I am using NeoVim v0.4.3. This is the latest version available in repository. I have an Arch build with the most up to date packages and kernel 5.6.4-arch1-1.

Occasionally I edit a file with nvim that I don't have permissions to edit. I only realise this as I am about to save my work.

Recently I edited


with command

nvim /etc/pulse/default.pa

and no use of sudo.

This file has the following permissions

$ ls -la /etc/pulse/default.pa
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 4966 Jan 11 18:25 default.pa

So I did some googling and tried to save it with

:w !sudo tee %

and got this error

sudo: a terminal is required to read the password; 
either use the -S option to read from standard 
input or configure an askpass helper

shell returned 1

Press ENTER or type command to continue

It also showed, on the highlighted bar, at the base of the screen, the following

/etc/pulse/default_2.pa [+][RO] 

This did'nt work.

So I tried

:w !echo password | sudo -S tee %

It then displayed the following

:w !echo password | sudo -S tee %                                                                                      
[sudo] password for user:
W12: Warning: File "/etc/pulse/default.pa" has changed and the buffer was changed in Vim as well
See ":help W12" for more info.
[O]K, (L)oad File:

So I pressed O and nothing happened. I then tried :wq and it complained the file was read only.

I then went through the process again and this time pressed L and it showed

:w !echo password | sudo -S tee %
[sudo] password for user:
W12: Warning: File "/etc/pulse/default.pa" has changed and the buffer was changed in Vim as well
See ":help W12" for more info.
"/etc/pulse/default.pa" [readonly] 0L, 0C
Press ENTER or type command to continue

and nvim left me with a blank screen and an overwritten etc/pulse/default.pa file with nothing in it.

I've recovered the file but want to know how to tee the file down to disk when I open the file without the correct permissions.

I'm quite new to vim and think I got this working before but can't for the life of me remember how?

  • 2
    FWIW, I use this command: exe 'w !sudo tee >/dev/null %:p:S' | setl nomod, and I export this variable in my shell (from ~/.zshenv): export SUDO_ASKPASS='/usr/lib/ssh/x11-ssh-askpass'. On Ubuntu this x11-ssh-askpass file is provided by the ssh-askpass package. I don't know what's the equivalent package on arch, nor where it's actually installed on an arch system. – user938271 May 1 '20 at 17:04
  • 2
    Also consider using sudoedit /etc/pulse/default.pa (or sudo -e /etc/pulse/default.pa) which will make a temporary copy of the file for you to edit. Make sure your $EDITOR variable is set correctly so it uses nvim for editing the temporary file. – filbranden May 1 '20 at 17:08
  • Thank you. I added this line to .bashrc, export SUDO_ASKPASS='/usr/lib/ssh/x11-ssh-askpass The x11-ssh-askpass package has same name on Arch. I installed this package with sudo pacman -S x11-ssh-askpass & inserted this line into my ~/.vimrc, command W :execute ':silent w !sudo tee % > /dev/null' | :edit!. Now can I edit root owned files without losing data, saving with :W (capital W). To make nvim more portable can I pass the password to sudo within nvim? I tried command W :execute ':silent w !echo password | sudo -S tee % > /dev/null' | :edit! but this does not work. – Kes May 1 '20 at 20:56
  • @user938271 can you put this up as an answer please so I can press the tick button, thank you – Kes May 1 '20 at 22:57

You could try this :W command:

com -bar W exe 'w !sudo tee >/dev/null %:p:S' | setl nomod

Broken down:

"               ┌ write the buffer on the standard input of a shell command (`:h w_c`)
"               │ and execute the latter
"               │
"               │   ┌ raise the rights of the `tee(1)` process so that it can write in
"               │   │ a file owned by any user
"               ├─┐ │
com -bar W exe 'w !sudo tee >/dev/null %:p:S' | setl nomod
"                           ├────────┘ │ 
"                           │          └ but write in the current file
"                           │
"                           └ don't write in the terminal

You may also need to tell sudo(8) which helper program should be executed to read your password.

According to man sudo, there are 2 ways to do it. You can either export the environment variable SUDO_ASKPASS, and assign it the path to the helper program; e.g.:

export SUDO_ASKPASS='/usr/lib/ssh/x11-ssh-askpass'

Here, the helper program is provided by the Ubuntu package x11-ssh-askpass; the name of the package, and the location of the file may differ on your OS. Export the variable from an init file sourced by your shell (e.g. ~/.bash_profile, ~/.zshenv, ...).

Or you can edit the sudo.conf(5) file, and include this directive inside:

Path askpass /usr/lib/ssh/x11-ssh-askpass

For more info about the cause of the issue, see this entry in the Neovim FAQ and the links it provides.


There’s a plugin for this. The reason the old :w !sudo tee % doesn't work with Neovim has to do with the refactoring following a client-server architecture, the team is working on a solution though that hopefully will be shipped with 0.5

  • I was sure I had :w !sudo tee % working somewhere before and thought it might have been in vim and not neovim, which you have confirmed. Thank you for the clear explanation. – Kes May 1 '20 at 22:56
  • I tried this plugin, and apparently it has a bug that prevents it from saving "large" files. The threshold for "large" is fairly low: it's failing for me on a file with 792 lines. github.com/lambdalisue/suda.vim/issues/5 – raddevon Jan 18 at 15:46

Try suda.vim : https://github.com/lambdalisue/suda.vim

In case you use vim plug, after plugging it (adding the line) with Plug 'lambdalisue/suda.vim' do a :PlugInstall and thereafter with :SudaWrite instead of the regular :w you will be prompted for a password and can save files as root which have been opened without root permission.

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