Move vi/vim editor temporary swap and backup files to another directory

vi/vim FAQ: I keep getting these vim swap/temporary/backup files in my current directory, the ones with the tilde (~) character at the end of the filename; how do I get these swap/temporary files to go into another directory?

A vim swap file (at least on Mac OS X) is named with a ".swp" file extension, and seems to exist as long as you are editing a file in vim. The vim backup/tilde file is the filename that has a "~" character appended to the end of it, and when these are left in your current directory, they're pretty annoying. You can tell vi/vim to place both of these temporary files in another directory, as shown here.

Moving vi/vim temporary/swap/tilde files on Mac OS X

Using vi and vim on my Mac OS X systems, I tell vim where to place the backup and swap files using the commands shown here:

" tell vim to keep a backup file
set backup

" tell vim where to put its backup files
set backupdir=/private/tmp

" tell vim where to put swap files
set dir=/private/tmp

I just place these commands in the .vimrc file in my home directory, and I no longer get all those junky vi/vim swap/tilde files in my current working directory. If you're using an older version of vi, you should place these commands in a file named .exrc in your home directory.

This same approach should work just fine on other Unix systems as well, though you may want to change that directory to just /tmp. That "directory" didn't work for me on Mac OS X, probably because /tmp on Mac OS X systems is actually a symbolic link to the /private/tmp folder.

vi/vim temporary/swap/tilde files on MS Windows

I don't have a Windows system I can test on at the moment, but the approach should be similar; just tell vi/vim where to place these backup/temporary/tilde files. Something like this should work, assuming you have a C:\Temp directory.

" tell vim to keep a backup file
set backup

" tell vim where to put its backup files
set backupdir=C:\\Temp

" tell vim where to put swap files
set dir=C:\\Temp

I'm guessing that you need two backslashes there, though I could be wrong. If anyone knows for sure, I'd appreciate you letting me know in a comment below.

Summary: vim backup and swap file configuration

For more information on how to use a vimrc configuration file, see my Vim vimrc example configuration file article.

I hope this vi/vim tip on moving your vi and vim temporary backup and swap files to another directory is helpful.

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There’s just one person behind this website; if this article was helpful (or interesting), I’d appreciate it if you’d share it. Thanks, Al.

Thanks for this - your post helped me because I was getting some errors on Windows when Vim tried to create the swap file because the default working directory isn't writeable by a standard user account.

So I tried your suggestion (with the two slashes) and it worked great, ie:


I then discovered Windows has an environment variable "TEMP" which you can use this in your _vimrc like this:

set dir=$TEMP

Hopefully that's useful for anyone else who finds your blog post like I did.

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