Sign up ×
Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm a Mac Noob but generally a power Linux user. My new job handed me a fresh MacBook Pro with Lion installed.

I installed MacVim successfully using homebrew. I'd love for it to be the default app for opening certain file types. (.rb, .haml)

But when I attempt to assign MacVim as the default app in the Finder, the app is unheard of. A Spotlight search on MacVim turns up only the original .tgz file.

Yet I can run it from a command line (mvim) and pin it to the dock and run it from there.

I'm guessing something called an "alias" needs to be created, and I get the impression this is something different from a symbolic link. Indeed I have a symbolic link in my ~/Applications folder for MacVim, created there by homebrew.

How can I somehow bless MacVim to be an installed app and assign it to open certain file extensions?

share|improve this question

migrated from Oct 15 '11 at 13:26

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

Try brew link macvim. Ah wait... I also had a problem that somehow my link didn't work although it was there. You can unlink it first and link again and if that does not work, reinstall it. –  Felix Oct 13 '11 at 20:59
well that didn't seem to have any effect ... –  Mojo Oct 14 '11 at 15:06
Do the instructions for MacVim as a "regular" app work? That would eliminate any question that it could be the binary itself. –  digitxp Oct 15 '11 at 13:36

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

When you download a file from the Internet OS X marks it as "quarantined". You can see this with a Terminal command like:

 cd "wherever your app folder is" (not in the .app folder itself)
 ls -la@

One of the things you will see is that attribute called "" is set for the folder (and for all files within its tree). If you start the app you will get a warning from OS X like "this app has been downloaded from the internet - do you want to proceed" and when you say yes it will un-quarantine the files in the app. You can do this manually for all files in the folder tree by using the Terminal command:

xattr -dr

Or for just one file with the command:

xattr -d somefile

I downloaded MacVim 7.3 and this would not work until I did the xattr -dr ... command, but as soon as I did, it started working fine from wherever it was installed. Set a file to use MacVim to open it and it also worked (using the "GetInfo" dialog box).

The location of the MacVim app is not really important. It's just that by convention, apps are usually located in the /Applications folder. This might not be true for some apps, but just for the sake of uniformity it probably is a good idea.

Sometimes there might be a reason why this isn't practical, like maybe you don't have write permission to the /Applications folder.

share|improve this answer
Bob, thank you for that beautiful answer! My brute force solution below worked, but I'd never have known about the apple quarantine. –  Mojo Nov 2 '11 at 23:42

I had the same issue. I moved to /Applications and then symlinked into the homebrew cellar directory.

mv /usr/local/Cellar/macvim/7.3-65/ /Applications/  
ln -s /Applications/ /usr/local/Cellar/macvim/7.3-65/
share|improve this answer
As per Mojo's comment, I also had to copy it rather than symlink it. The move/symlink enabled it in spotlight but I could no longer launch it by typing "mvim" in a terminal. Copying it to both locations fixed this. –  optevo Aug 27 at 12:36

What worked for me is to copy the whole tree from where homebrew installed it (/usr/local/Cellar/...) to /Applications. A sym link was insufficient, and I couldn't make an "alias" that worked.

share|improve this answer

For those with Yosemite and MacVim from homebrew not showing up in Spotlight, using an alias works.

(Be sure to delete any MacVim that is already in /Applications.)

From the Terminal:

  1. Uninstall existing: brew uninstall macvim
  2. Install latest: brew install macvim
  3. Open directory in Finder. Ex: open /usr/local/Cellar/macvim/7.3-64
  4. In Finder, right-click on the icon and select "Make Alias".
  5. Copy the alias you just created to the /Applications folder.

Spotlight will index the MacVim alias.


share|improve this answer
this worked for me, but spotlight returns the app only if the search is case sensitive. no result if I search for "macvim", but returns app if search is "MacVim" –  user34215 Apr 17 at 11:47
Note that you can create an alias with a different name. In my case I made one called "vim". –  alanning Apr 18 at 1:14

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.