1. Overview

tmux, a terminal multiplexer, provides an effective way to manage many terminal sessions and panes. The ability to copy text between these panes can be useful when using Vim in tmux. Being able to accomplish this is also helpful when working simultaneously on complicated projects and several code files.

In this tutorial, we’ll discuss and demonstrate how to copy text between Vim panes in tmux.

2. Using Copy Mode

tmux’s copy mode is a versatile feature that greatly improves the process of copying text within panes. While not as feature-rich as some dedicated text editors, it still offers a comprehensive collection of tools for altering and copying text with ease. We can use its functionality to improve our workflow when working on multiple Vim panels. We can press Ctrl-B [ to activate copy mode.

In copy mode, we can use the arrow keys to scroll through the text, the Space key to choose text, and Enter to complete the copy. This basic procedure is useful when dealing with large code sections or log outputs. We can also exit copy mode by pressing q, which causes the pane’s background color to restore to normal.

3. Integration of tmux and Vim Clipboards

Integrating tmux and Vim clipboards improves the ease with which we can copy and paste text between windows. tmux and Vim both have clipboards, but synchronizing them allows for a more seamless data sharing experience:

$ tmux configuration (~/.tmux.conf)
$ set-option -g default-command "reattach-to-user-namespace -l bash"
$ set-option -g set-clipboard on

In the command above, to enable correct interaction with the system clipboard, we set the default command in the tmux settings. Additionally, set-clipboard on enables the interaction of tmux with the system clipboard.

Henceforth, when we copy text in tmux, it will now immediately sync to the system clipboard. This integration makes it easier to copy from Vim within tmux and paste the text outside of tmux, as well as the reverse.

4. Using Vim Registers

Vim registers are versatile systems for storing and retrieving text, providing a customizable approach to managing duplicated content. Although not as complex as the full version of Vim, Vim-Tiny allows us to tailor our editing environment by changing settings, setting key bindings, and adding extensions:

" Copy to register a
:"ayw

" Paste from register a
:"ap

In the command above, we used ayw to copy and ap to paste text. We can additionally modify settings like tab width and auto-indentation, and even assign keyboard shortcuts to specific operations. Hence, the use of registers allows us to customize our editing environment to some extent, increasing productivity and personalizing our workflow.

5. Using External Commands

tmux enables users to run external commands, offering a means of interacting with external tools and systems. This capability is especially useful for copying text from Vim inside tmux and pasting it outside, or vice versa:

$ echo -n "Hello, World!" | xclip -selection clipboard

In this example, we use xclip to copy text from Vim to the system clipboard. The echo command outputs the requested text, which is then sent to xclip via the pipe (|) operator. The -selection clipboard flag indicates that the text should be copied to the system clipboard.

This approach allows us to use external commands to copy text from Vim within tmux to the system clipboard, making it easier to paste outside of tmux.

6. Using tmux send-keys

tmux‘s send-keys command allows us to programmatically send key sequences to panes, automating tmux tasks. This is particularly useful for automating the process of copying text between Vim panels:

$ tmux send-keys -t 0 'y' Enter

After executing the command, the tmux send-keys command transmits the keystroke y, which corresponds to the Vim command for yanking to the pane given by -t 0. The Enter key simulates pressing Enter to execute the command.

Send-keys control the process of copying text within tmux by imitating key presses, allowing for a more configurable method for regular tasks.

7. Conclusion

Mastering the art of copying text between Vim panes in tmux enhances productivity and streamlines our workflow.

In this article, we’ve covered various techniques, from the fundamental copy mode to advanced methods like integrating clipboards, using external commands, and more. We can also experiment with these approaches to find the one that best suits our preferences and project requirements.

By incorporating these methods into our tmux and Vim workflows, we’ll navigate seamlessly through complex coding tasks, boosting our efficiency and overall development experience.

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