The other day I was using one of my non-interactive scripts to set up my dot files for my home directory, including my .vimrc file. This is what I had the script put into my .vimrc file:

. /etc/external/config.conf

This was before I knew vim can interpret 'source' but not '.' when sourcing external configuration. I thought my script worked well and then I got this error later when opening up vim:

search hit BOTTOM, continuing at TOPError detected while processing 
line    1:
E486: Pattern not found: etc

It would have been really nice if I could have run some sort of sanity check on my .vimrc in my script so that I could have found out about my misconfigured settings sooner rather than later. How can I run a sanity check on my .vimrc configuration from the shell programmatically, without user interaction?

  • 1
    I think most people just try sourcing it (:so % if you're currently in the buffer or :so %MYVIMRC if you're not) or simply restart Vim.
    – Rich
    Apr 4, 2018 at 9:21
  • @Rich I should have been more clear with my question. I need to be able to run the sanity check from the shell. I have a script that needs to run non-interactively, and in that script I am setting up my dot files in my home directory. If I have to open vim to check my .vimrc syntax, then my script would require user interaction (which I do not want). Apr 4, 2018 at 16:01
  • Ohhh. I missed (or didn't grok) the words "in a script" in your original question. It makes a lot more sense now!
    – Rich
    Apr 4, 2018 at 16:23

2 Answers 2


It might be preferable to install an external tool, configurable depending on your needs: it may even have warnings you didn't know about. I recommend vint, which I use with ale for live linting.

But if you go down this path you need the command to fail (exit code != 0). You can achieve this with an intermediary file (instead of an inline command for readability), i.e. test.vim:

  source $HOME/.vimrc

The pattern (see :h :catch) should not only contain "Error detected while processing", or you would miss some messages.

Then you have to to verify if vim -u test.vim fails, for example in bash:

vim -N -u test.vim; [[ $? -ne 0 ]] && echo "Invalid .vimrc"

In my case I needed -N to avoid errors as I don't explicitly set nocompatible in my configuration.

Also, check this answer about silent mode and running Vim non-interactively.

vim -q fakefile >/dev/null 2>/tmp/checkforerrors; grep -q -F 'Error detected while processing ' /tmp/checkforerrors && echo '.vimrc syntax is bad' || echo '.vimrc syntax is good!!'; rm /tmp/checkforerrors

I would love to hear from some vi/vim experts about whether this command is safe and effective. Very ugly and hackish, but it seems to work well as a way to run a sanity check on my .vimrc file.

  • You can use the -q switch with grep instead of redirecting stdout and stderr to /dev/null. Ex: grep -qF 'Error detected while processing ' && ...
    – ZeroKnight
    Apr 6, 2018 at 12:02

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