vim + tmux: A Perfect Match

tmux is a terminal multiplexer: it enables a number of terminals to be created, accessed, and controlled from a single screen. tmux may be detached from a screen and continue running in the background, then later reattached.

tmux manpage

When I first heard of tmux I just assumed it was a beefed up version of screen. I had used screen many years ago in order to keep an IRC client logged in even if I was not connected to my shell. At the time I didn’t see much benefit in adding a tool like this to my development environment.

For a long time I heard developers singing the praise of vim and tmux. Hearing about the release of iTerm2 2.0 and it’s integration with tmux sparked my interest in tmux and vim once again. I still don’t know exactly how iTerm2 and tmux integrate, but I’m really happy with my workflow with vim and tmux.

I have been using vim+tmux together for a couple of weeks now and there’s no looking back. If you’re willing to invest a little bit of time to set things up, you’ll quickly make up the time with your streamlined workflow.


brew install tmux
brew install macvim --override-system-vim

Download and install iTerm2 (optional)

Out of the Box

Below are some of the most basic commands for interacting with tmux.

Create a session

The first thing you’ll want to do after installing tmux is create a session.

$ tmux new -s gaslight-blog

Detach session

You can detach from the session at any point by pressing:

Ctrl-b d

Attach session

You can attach to the session from the command line with:

$ tmux attach -t gaslight-blog

Split horizontally

You no longer have to be dependent on your terminal application to create split panes.

Ctrl-b %

Split vertically

Ctrl-b "

Pane Navigation

Keybinding Action
Ctrl-b ↑Up
Ctrl-b ↓Down
Ctrl-b ←Left
Ctrl-b →Right


I ran into numerous issues when starting out with vim, tmux, iterm2, and mac os. My tmux.conf is pretty slim and well documented at the moment and I recommend you check it out.

vim workflow

The main reason that I continue to use tmux is the great integration that can be achieved with vim+tmux. Prior to using tmux I used MacVim, but if you’re going to use vim and tmux together you’ll need to use terminal vim.


Perhaps my favorite feature about using vim and tmux together is vim-tmux-navigator. This plugin allows you to treat vim and tmux as one a unified session, with the ability to seamlessly navigate between vim splits and tmux panes.

Keybinding Action

This assumes you’re already navigating your vim splits like a sane person using these bindings by adding this setting to your .vimrc:

nnoremap <c-j> <c-w>j
nnoremap <c-k> <c-w>k
nnoremap <c-h> <c-w>h
nnoremap <c-l> <c-w>l

rspec.vim + tslime.vim

One thing that I missed when I was transitioning from emacs to vim was rspec-mode. I quickly discovered rspec.vim which allows you to run specs from within your editor.

I didn’t spend too much time working with rspec.vim before I was frustrated by the default behavior which blocks the entire vim process. This is no fault of rspec.vim, rather it is more of an issue with vim. Thankfully rspec.vim has a lot of flexibility for generating custom commands and you can easily integrate with Dispatch or tslime.vim. I am currently using tslime.vim using the instructions here and it seems to be working well.

vim-like copy and paste

I am still learning the ins and outs of copy and paste while using vim and tmux together. If you’re willing to give up using the mouse for selection this article provides instructions on getting copy and paste setup very similar to vim.


When I first started vim inside of tmux the colors were not correct. After searching I found that I needed to add this to my tmux.conf:

set -g default-terminal "screen-256color"

I also had to make sure that iTerm2 was reporting the terminal type as xterm-256color.


This article was made possible with the help of many other articles:

Subscribe to the Gaslight Newsletter

Like what you see? Subscribe to Gaslight’s monthly email newsletter for coding tips, tech insights, events, news and more delivered right to your inbox from the Gaslight Team!

Subscribe Now