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Recovery after a crash
You have spent several hours typing in that text that has to be finished
next morning, and then disaster strikes: Your computer crashes.
You can recover most of your changes from the files that Vim uses to store
the contents of the file. Mostly you can recover your work with one command:
vim -r filename
1. The swap file
Vim stores the things you changed in a swap file. Using the original file
you started from plus the swap file you can mostly recover your work.
You can see the name of the current swap file being used with the command:
Or you can use the swapname()
function, which also allows for seeing the
swap file name of other buffers.
The name of the swap file is normally the same as the file you are editing,
with the extension ".swp".
On Unix, a '.' is prepended to swap file names in the same directory as the
edited file. This avoids that the swap file shows up in a directory
If this file already exists (e.g., when you are recovering from a crash) a
warning is given and another extension is used, ".swo", ".swn", etc.
An existing file will never be overwritten.
The swap file is deleted as soon as Vim stops editing the file.
Technical: If the ".swp" file name already exists, the last character is
decremented until there is no file with that name or ".saa" is
reached. In the last case, no swap file is created.
By setting the 'directory'
option you can place the swap file in another place
than where the edited file is.
You will not pollute the directories with ".swp" files.
When the 'directory'
is on another partition, reduce the risk of damaging
the file system where the file is (in a crash).
You can get name collisions from files with the same name but in different
directories (although Vim tries to avoid that by comparing the path name).
This will result in bogus ATTENTION warning messages.
When you use your home directory, and somebody else tries to edit the same
file, that user will not see your swap file and will not get the ATTENTION
If you want to put swap files in a fixed place, put a command resembling the
following ones in your vimrc:
:set dir=~/tmp (for Unix)
:set dir=c:\\tmp (for Win32)
This is also very handy when editing files on floppy. Of course you will have
to create that "tmp" directory for this to work!
For read-only files, a swap file is not used right away. The swap file is
created only when making changes.
option can be reset to avoid creating a swapfile. And the
modifier can be used to not create a swapfile for a new buffer.
. If it contains a command that loads a new
buffer, it will be loaded without creating a swapfile and the
option will be reset. If a buffer already had a
swapfile it is not removed and 'swapfile'
is not reset.
Detecting an existing swap file
You can find this in the user manual, section 11.3
The swap file is updated after typing 200 characters or when you have not
typed anything for four seconds. This only happens if the buffer was
changed, not when you only moved around. The reason why it is not kept up to
date all the time is that this would slow down normal work too much. You can
change the 200 character count with the 'updatecount'
option. You can set
the time with the 'updatetime'
option. The time is given in milliseconds.
After writing to the swap file Vim syncs the file to disk.
If the writing to the swap file is not wanted, it can be switched off by
setting the 'updatecount'
option to 0. The same is done when starting Vim
with the "-n" option. Writing can be switched back on by setting the
option to non-zero. Swap files will be created for all buffers
when doing this. But when setting 'updatecount'
to zero, the existing swap
files will not be removed, it will only affect files that will be opened
If you want to make sure that your changes are in the swap file use this
:pre[serve] Write all text for the current buffer into its swap
file. The original file is no longer needed for
A Vim swap file can be recognized by the first six characters: "b0VIM ".
After that comes the version number, e.g., "3.0".
On Unix it is possible to have two names for the same file. This can be done
with hard links and with symbolic links (symlinks).
For hard links Vim does not know the other name of the file. Therefore, the
name of the swapfile will be based on the name you used to edit the file.
There is no check for editing the same file by the other name too, because Vim
cannot find the other swapfile (except for searching all of your harddisk,
which would be very slow).
For symbolic links Vim resolves the links to find the name of the actual file.
The swap file name is based on that name. Thus it doesn't matter by what name
you edit the file, the swap file name will normally be the same. However,
there are exceptions:
When the directory of the actual file is not writable the swapfile is put
When the symbolic links somehow create a loop you get an
message and the unmodified file name will be used. You won't be able to
save your file normally.
Basic file recovery is explained in the user manual: usr_11.txt
Another way to do recovery is to start Vim and use the ":recover" command.
This is easy when you start Vim to edit a file and you get the "ATTENTION:
Found a swap file ..." message. In this case the single command ":recover"
will do the work. You can also give the name of the file or the swap file to
the recover command:
:rec[over] [file] Try to recover [file] from the swap file. If [file]
is not given use the file name for the current
buffer. The current contents of the buffer are lost.
This command fails if the buffer was modified.
:rec[over]! [file] Like ":recover", but any changes in the current
buffer are lost.
Vim has some intelligence about what to do if the swap file is corrupt in
some way. If Vim has doubt about what it found, it will give an error
message and insert lines with "???" in the text. If you see an error message
while recovering, search in the file for "???" to see what is wrong. You may
want to cut and paste to get the text you need.
The most common remark is "???LINES MISSING". This means that Vim cannot read
the text from the original file. This can happen if the system crashed and
parts of the original file were not written to disk.
Be sure that the recovery was successful before overwriting the original
file or deleting the swap file. It is good practice to write the recovered
file elsewhere and run 'diff'
to find out if the changes you want are in the
recovered file. Or use :DiffOrig
Once you are sure the recovery is ok delete the swap file. Otherwise, you
will continue to get warning messages that the ".swp" file already exists.