May 27, 2017 . 2 min

How to make Vim and Tmux friends with system clipboard

Fist of all, a small apology. The tmux solution is a bit specific and works only if you are using macOS and iTerm as your terminal emulator.

Get Vim to play nice #

Getting Vim working with the system clipboard is the easy part.

On macOS ( Sierra ) #

This is very easy. You will have clipboard support out of the box. You can get the clipboard contents by using


for paste and


for copy ( yank )

On Linux #

Well, its a bit harder on Linux, not that much though. First you will have to install a clipboard manager ( I am not sure its called that ) like xclip. Now, once that's down you can use


for paste and


for copy ( yank )

Get Tmux to play nice #

This is the hard part and I am really sorry that I haven't got time to play around with it on Linux.

Set up iTerm #

This solution is specific to iTerm, so download and install it first. Now enable Applications in terminal may access clipboard option from iTerm preferences.


Set up Tmux #

Now we have to set up Tmux.

First step is to install reattach-to-user-namespace using brew:

brew install reattach-to-user-namespace

Now add this line to your tmux config file at ~/.tmux.conf

set-option -g default-command "reattach-to-user-namespace -l bash"

Replace bash at the end with your shell. For example if your shell is zsh do:

set-option -g default-command "reattach-to-user-namespace -l zsh"

Now you can set tmux to use vim keys for copy and stuff. Just add the below lines to your tmux config file at ~/.tmux.conf

set-window-option -g mode-keys vi
if-shell "test '\( #{$TMUX_VERSION_MAJOR} -eq 2 -a #{$TMUX_VERSION_MINOR} -ge 4 \)'" 'bind-key -Tcopy-mode-vi v send -X begin-selection; bind-key -Tcopy-mode-vi y send -X copy-selection-and-cancel'
if-shell '\( #{$TMUX_VERSION_MAJOR} -eq 2 -a #{$TMUX_VERSION_MINOR} -lt 4\) -o #{$TMUX_VERSION_MAJOR} -le 1' 'bind-key -t vi-copy v begin-selection; bind-key -t vi-copy y copy-selection'

And you are good to go! #

And a bonus tip #

Want to get mouse scrolling on tmux? Add the following to your tmux config.

bind -n WheelUpPane if-shell -F -t = "#{mouse_any_flag}" "send-keys -M" "if -Ft= '#{pane_in_mode}' 'send-keys -M' 'copy-mode -e'"

This will, as soon as you start scrolling get you into copy mode. You can even select text inside tmux and it will copy as soon you have completed selecting into your clipboard.

← Home