I'd like to open a file from another branch in the current git repository. I have seen this SO question, but the suggestions for combining it with Vim are cumbersome (pipe to Vim, open stdin, set filetype, etc. manually). Is there a simpler way that retains syntax highlighting, filetype settings, etc.?

If it helps:

  • I have the fugitive plugin installed (though rarely used).
  • I don't need to modify the file

The file can be the file for the currently open buffer, or a different one.

  • @Andy this question isn't about fugitive per se. I happened to have it installed already, but I'd have been just as happy with methods that used some alternative plugin, or no plugin at all.
    – muru
    Aug 11, 2020 at 2:07
  • And the accepted answer is about fugitive, which is why I tagged it. Aug 11, 2020 at 14:39
  • @AndyLester and if somebody posts a simple enough way that doesn't need fugitive, or if a better plugin than fugitive comes along and that's used in an answer, I could very well accept those instead.
    – muru
    Aug 11, 2020 at 14:41

3 Answers 3


You can use :Gedit/:Gsplit/:Gvsplit/... with the form {revision}:{filename}

:Gedit branch:/foo/bar.c

Note: If the file is the same as the current file you can abbreviate the command like so: :Gsplit branch:%.

It is often the case that a diff of the current file is preferred than just opening the file on a different branch. You can do this via :Gdiff {branch}.

For more help see:

:h fugitive-:Gedit
:h fugitive-revision
:h fugitive-:Gdiff
:h c_%

You may also want to check out Vimcasts episodes in the Fugitive Series.

  • Beautiful! Curious: what happens if I modify a file so opened?
    – muru
    Jun 28, 2015 at 2:34
  • 1
    @muru You will notice that the buffer is opened up in a read only buffer (probably notice an [RO] in the status line). Jun 28, 2015 at 2:38
  • yep, it's there.
    – muru
    Jun 28, 2015 at 2:42
  • 1
    fugitive needs the path from the root of the repository. The answer already cover this, but I wrongly assumed that fugitive could understand when we are in a particular subdirectory of the repo.
    – Paschalis
    May 23, 2016 at 10:52
  • amazing.. first time using fugitive.. even though I had it installed for a long time :)
    – alpha_989
    May 26, 2018 at 19:07

This is a little more broad than what OP asked, but for people not wanting to use plugins, and possibly other revision control systems, this little snippet tends to work fairly well:

:r! git show branch:file

It creates a new window and shows the file there by reading the output of the given command into the new buffer. This of course works with any external command, not just git.

Example for bzr (where REV syntax can specify a branch):

:r! bzr cat -r REV file

Example for hg (not sure about branches in hg; don't use it enough)

:r! hg cat -r REV file

Example for svn (

:r! svn cat file@REV

You would still probably want to set the filetype to get syntax highlighting like in the SO posts, but at least you don't have to mess with piping.

Once opened you can save it under a new name with :w filename or :saveas filename, since Vim won't have a filename for it yet. If you don't want to be able to edit it, you can also throw in a :setlocal readonly and/or :setlocal nomodifiable.

-Edit: Automatic Filetype-

It's a little more work, but you can ask Vim to guess the filetype with

:filetype detect

But, since Vim doesn't have a name yet, this doesn't always work well (for example, I pulled in some C code and it guessed filtype=conf.

We can give it a name by saving it, but we don't want to overwrite a possibly existing file. We can also just set the filename (Thanks @PeterRincker!), but again, we don't want to risk collisions. Since it is unlikely that a file exists that is both the branchname and filename together, we'll concatenate them with some arbitrary separator

:exe "silent file " . "branch" . "-" . "file"
:filetype detect

Where "file" is replaced with the actual filename and "branch" with the branch name

Of course, at this point we are almost writing a plugin ;-)

Thowing it all together, here it is as a git specific function you could drop in your vimrc:

function! GitFile(branch,file)
    exe "silent r! git show " . a:branch . ":" . a:file
    exe "silent file " . a:branch . "-" . a:file
    filetype detect
    setlocal readonly     "don't allow saving
    setlocal nomodified   "allow easy quitting without saving
    setlocal nomodifiable "don't allow modification

which you could wrap in a command or call directly e.g. call GitFile("whateverBranch","myfile.c"). You'll get a new window with a buffer named whateverBranch-myfile.c

  • And can I get it to detect filetype, syntax, etc. automatically with this method?
    – muru
    Jun 28, 2015 at 2:44
  • Sadly not without some more work; I updated the post
    – John O'M.
    Jun 28, 2015 at 2:45
  • 1
    I do recommend using the plugin method from @PeterRinker's post if you can. It should do a lot of the nice things you'd like. I mostly wanted to show that one needn't leave the editor nor deal with the hassles of piping to get the data, and I know that there are some people who hate having to use plugins.
    – John O'M.
    Jun 28, 2015 at 2:57
  • 1
    I just added a bit to be able to detect filetype. It is no longer something you'd want to just type on-the-fly, but could work as an easy addition to a .vimrc. Using a specific plugin will still probably work better.
    – John O'M.
    Jun 28, 2015 at 3:22
  • You might want to look into using :file to name your file instead of having a temporary file. See :h :file Jun 28, 2015 at 5:06

I ended up using simple git difftool, as there is no plugin required and syntax highlighting is retained.

git difftool branch -- path/to/file

Or from any other commit:

git difftool commit -- path/to/file
  • Quick and easy option (might need vimdiff as difftool in git config) Jan 10, 2023 at 18:14

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