Our software has many .xml configuration files. Vim colors these files, using e.g. /usr/share/vim/vim74/syntax/xml.vim. But can we customize the coloring for just these files, and not for all .xml files?

(An example of such customizing would be coloring the text between <schmoo> and </schmoo> tags. But this question isn't about how to color, nor is it about XML. I hope for an answer that applies equally well to Python or YAML or hundreds of other formats.)

Can another file in the .xml files' directory override or extend syntax/xml.vim? (Unlikely: runtimepath doesn't mention the current directory; neither do autochdir or getcwd() seem to help.)

What about something in an environment variable, or in an .xml file itself (at the top or bottom; or inline like jsbegin/jsend in Vim custom syntax highlighting, include other language syntax in a specified range)?

Or must the extensions go into each user's ~/.vim/after/syntax/xml.vim (which is used for all .xml files)? That would be suboptimal, but tolerable for extensions specialized enough to not collide with other things (like "schmoo" above).

Related: How can I configure syntax highlighting for a custom language in vim?

Reference: http://vimdoc.sourceforge.net/htmldoc/syntax.html#:syn-files

1 Answer 1


Ensure that vim's modeline is on. :set modeline? should respond modeline instead of nomodeline. If necessary, set it in your vimrc. (Security concerns are pretty much obsolete by now.)

In a particular .xml file, include this line: // vim: filetype=xmlWithSchmoos (If not xml, replace // with whatever starts a comment in that language.)

Create ~/.vim/syntax/xmlWithSchmoos.vim or /usr/share/vim/vim74/syntax/xmlWithSchmoos.vim, containing the single line :so $VIMRUNTIME/syntax/xml.vim.

Append stanzas to xmlWithSchmoos.vim. For example, for red schmoo tags and what's between them, append:

:syntax region xyzzy start=/<schmoo>/ end=/<\/schmoo>/
:highlight xyzzy ctermfg=red guifg=red

Of course, rename to something meaningful the placeholders schmoo, xml, xmlWithSchmoos, and xyzzy.

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