Copy and Paste for tmux & vim on Linux

Sid Shanker -

In this medium post from a while ago I talk about the flow I use for copying and pasting for tmux on macOS.

Now that I’m using a Linux desktop, time for an update! As a sidebar, I’m using Ubuntu, so this might not work on other distros.


The trick with copy/pasting is that you need way of communicating from Tmux to the X-window system, which manages your system clipboard on most Linux systems.

The solution to this is xclip. You can install it on Debian-based systems with aptitude:

$ sudo apt-get install xclip

After that, simply add this to your ~/.tmux.conf:

# For binding 'y' to copy and exiting selection mode
bind-key -T copy-mode-vi y send-keys -X copy-pipe-and-cancel 'xclip -sel clip -i'

# For binding 'Enter' to copy and not leave selection mode
bind-key -T copy-mode-vi Enter send-keys -X copy-pipe 'xclip -sel clip -i' '\;'  send -X clear-selection



Getting copy & paste from vim to work on Linux is also a little tricky, and doesn’t work out of the box. There are two main steps you need to take here:

  1. Add clipboard support to vim.

    You can check if your vim has clipboard support by typing the vim command:

     :echo has("clipboard")


    If it says “1” (like mine does), it means you have it, otherwise you need to install a vim package that has it, like vim-gnome, vim-athena, and vim-gtx.

  2. set clipboard=unnamedplus

    In macOS, adding clipboard=unnamed is enough to get copy/paste working. This command binds yanks in vim to the “*” register in vim, which in macOS corresponds to the system clipboard. In Linux, the “*” register is different– it typically corresponds to the “mouse selection”, which is different to the normal system keyboard. The normal system clipboard in Linux corresponds to the “+” register in vim. In order to get vim to bind yanks to this register, use the command:

     set clipboard=unnamedplus

    For most setups, this should do the trick. If you are having trouble, the links below should be good starting points. Happy copypasta!


Sid Shanker <sid.p.shanker at>