How can I run Unix commands while I'm inside vim?

5 Answers 5


Go to command mode Esc, then run :!unix_command. Anything run from the : prompt starting with a bang ! will be run as a unix shell command. You'll be shown the output and allowed to hit a key to get back to your work in vim.

If you have text selected in visual mode and want to send it TO a command as STDIN, hit !! and enter your command. The results of the command will replace the text you have selected.

  • 33
    Also, !! without any text selected will let you run a command and then insert the result at your current cursor position -- no need to send stuff to STDIN and replace it if you don't need/want to.
    – Kromey
    Commented May 18, 2011 at 23:36
  • 21
    also, if you simply want to put the output of a command in your document, simply do :r!unix_command. This is usefull for commands such as date
    – Yab
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 6:01
  • 4
    You can also execute multiple lines of your vi buffer by the shell (or any interpreter) and have them replaced by the result of the execution. eg: :10,20!sh or, form marked lines, 'a,'b!sh
    – jlliagre
    Commented May 19, 2011 at 11:58
  • 2
    Something else that I think is worth noting is that this depends on the OS you're using. If you're using Windows, it'll execute a Windows shell command. Many people reading this will already know that, but for people coming from Google, I thought it would be worth mentioning.
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 13:11
  • @Kromey can you clarify how to use !!? When I run :!! - it just run previous command, but output not stored in buffer or in opened file.
    – skywinder
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 8:48

From a VIM help mirror:

:shell        :sh[ell]        start a shell
:!            :!{command}     execute {command} with a shell

If you are running neovim, or vim 8.1 or later, there is also terminal.

:terminal     :terminal {cmd}         open a terminal window
  • 3
    If you are using neovim in place of vim, :shell is replaced with the more powerful :terminal. See here.
    – ZaydH
    Commented Jun 17, 2021 at 1:51

In addition to the above answers, you can use the current vim buffer content as stdin for shell command using :%!.

For example, suppose you want to filter lines from the current vim window content to contain only those with substring ca inside them. You could use:

:%! grep ca

Which will automatically filter the lines, placing the grep output instead of the current lines.

  • 2
    Or only a range :'<,'>!command or the current line :.!command. Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 14:30

Use :!(colon bang) followed by the command you wish to run(:!{command}) to run external commands from Vim. The output of the command will then be returned for you to view. Note that you will need to wait for the command to finish running before you can continue editing because Vim is single threaded(this can be a problem with commands that take a long time to execute). See this page in the Vim help manual for further reading.


You have to switch into File exporing mode with: :Vexplore, :Sexplore or :Explore (all accept path as an argument).

Then you can you press either % for creating a regular file or d for a directory. You will be prompted about the name.

That's the VIM native way, there is no need for running external shell.

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