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

  • Are you using vi or vim?
    – frabjous
    Oct 28, 2010 at 15:13
  • Does this work with emacs? (or sublime, nano, ed, etc.) Jun 19, 2019 at 19:11

6 Answers 6

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.

  • 9
    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, 2012 at 23:22
  • 1
    Holy smokes, this saved my day! Thanks :-)
    – user342714
    Jul 26, 2021 at 14:10

You don't need to have the 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 to recover it 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 you're really out of luck.

  • 3
    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, 2010 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. Nov 2, 2010 at 9:27
  • Storing the entire file in a single swp would be wasteful, yes, but I see potential value in accumulating swp files (when enabled.) For the same reason you edit via diff and patch the original only on explicit save, it makes sense to me if you could stage a sequence of diffs, generate a partial sum (dates before today -> nightly; nightly + today = current) etc. I found ':pre[serve]` in the manuel, I think it works that way. In any case, the most important line is: The original file is no longer needed for recovery.
    – John P
    Aug 1, 2017 at 15:15
  • Looks like it works - :preserve and :set cpoptions=...& leaves a .swp and .swo file in the directory and offers to recover from either. Using vim -r <file> you can choose between .swp and .swo. Further edits generate .swn, .swm, etc., which appear to be the partial sum of swaps up to that point. You can revert to the version of your liking and edit (~=fork) or save (~=stash). Eventually you can tar up the swap files, daemonize their backups, etc. I could be wrong about the details when it comes to larger files - I'm not sure how that affects the extra swap files either - see below.
    – John P
    Aug 1, 2017 at 16:02
  • (Continued) - the buffer carries the flags and it's the buffer that produces the swap files, so even if the flags aren't set from global configuration or autoload, they are inherited during recovery itself. To replace a recovery sequence with a single recovery file, you can move the swap you want to .swp and hide the rest. I'd love to know more about the overlap between file recovery and Vim session management if anyone can fill in the gaps.
    – John P
    Aug 1, 2017 at 16:09

1 Open the swap file .file.swp in vim

2 :recover will recover your file


After reading 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; only the first 68 lines and the last 34 lines (starting 8 lines above my edit) were actually recovered.

I then repeated the test 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 that vim always save the file's "header" and "bottom" in the .swp files. Maybe there's a setting to control how much lines should a .swp contains?

  • I recently read something about a config setting or something similar which defaults to 200 lines while browsing the nvim :help docs. I do know that vim lets you store config metadata about the file (which it parses before loading) on the first X and last Y lines, where X and Y are both configurable. Maybe related to the storage procedure?
    – Nate T
    Dec 14, 2021 at 12:06

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

  • I don't have the original file.I just have it's '.swp'
    – zarna
    Oct 28, 2010 at 7:36
  • 1
    That's less important than you think. Open it regardless. Oct 28, 2010 at 7:40

I tried 2 options practically: 1.open original file and try recover option Didn’t recover file completely, it recovered partly though 2. I did: ls -a and opened .swp and selected recover option It recovered to a great extent, only few lines were missing and shown as ???LINES MISSING.

Note as early u do recovery more contents u would be able to recover.

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