother with vimserver. Just use gvim --remote-tab-silent.

0: There is also the GTK GUI, but Athena is the lightest.
1: Gnome-terminal, Xfce4-terminal and Terminator use the -x flag, not -e.
2: Goldilocks comments about the Gvim usage in What are practical uses of the client-server mode?.

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