What exactly is Vim doing when executing the :make command?

I was expecting that it just executes the content of the makeprg variable just like running :!make and additionally collects the output, but apparently the behavior is different. For example the terminal size is set up differently.

For example create a makefile with the following content

    echo asdf > foo.txt
    aspell -c foo.txt

Then compare the behavior of :make and :!make.

Is it different for you, too, or is this something strange with my setup?

1 Answer 1


From :h :make:

The ":make" command executes the command given with the 'makeprg' option.
This is done by passing the command to the shell given with the 'shell'
option.  This works almost like typing
        ":!{makeprg} [arguments] {shellpipe} {errorfile}".

{makeprg} is the string given with the 'makeprg' option.  Any command can be
used, not just "make".  …

[arguments] is anything that is typed after ":make".
{shellpipe} is the 'shellpipe' option.
{errorfile} is the 'makeef' option, with ## replaced to make it unique.

So, it's not exactly the same as just :!make. Following through, for shellpipe:

                                                'shellpipe' 'sp'
'shellpipe' 'sp'        string  (default ">", "| tee", "|& tee" or "2>&1| tee")
        For Unix the default it "| tee".  The stdout of the compiler is saved
        in a file and echoed to the screen.  If the 'shell' option is "csh" or
        "tcsh" after initializations, the default becomes "|& tee".  If the
        'shell' option is "sh", "ksh", "mksh", "pdksh", "zsh" or "bash" the
        default becomes "2>&1| tee".

So, the actual command is more like:

:!make 2>&1 | tee bar

And, in fact, if you run:

aspell -c foo.txt 2>&1 | tee bar

You'll get the same behaviour.

So, this is perfectly normal behaviour.

  • 1
    nice reference, that trilogy of five books is awesome :)
    – mMontu
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 11:21
  • 1
    That explains the difference between :make and :!make, thanks! With that explanation it was easy to prepend aspell with screen so this behaviour can be avoided since I do not want to include the aspell output in the errorfile anyway. Anyhow it would be interesting why "|& tee" modifies the terminal width (and "| tee" not, by the way...).
    – koalo
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 12:47
  • 1
    @koalo aspell might be testing if either of stderr or stdin is connected to a TTY and using to get the display size, etc. (aspell -c foo 2>bar works fine too). That would be a question for Unix & Linux, however :)
    – muru
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 12:50

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