Is there a way to copy a block of text to the system clipboard, so I can paste it in another program?

  • 14
    This has already been asked and answered on SO. You may find more and different information there. – bsmith89 Feb 4 '15 at 0:47
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    I have been using this plugin on macvim christoomey/vim-system-copy and really love it. It works really well with motions cpip, cpi{. – Filype Jan 25 '17 at 9:30
  • 3
    What you really need is EasyClip. It will do just that and so much more... – Scott Wade Feb 25 '17 at 5:56
  • I can not add answer but a comment. If you only want to copy a text you can also use sed :). sed -n 5p file; only 5th line. sed -n -e 5p -e 8p file; only 5th and 6th lines. sed -n 5,8p file; lines between 5th and 8th. It will print the lines in console. You can easily copy by selecting text. – Mubin Icyer Jan 28 '20 at 10:24

12 Answers 12


For X11-based systems (ie. Linux and most other UNIX-like systems) there are two clipboards which are independent of each other:

  • PRIMARY - This is copy-on-select, and can be pasted with the middle mouse button.
  • CLIPBOARD - This is copied with (usually) ^C, and pasted with ^V (It's like MS Windows).

OS X and Windows systems only have one clipboard.

For X11 systems there are also number of tools that synchronize these clipboards for you; so if they appear to be the same, you may have one of them running.

Vim has two special registers corresponding to these clipboards:

  • * uses PRIMARY; mnemonic: Star is Select (for copy-on-select)
  • + uses CLIPBOARD; mnemonic: CTRL PLUS C (for the common keybind)

On Windows & OS X there is no difference between + and *, since these systems only have a single clipboard, and both registers refer to the same thing (it doesn't matter which one you use).

You can use these registers as any register. For example, using the PRIMARY clipboard * with the y and p commands:

  • "*yy
  • "*p

You could maybe use this as more convenient keybinds:

noremap <Leader>y "*y
noremap <Leader>p "*p
noremap <Leader>Y "+y
noremap <Leader>P "+p

If you want to "automatically" interface with the system's clipboard instead of referring to it manually all the time, you can set the clipboard variable:

  • Set it to unnamed to use * (PRIMARY, on select)
  • Set it to unnamedplus to use + (CLIPBOARD, ^C)

Now, just using yy will go to the system's clipboard, instead of Vim's unnamed register, and p will paste the system's clipboard.

You can also assign to these registers just like any register with let:

  • :let @+=42
  • :let @*=42

The clipboard setting has some more options (such as exclude filters); but these are the basics. See :help 'clipboard' for the full story ;-)


If you use gVim, you can get copy-on-select behaviour when using :set guioptions+=a.
This is enabled by default on X11 systems (copies to PRIMARY), but not on MS Windows & OSX (as selecting any text would override your clipboard).

No +clipboard?

Vim requires the +clipboard feature flag for any of this to work; you can check if your Vim has this by using :echo has('clipboard') from within Vim (if the output is 0, it's not present, if it's 1, it is), or checking the output of vim --version for +clipboard.

Most Linux distributions ship with a "minimal" Vim build by default, which doesn't have +clipboard, but you can usually install it:

  • Debian & Ubuntu: Install vim-gtk3.
  • Fedora: install vim-X11, and run vimx instead of vim (more info).
  • Arch Linux: install gvim (this will enable +clipboard for normal vim as well).

You could also use xclip, xcopy, or xsel to copy text to the clipboard; see the following questions for solutions:


You can also use a clipboard on remote machines if you enable X11 forwarding over SSH. This is especially useful with the above tip since you can then use xclip to access your desktop's clipboard. The Vim on the machine you're ssh-ing to will still need the +clipboard feature.

This requires the ForwardX11Trusted setting, and should only be done with trusted servers, as this gives the server almost complete control over your X11 session:

$ ssh -XY myhost

To make these settings persistent (so you don't need to add -XY every time), you could do something like this in your ~/.ssh/config:

# Do **NOT** set this globally; it gives the server complete control over
# your X11 session.
Host myhost
    ForwardX11 yes
    ForwardX11Trusted yes


Neovim revamped the clipboard support. The built-in interface was removed and replaced with a system that call an external utility such as xclip, xsel, or pbcopy/pbpaste.

It should automatically pick up these utilities and use them. On OS X pbcopy and pbpaste should be available by default, on Linux you probably want to install xclip, as that's the most widely available (there are actually two versions of xsel with incompatible flags. This is really stupid).

Also see :help clipboard in Neovim.

  • 8
    ssh -Y implies -X so -X can be omitted. – hildred Mar 16 '15 at 20:52
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    A very interesting side effect of learning this (a few years ago) for me has been the realization that " can select many named registers. "+ is not magic, it's just register +. So for example, if you want to copy three things at the same time and paste each of them one by one, you can "1y, "2y and "3y and later "1p, "2p and "3p. This is really powerful and non-existent in almost any other editor. Another interesting usage is to look at stored macros. For example, if you record with qq, but you realize you need to fix it, you can: in a temp line "qp, fix it, and "qd. – Shahbaz Feb 3 '17 at 18:06
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    Just a note: OS X has two separate clipboards. One is accessed using Cmd-C and Cmd-V and the other using the emacs keybindings Ctrl-K and Ctrl-Y. – BallpointBen Feb 5 '17 at 17:16
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    @shahbaz -- probably better to use the letter registers for such a purpose, since the numbered ones get changed whenever text is deleted. – evilsoup Feb 26 '17 at 10:17
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    Copy & paste as described in the question is meant for desktop. It is true that installing package gvim alongside vim gives you clipboard functionalities. but in file browsers you are then offered two text editors to open files! And this looks ugly. This is why it is better to install only packages vim and vim-gui-common. Later one provides the clipboard functionalities without the need for installing gvim. This is on Linux Debian 10. – 71GA Jan 2 '20 at 21:34

From http://vim.wikia.com/wiki/Accessing_the_system_clipboard

set clipboard=unnamedplus

This changes the default Vim register to the + register, which is linked to the system clipboard. From :h clipboard-unnamedplus:

unnamedplus     A variant of the "unnamed" flag which uses the
                clipboard register '+' (quoteplus) instead of
                register '*' for all yank, delete, change and put
                operations which would normally go to the unnamed
                register.  When "unnamed" is also included to the
                option, yank operations (but not delete, change or
                put) will additionally copy the text into register
                Only available with the +X11 feature.
                Availability can be checked with: 
                        if has('unnamedplus')
  • 1
    Why does this not work for me when yank&paste between vim instances (each in a separate terminator terminal)? – thinwybk Nov 30 '18 at 9:43
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    If you are on Linux, and Vim has been compiled with the +X11 feature, and you have clipboard=unnamedplus set, then you should be able yank a line in one instance of vim and paste it in another instance of vim. You should also be able to paste it into any other application with CTRL+V or SHIFT+INSERT. You can use :version within Vim to see if +X11 appears in the list of included features. You can also check if the 'unnamedplus' feature is available with :if has('unnamedplus')⏎ echo 'yes'⏎ endif If you are not on Linux then you should use unnamed instead of unnamedplus. – Quincy Bowers Nov 30 '18 at 15:49

The other answers cover how to copy text from your buffer into the system clipboard. Another common operation is to copy text from another register to the clipboard. For example, if you've already yanked some text into " (the default register), you might want to load that register into the clipboard.

You can do this with :let:

  • let @+=@" — copies the default register into the clipboard
  • let @*=@" — copies the default register into the X11 primary selection ("mouse clipboard")
  • let @+=@a — copy from register a to the clipboard
  • etc.

Note that this works for registers in general: let @a=@b copies register b to register a.


On builds that support it, the register named * is the system clipboard. To copy text from Vim to the system clipboard, you can select the text using visual mode, then press "*y to copy it to the system clipboard.

Conversely, use "*p to paste text from the system clipboard into Vim.


If you can't figure out how to get +clipboard to work, which I couldn't for some reason, then you can do this.

Assuming you only want to copy a section of the file, I do shift+v to go into visual mode and only highlight the lines I want to copy. Then I do this.

# Linux Wayland
:'<,'>w !wl-copy

# Linux Xorg
:'<,'>w !xclip -selection clipboard


  • '<,'> - means you used visual mode to select a range (you don't type this)
  • w !{cmd} - write the range to the stdin of cmd, see more at :help w_c
  • wl-copy and xclip are programs that you can pipe text to and they'll add it to your system clipboard

Also, once this is in your history, you don't have to type the whole thing again. Just select with visual mode, type w then press up and the command should autocomplete. Also, also, you don't have to use visual mode. You can set whatever range you want.

  • 2
    Upvoting this (over the other similar answer) because this one gives explanation. By the way, a note to myself or other readers: when using xclip, you do NOT have to add that -selection clipboard parameter, which is too loooong to type. The default :'<,'>w !xclip would copy the content into the "primary" i.e. copy-on-select clipboard, which can be pasted with the middle mouse button. – RayLuo May 8 '20 at 17:18

I recommend you use Gvim, and add this to your .vimrc:

source $VIMRUNTIME/mswin.vim
behave mswin

This enables support for CtrlC, CtrlX, CtrlV like notepad in Windows.

Note that this will also add some other common Windows shortcuts, such as CtrlS for :w, CtrlA for select all, etc.


I was struggling with the system clipboard and vim inside tmux.

It was solved by using xsel or xclip, like in this example:

1.) visually select a block text in normal mode: V<motionkey>

2.a) with xsel run ex: :'<,'>w !xsel -b

2.b) with xclip run ex: :'<,'>w !xclip -selection clipboard

3.) paste into another program

... and now nmap this as preferred.

These options (-b or -selection clipboard) basically mean, that the program (xsel or xclip) is sent to the background and wait for another program to paste the content, so that it can "interfere".

( on manjaro with i3, xfce4-terminal, tmux)


This is the behavior I wanted when it came to the system clipboard:

  • Yanking a line with newline works
  • Yanking a line without newline works
  • Yanking whatever is visually selected works
  • Cut works
  • Cutting a line with newline works
  • Cutting a line without newline works

By works I mean: I'm still able to use p to paste while in vim and I can use the system clipboard also. Basically I want copy and paste to work as expected and I didn't want to clutter my system clipboard more than necessary.

My technique was to map the common yank, cut, and delete commands to use the system clipboard by adding these lines to my ~/.vimrc:

" use system clipboard
" https://anuragpeshne.github.io/essays/vim/7.html
noremap y "*y
noremap yy "*yy
noremap Y "*y$
noremap x "*x
noremap dd "*dd
noremap D "*D

The key insight from the https://anuragpeshne.github.io/essays/vim/7.html blog post is:

Recursive Mapping is evil, Always use non recursive mapping. (noremap)

  • What does the " do? The first answer already explained what * is for, (referring to the primary clipboard), but I don't see any explanation anywhere for what " is for and why that makes the command work. – Josh Desmond May 29 '20 at 16:23
  • 2
    It's not immediately obvious because you're probably used to the quote being used to go around words, like "foo"; however, for vim "* is actually the name of the "register" (a vim concept) that connects to the system clipboard. If you open vim and type :registers you can see the names of other registers like: "", "0, "1, and on. I found this article useful for learning about registers: brianstorti.com/vim-registers – mbigras May 29 '20 at 18:25

If your vim does not support +clipboard you can use the fakeclip plugin for Linux, Mac, Windows, tmux, screen, ...


Every other answer has covered all the important things about the registers. I would like to add one more thing that I use.

There is a way in Vim to directly copy the visually selected text in to the clipboard. Just put this in your vimrc file:

set guioptions+=a

And, with this whenever you visually select some text it will be copied to your clipboard. For more information on this, :help guioptions

BTW, this is only for gVim.

  • 2
    guioptions+=a is also mentioned in Carpetsmoker's answer. – muru Feb 26 '16 at 7:32
  • @muru Yeah, sorry. I didn't see that before. I just saw it. – Durga Swaroop Feb 26 '16 at 8:26

You can also use a global command to put some specific pattern on the clipboard. It can be useful in situations where you have information scattered in a file and manually coping is prone to errors and tiring.

First clean the register that will receive the information

:let @a=""

Then copy all the lines containing the pattern to it

:g/pattern/yank A

Finally tranfereing (copying ) the information to the system clipboard

:let @+=@a

if you try to copy every line containing a "pattern" directly to the clipboard it won't work because the clipboard does not have the capability of append new content, thus we are using here a normal vim register to store all the lines containing the pattern at once and then putting it on the clipboard.

OBS: It is necessary clining the register before using it, and the use of the UPPERCASE version of the register allows us to append content, otherwise it won't work either.


MacVim Cmd + x/c/v for cut/copy/paste

If you use MacVim, the usual Cmd+x/c/v are defined in $VIMRUNTIME/macmap.vim which is sourced by default and hence are available without configuration:

vnoremap <special> <D-x> "+x

vnoremap <special> <D-c> "+y

cnoremap <special> <D-c> <C-Y>

nnoremap <special> <D-v> "+gP
cnoremap <special> <D-v> <C-R>+
execute 'vnoremap <script> <special> <D-v>' paste#paste_cmd['v']
execute 'inoremap <script> <special> <D-v>' paste#paste_cmd['i']

However, using them can lead to vim user who do not know the vim way and are lost on a foreign computer/environment.

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