I see <Leader> quite often in other people's vimrc files. Like this one.

What is it? What does it do?

  • 1
    possible duplicate of How can I find out what <Leader> is set to?
    – akshay
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 4:17
  • 10
    Akshay: Not a duplicate, that wants to check the value of <leader>, this one wants to know what <leader> means. So that that value can be interpreted. It is the difference between asking "In newton motion what is v?" and "Given an apple falled from a 10m high tree, what is v when it hits the ground?' Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 4:26
  • 3
    So, there is no difference between <Leader> and <leader>, right? Commented May 3, 2015 at 11:31

2 Answers 2


Vim is full of various commands, which are assigned to almost all keys on the keyboard. But this causes a problem: Which commands can we use for our own commands, without interfering with existing ones? And at this moment, the <Leader> key comes into play. Think about <Leader>-key like a namespace for any user-defined commands. You can assign any command to a mapping with a leading <Leader> and you can be fully confident that your mapping won't break anything.

Default key for <Leader> is backslash.


To quote :help <Leader>:

To define a mapping which uses the "mapleader" variable, the special string "<Leader>" can be used. It is replaced with the string value of "mapleader". If "mapleader" is not set or empty, a backslash is used instead. Example:

   :map <Leader>A  oanother line<Esc>  

Works like:

   :map \A  oanother line<Esc>  

But after:

   :let mapleader = ","  

It works like:

   :map ,A  oanother line<Esc>

In other words, it lets the first key of mappings (specified in terms of <Leader>) be user defined.

  • 8
    I believe that the rationale behind the <Leader> is that it provides you with a "clean" way to provide custom shortcuts, without overriding existing Vim shortcuts. Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 13:00

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