Config files for the Windows version of VIM

Today I encountered problems configuring the windows version of the popular text editor VIM, so I thought I’d write up a quick post talk about configuration files under the Windows version, if anyone becomes stuck like I did. I use Linux, OSX and Windows on a day-to-day basis, and VIM as a text editor for a lot of quick edits on all three platforms. Here’s a quick comparison:


Linux is easy because that’s what most people who use VIM run, and so it is very well tested.

~/.vimrc – Configuration file for command line vim.
~/.gvimrc – Configuration file for gui vim.


OSX is simple also, as it’s based on unix:

~/.vimrc – Configuration file for command line vim.
~/.gvimrc – Configuration file for gui vim.


Windows is not easy at all.. it doesn’t have a unix file structure, and doesn’t have support for the unix hidden file names, that start with a ‘.’, ie: ‘.vimrc’, ‘.bashrc’, and so on. Most open-source programs like VIM that require these hidden configuration files, and have been ported over to windows, seem to adopt this naming convention: ‘_vimrc’, ‘_bashrc’.. and so forth. So:

_vimrc – Configuration file for command line vim.
_gvimrc – Configuration file for gui vim.

Renaming configuration files from “.” to “_” wouldn’t make much difference on its own. You’d have to rename your files, but.. big deal. It’s not much of a problem.

Another, more tricky, problem you may encounter however, is that there’s no clear home directory on windows systems. Each major incarnation of windows seems to have a slightly different way of dealing with user’s files.. from 2000 to XP, a change, from XP to Vista, there is a change. I haven’t tried VIM on W7 yet, but it seems similar to Vista in structure, so this information may actually be consistent to W7.

The Vista 64 version of VIM I have, looks in another place for configuration files. For a global configuration file, it looks in “C:Program Files”. Yes.. “C:Program Files”. According to Vista 64’s version of VIM.. that’s the exact directory where I installed VIM. This is clearly not right. What’s happening is that the file system on windows is different to the unix-type file systems, and the VIM port is having problems adapting. The real VIM install directory is C:Program Filesvim72. Because VIM is looking for a global configuration file in “C:Program Files_vimrc”, it’ll never find it.

Now you could override this with a batch file that sets the right environmental variables on startup, or you could change the environmental variables exported in windows, but I prefer to have a user-specified configuration file in my personal files directory, as it’s easier to backup and manage. If you wanted to specify the environmental variables yourself, which I’m guessing many will, the two environmental variables to override are:

$VIM = the VIM install directory, not always set properly, as I mentioned.
$HOME = the logged in user’s documents and settings directory, in windows speak this is also where the ‘user profile’ is stored, which is a collection of settings and configurations for the user. The exact directory will depend on which version of Windows you’re running, and if you override the HOME folder, you may have problems with other programs that rely on it being static.

On my Windows Vista 64 install:

$VIM = “C:Program Files”
$HOME = “C:UsersDave”

You can see what files VIM includes by running the handy command

vim -V

at a command prompt; it will go through the different settings and output something similar to this:

Searching for "C:UsersDave/vimfilesfiletype.vim"
Searching for "C:Program Files/vimfilesfiletype.vim"
Searching for "C:Program Filesvim72filetype.vim"
line 49: sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72filetype.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72filetype.vim
continuing in C:UsersDave_vimrc
Searching for "C:Program Files/vimfiles/afterfiletype.vim"
Searching for "C:UsersDave/vimfiles/afterfiletype.vim"
Searching for "ftplugin.vim" in "C:UsersDave/vimfiles,C:Program Files/vimfiles,C:Program Filesvim72,C:Program Files/vimfiles/after,C:UsersDave/vimfiles/after"
Searching for "C:UsersDave/vimfilesftplugin.vim"
Searching for "C:Program Files/vimfilesftplugin.vim"
Searching for "C:Program Filesvim72ftplugin.vim"
line 49: sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72ftplugin.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72ftplugin.vim
continuing in C:UsersDave_vimrc
Searching for "C:Program Files/vimfiles/afterftplugin.vim"
Searching for "C:UsersDave/vimfiles/afterftplugin.vim"
finished sourcing $HOME_vimrc
Searching for "plugin/**/*.vim" in "C:UsersDave/vimfiles,C:Program Files/vimfiles,C:Program Filesvim72,C:Program Files/vimfiles/after,C:UsersDave/vimfiles/after"
Searching for "C:UsersDave/vimfilesplugin/**/*.vim"
Searching for "C:Program Files/vimfilesplugin/**/*.vim"
Searching for "C:Program Filesvim72plugin/**/*.vim"
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72plugingetscriptPlugin.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72plugingetscriptPlugin.vim
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72plugingzip.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72plugingzip.vim
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72pluginmatchparen.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72pluginmatchparen.vim
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72pluginnetrwPlugin.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72pluginnetrwPlugin.vim
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72pluginrrhelper.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72pluginrrhelper.vim
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72pluginspellfile.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72pluginspellfile.vim
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72plugintarPlugin.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72plugintarPlugin.vim
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72plugintohtml.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72plugintohtml.vim
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72pluginvimballPlugin.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72pluginvimballPlugin.vim
sourcing "C:Program Filesvim72pluginzipPlugin.vim"
finished sourcing C:Program Filesvim72pluginzipPlugin.vim
Searching for "C:Program Files/vimfiles/afterplugin/**/*.vim"
Searching for "C:UsersDave/vimfiles/afterplugin/**/*.vim"
Reading viminfo file "C:UsersDave_viminfo" info
Press ENTER or type command to continue

Notice how it does pull in all the syntax highlighting macros and other extension files correctly, which are specified in the .vim files above.. but it doesn’t pull in the global configuration files that I’ve copied also to C:Program Filesvim72_gvimrc and C:Program Filesvim72_vimrc. However, it does pickup the files I copied to C:UsersDave.. both the C:UsersDave_vimrc and C:UsersDave_gvimrc are picked up, although VIM will normally read ‘_gvimrc’ when the gui version of VIM is run (called gvim).

To see exactly what those environmental variables are being set to, when you’re inside the editor, issue these two commands, and their values will be show in the editor:

:echo $HOME
:echo $VIM

It seems to make sense for me – and perhaps you, if you’re working with VIM on windows – to place my _vimrc and _gvimrc files configuration files in $HOME in Vista. They are then picked up without having to worry about explicitly defining any environmental variables, creating a batch file, or any other hassle.

You can do this easily by the following two commands:

:ed $HOME_vimrc
:sp $HOME_gvimrc

That will open the two new configuration files, side by side, and you can paste in your existing configuration that you’ve used in Linux, and windows will pick them up the next time you start VIM.

2 thoughts on “Config files for the Windows version of VIM”

  1. Your Vim is installed in the wrong place. That’s why the global config cannot be found.

    The default location on Windows is ‘C:Program FilesVimvim72’ (with an additional ‘Vim’ directory); then Vim looks for the global config in its parent directory, i.e. ‘c:Program FilesVim’. You can also add system-wide plugins, dictionaries and other stuff into ‘c:Program FilesVimvimfiles’ without polluting your actual installation, so you can update it without having to remember which files you added or changed.

    This works in Windows 7 (64 bit with 64 bit Vim) as well as in Windows XP (no Vista here, so I can’t tell).

    Also it wasn’t necessary to set the HOME environment variable. Vim’s default is to use %USERPROFILE% (or %HOMEPATH%, I’m not sure if there are cases where they can differ; in your case ‘c:usersdave’) and to map it to $HOME.

    By the way: Starting the config files with an underscore instead of a dot is optional and only used for user-convenience. ‘.vimrc’ is a perfectly acceptable file name. At least in Windows 7 you can even create (or rename) a file with a name starting with a dot. But even if this doesn’t work in XP or Vista, you can still create such files from the command line or from within Vim (which you will most likely use anyway if you’re creating ‘.vimrc’).


  2. I’m using Windows7 with gvim 7.3.

    As I understand it, editing the _vimrc file is the way to add keymap commands yet it ignores such commands. Eg:

    noremap :!C:DevelopmentFlashFLEXbinmxmlc.exe %

    autocmd BufRead *.as set filetype=actionscript

    These are not being read (with or without a preceding colon) though they work from the command line (within vim)

    Where do they need to go?


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