I'm finally getting around to upgrading from Vim 7.4 to Vim 8.1, but my global custom highlight colors have stopped working.

I am aware similar questions (such as this one) have been asked, but these all seem to be related to the closed Issue #542, and none of the solutions there seem to work for me.

Version Info

8.1 from the jonathonf/vim ppa repository on Ubuntu 18.04.

VIM - Vi IMproved 8.1 (2018 May 18, compiled Aug 22 2018 11:42:48)
Included patches: 1-346
Modified by [email protected]

Full --version text (Pastebin link) I also tried Vim 8.0 from Ubuntu 18.04's vim package

Minimum steps to reproduce

Create the following .vimrc file:

echo "Read the correct vimrc"
hi Comment ctermfg=green cterm=none

Edit any file with comments; "Read the correct vimrc" is displayed, but the comment color is not green.

Additionally, sometimes I can see the color change a few milliseconds after the file is opened, suggesting something may indeed be overriding my settings.

Running :hi Comment ... from within vim works as expected.

Running vim with/without -u .vimrc does not make a difference.

Other things I've tried

I've tried using the autocmd suggestion from the above linked answer, to no avail. In short, that looks something like this:

augroup customhighlight
        autocmd ColorScheme * hi Comment ctermfg=green
augroup end

I then went down the rabbit hole of vimrc defaults:

   system vimrc file: "$VIM/vimrc"
     user vimrc file: "$HOME/.vimrc"
 2nd user vimrc file: "~/.vim/vimrc"
      user exrc file: "$HOME/.exrc"
       defaults file: "$VIMRUNTIME/defaults.vim"
  fall-back for $VIM: "/usr/share/vim"

Unfortunately, unless I missed something, there doesn't appear to be anything in the default/Debian vim defaults that would override a user .vimrc, and, indeed, that would be silly.

I have not gone down the route of implementing custom color schemes, which was another suggestion. Reason being, I work with a lot of different filetypes on a regular basis, and there has always been a way to globally customize colors, so I'm hoping there's a solution.

:verbose hi Comment reports:

Comment        xxx term=bold ctermfg=14 guifg=#80a0ff
        Last set from /usr/share/vim/vim81/syntax/syncolor.vim

:colorscheme reports default


What is the best practice to set global syntax highlight color preferences in Vim 8.x?

  • Could a colorscheme be overriding it? What color is Comment set to? What about verbose hi Comment ?
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 13:39
  • From my reading of the Vim help, either your direct setting of the Comment highlight, if no colorscheme was set, or your ColorScheme autocommand, if a colorscheme was set, should have worked. If we find it's not working, we can submit a bug report. Before doing that, though, try executing this command: :verbose hi Comment. That should tell you where the Comment highlighting was last set. You might also execute :au ColorScheme to see if there are any other ColorScheme autocommands that might be overriding yours.
    – garyjohn
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 17:18
  • @D.BenKnoble and @garyjohn I've edited the question with that information. Looks otherwise normal to me, except something is (re)setting the highlight colors after .vimrc. There is no autocommand reported by :au ColorScheme. Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 4:48
  • It looks like syntax on could be the culprit. Is your custom highlight before or after that line in your vimrc ?
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 13:11
  • Since the Comment highlight was last set in syncolor.vim, I looked at that file and also read ":help syncolor". There it suggests creating a file ~/.vim/after/syntax/syncolor.vim and uses as an example setting the Comment highlight. Try that and see what happens.
    – garyjohn
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 13:48

1 Answer 1


I don't know what changed between Vim 7.4 and 8.1 that caused this change in behavior, but the output of :verbose hi Comment that you posted provided a clue to a solution. :help syncolor suggests overriding the default highlighting colors by creating a file named ~/.vim/after/syntax/syncolor.vim (~\vimfiles\after\syntax\syncolor.vim on Windows) and putting in that file highlight commands like the following.

if &background == "light"
    highlight Comment ctermfg=darkgreen guifg=darkgreen
    highlight Comment ctermfg=green guifg=green

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