Could this be done?

For example, I'm imagining that I would type vim . then navigate to a different directory within netrw, exit netrw, and find that bash has done a cd to that same directory.

4 Answers 4


No it isn't possible. Vim will be the child of your bash process. A child can't change the current directory of its parent (except by doing tricky and very discouraged things: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/2375003/how-do-i-set-the-working-directory-of-the-parent-process). You may also want to read: https://unix.stackexchange.com/questions/141313/chdirdirectory-doesnt-change-directory-after-exiting-to-shell

Maybe you could achieve writing a tiny vimscript launched at startup and printing the current directory (of the child process being vim) when exiting, and write some bash alias for something like cd `vim -c ...`. But why on earth would you do such a tricky thing?

  • The university filesystem hierarchy is big and weird, but I like the command line, so I'd rather not use a file manager. I have no regular pattern of visits, so aliases for each directory become numerous, often obsolete, and a bit forgettable. I open a lot of text files with netrw so it just seemed like a solution that was already part of what I do. I'll try your "maybe" solution. Thanks!
    – user251764
    Nov 16, 2015 at 10:07
  • @user251764 I understand; however I don't like much the idea of using a text editor for such a thing. If a tool like midnight commander doesn't suit your expectations, maybe you could have a look at tools like commacd or z or j or j2 or autojump or fasd (see: inconsolation.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/… ) I don't use such tools myself, but in case it may help... Nov 16, 2015 at 10:14

You could, but it would take a little scripting: adding to netrw and writing a bash function wrapper for vim. Ranger, a file manager with vi key bindings, and wcd, Wherever Change Directory, do this. Take a look at their documentation for examples. The idea is that you add a shell function, named ranger or wcd, respectively, to your ~/.bashrc, which calls the actual program. The user uses the features of the program to select the new directory which the program then writes to a temporary file, then exits. The function reads the new directory name from that temporary file and cd's to it. In your case, you would have to add a command to Vim to write the current directory (selected by netrw) to a temporary file, then exit Vim. Your vim wrapper function would then read that file and cd to the directory it names.

  • 1
    Would you seriously advise someone to do this? Nov 14, 2015 at 20:12
  • 2
    @Baruchel: The question was, "Could this be done?" The answer is "yes". Whether someone finds it useful is up to them. It's not a great idea, but it's not harmful, either.
    – garyjohn
    Nov 14, 2015 at 20:41
  • Thank you garyjohn, I will try your two filemanagers soon. I may well find them more useful than netrw
    – user251764
    Nov 16, 2015 at 10:15
  • @ThomasBaruchel I wonder why not, if netrw is for file and folder browsing then change directory must be a normal feature
    – Ahmad
    Jan 5, 2022 at 5:53

I wrote up a solution for this. It has two parts, a shell function that launches Vim and changes to its directory when Vim exits, and a vimrc edit that writes the current directory to a temp file when Vim quits.

Add the following to your vimrc, to write the current directory to a temp file when you exit Vim:

" Write directory to temp file
let s:temporary_directory = "/tmp/vimtmpfiles/"
let s:chdirectory_directory = s:temporary_directory . "chdir"
let s:chdirectory_file = s:chdirectory_directory . "/chdir"
if !isdirectory(s:chdirectory_directory)
  call mkdir(s:chdirectory_directory, 'p')
function! s:isdir(dir)
  return !empty(a:dir) && (isdirectory(a:dir) ||
        \ (!empty($SYSTEMDRIVE) && isdirectory('/'.tolower($SYSTEMDRIVE[0]).a:dir)))
augroup write_chdir
  autocmd VimLeavePre *
        \ if <SID>isdir(expand('%'))
        \ | call writefile([expand('%:p')], s:chdirectory_file)
        \ | endif
augroup END

Add the following to your bashrc and launch Vim with it:

vim_cd() {
  local tempfile='/tmp/vim.robenkleene/chdir/chdir'
  test -f "$tempfile" &&
    if [ "$(cat -- "$tempfile")" != "$(echo -n `pwd`)" ]; then
      cd -- "$(cat "$tempfile")"

This was assembled by combining this Stackoverflow answer https://vi.stackexchange.com/a/10474 and this function for Ranger https://github.com/ranger/ranger/blob/master/examples/bash_automatic_cd.sh


You can use netrw to navigate to a directory, then c to set browsing directory to the current directory. You can then :shell to do some work in that directory, then exit back to netrw.

I find this handy when I work on git repos located in different places in my filesystem (I have a script that shows my repos, their status, and conflicted files which I then pump into vim and use netrw to get to them and do the work).

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