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I tried opening the .swp file using vi and cat but it displays junk.

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Are you using vi or vim? – frabjous Oct 28 '10 at 15:13
vim -r .swp

This goes into recovery mode and gives you more info. I think this is what you want.

.swX-files are left behind if a session with an unsaved file is killed/crashes/something else bad happens. They are also present during the time an unsaved buffer is open in a Vim session. vim -rreads these temporary files and recreates the content. After you've recovered it, just save it as usual, e.g. :w newfilename.

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Precisely what I was looking for. For anyone else, this is how you recover as-of-yet unsaved files. The above methods work fine if a file already exists, but you can't open a file with no name. – Eric Hu Jan 18 '12 at 23:22

You don't need to have to original file to recover the .swp. Just open the file as if it exists. vim will look for the file with the .swp extension and offer to recover it.


$ ls -a
. .. .test.txt.swp
$ vim test.txt
Swap file ".test.txt.swp" already exists!
[O]pen Read-Only, (E)dit anyway, (R)ecover, (D)elete it, (Q)uit, (A)bort:

Just press r for recover and :wq the file

Edit: Note that the .swp file only contains the changes done to the file (see comment). This means that you will need to fetch a recent copy of the file from backup and then use vim to recover the latest changes. If you don't have a backup copy of the file your really out of luck.

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You definitely have to have the original file, without it the data in the .swp file is useless. See ":help swap-file". There are situations where it may appear to work without the original file, but the .swp file only stores change information and requires some starting point to apply that information during recovery. – Heptite Oct 28 '10 at 17:57
You are right, of course. I actually didn't know this about vim. But it is only logical as storing a complete copy of the original file would be a huge waste. Then the answer is: Recover your file from backup, then use vim to recover the latest modifications. – Vegar Westerlund Nov 2 '10 at 9:27

Open the original file using vim, and choose the recovery option.

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I don't have the original file.I just have it's '.swp' – zarna Oct 28 '10 at 7:36
That's less important than you think. Open it regardless. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Oct 28 '10 at 7:40

After I read Vegar Westerlund and Heptite comments, I wanted to know at what point vim needs the original file (or a backup) to recover from a .swp file. Here's what did:

I opened a 975 lines file, edited it on line 949 (creating a .swp file) and killed the process, then deleted the original. vim Original_File asked if I wanted to recover from the .swp » yes. It only recovered the first 68 lines and the last 34 lines (starting 8 lines above my edit).

I repeated that with smaller files: from 20 up to 200 lines, the .swp file contained 100% of the original content. But at 300 lines, only the first 68 and the 18 last lines (starting 2 lines above my edit) were included in the .swp.

As a conclusion it's good to know vim always save the file's "header" in its .swp files. Also, maybe there's a setting to control how much lines should a .swp contains.

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1 Open the swap file .file.swp in vim

2 :recover will recover your file

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