Is there an easy way to add text to the left margin of a vim document (to the left of the line numbers)?

I know that it is possible to do because plugins such as vim-signature do it, but I am curious how this is done, and what the easiest way to do it would be.


I think what you are referring to is called a sign by vim.

Adding a sign seems to be a two-step process. First you define what it looks like, then you place it where you want.

The basic syntax to define a sign is:

:sign define {name} {argument}...

Where {argument}... is a series of arguments that you can choose :

  • icon= full path to an icon
  • linehl= highlighting group for the whole line on which you will place the sign
  • text= text to display if there's no icon or you run vim in a terminal
  • texthl= highlighting group for text

To place your sign, once you've defined it :

:sign place {id} line={lnum} name={name} file={fname}
  • {id} is an arbitrary number which will allow you to manipulate the sign later
  • {lnum} and {fname} are respectively the line number and the file in which you want to place your sign
  • {name} is the name of your sign

To list your signs and see their attributes:

:sign list

To remove a sign :

:sign unplace {id} file={fname}

Usage example

:sign define mysign text=>> texthl=Search

... defines the sign mysign, which will display the text >> with the colors from the highlighting group Search.

Now, assuming you're editing the file /tmp/foo, you can place your sign on its 10th line with:

:sign place 9999 line=10 name=mysign file=/tmp/foo

Here the id 9999 was chosen.

Finally, to remove the sign you just placed:

:sign unplace 9999 file=/tmp/foo

There are many other ways to define, place and unplace a sign.
For more information, see:

:help sign-commands
:help :sign-define
:help :sign-undefine
:help :sign-list
:help :sign-place
:help :sign-unplace
:help :sign-place-list
:help :sign-jump
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  • 1
    This is exactly what I was looking for :)... I initially wanted to know for curiosity and also because I use vim-signature, and gitgutter for vim but they both use the sign column. I was wanting to see if I could add an extra sign column so that I could use the information from both plugins simultaneously, but it would appear that this is not possible. I did find that vim-signature has a flag you can set that helps with that. See the issue I had opened here which also has my solution and a link to the commit I made on my vimrc to use it. – Steven Hall Dec 8 '15 at 1:51

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