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Setting up Vim to yank to clipboard on Mac OS X

12 Apr 2016

I'm writing this post because it took me a long time to figure out all of the little steps necessary to get Vim to yank to the clipboard.

I'm using El Capitan which is the latest version of OS X at the time of this writing (2016-04-12), so keep that in mind.

Ensuring Vim is capable

If you just want to be able to copy to OS X's clipboard, you just need +clipboard. If you want X11 clipboard support, you need +xterm_clipboard.

To check if they're enabled, run vim --version and you should see two items in there that have plus signs next to them:


If you don't see those, then you need to install a Vim with those options enabled. Note, the default vim that comes with OS X does not have either enabled.

Installing Vim via homebrew with the proper options

I use homebrew and I used it to install Vim. If you run brew options vim, you'll see the options available. What we're looking for is --with-client-server:

$ brew options vim
  Enable client/server mode

Now, if you just run brew install vim, it'll compile Vim with just +clipboard. If you want X11 clipboard support, you need to install it with the --with-client-server option.

If you don't see it, you may need to run brew update to get the latest brew updates. After that, install it like this:

$ brew install vim --with-client-server
...a few lines later...
🍺  /usr/local/Cellar/vim/7.4.1724: 1,684 files, 25M, built in 42 seconds

After you've installed it, make sure that you've set up your PATH correctly to invoke the installed Vim instead of the default system one.

Setting Vim to use the clipboard

TL; DR: you should have this in your .vimrc:

" yank to clipboard
if has("clipboard")
  set clipboard=unnamed " copy to the system clipboard

  if has("unnamedplus") " X11 support
    set clipboard+=unnamedplus

(optional) Running XQuartz X11 server

So at this point, you have clipboard support and it should be yanking to your clipboard. I prefer to run my Vim in conjunction with the X11 server, though. The reason for this is because I can then forward my X11 session to the systems I ssh into and have Vim on those systems copy to my clipboard! This works great in a Vagrant setup as welll, you just need to set config.ssh.forward_x11 to true.

Since you're running OS X, you don't have an X11 server running. The solution to this is to run XQuartz (installer for it is there). After you've installed it, make sure that your preference pane is set up like this (this step is vital!):

XQuartz Preferences Pane Screenshot

The last item ('Update Pasteboard immediately when new text is selected') is not selected by default which I didn't know was necessary in order to have vim copy to clipboard.


That's it! Feel free to correct me!

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