:find and :edit both edit files and appear to need the relative or absolute path provided if the file isn't in the current directory. What is the extra part that :find brings? What is 'path'?

Help for :find:

:fin[d][!] [++opt] [+cmd] {file}
Find {file} in 'path' and then :edit it.
{not in Vi} {not available when the +file_in_path
feature was disabled at compile time}

Help for :edit:

:e[dit] [++opt] [+cmd] {file}
Edit {file}.
This fails when changes have been made to the current
buffer, unless 'hidden' is set or 'autowriteall' is
set and the file can be written.
Also see ++opt and +cmd.
{Vi: no ++opt}

1 Answer 1


The difference is that :find will actually search for a file by that name in the list of directories specified in 'path'.

The default 'path' contains . (which is the path of the current file), then /usr/include (on Unix platforms, like Linux and Mac OS) and then an "empty" entry, corresponding to the current directory.

Which means if you're editing src/main/main.c and you use :find args.c, Vim will first search for it in src/main/, which makes the default useful when you open many files in the same directory.

You notice your file includes <stdio.h> and you would like to open this header file, then :find stdio.h will find that in the system include directory. (An especially useful shortcut to this one is gf, which will :find the file name under the cursor, also using 'path'.)

Finally, if you use a path relative to the current directory, one that will work with :edit, it will also work with :find.

And the behavior of :find can be easily customized, by changing 'path' to a setting that's more appropriate for your filetype (programming language) and specific project, to make it really easy to navigate between related files and browse files in a runtime's standard library.

To give you some ideas of how powerful 'path' can be, consider these settings:

:set path=.git/..;

This will traverse up the tree, trying to find a .git directory, then use the parent of that directory. In other words, this simple expression will look for the root of your git checkout and allow you to use :find to access paths relative to this directory.

Another powerful example is:

:set path=**

Which will traverse down the tree and allow you to open a file under any subdirectory in the tree. (Note that you should avoid this setting, it's preferable to have 'path' set in a semantically appropriate way for your language and/or project, which allows you to quickly access included files following the same path search as the language.)

You might want to consider enhancing this experience with plug-ins, in which case some recommendations are:

  • apathy.vim: Set 'path' and friends for languages such as C, Python, JavaScript and Go.
  • projectionist.vim: Understands your project's paths and sets 'path' appropriately.
  • Other language-specific plug-ins, such as vim-ruby for the Ruby language.
  • 1
    Great answer. Thank you. I missed the fact that 'path' in the manual was a link to where it's described (new users: hit CTRL-] while on 'path'). :find is a powerful feature I wish I started using years ago.
    – htoip
    Mar 13, 2020 at 13:10

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