MacVim comes with a clever script called mvim which allows you to open files in MacVim via the command line (much like mate for TextMate). This is a wonderful tool, but does possess some idiosyncrasies. It creates a new window (rather than a new tab) when you invoke it and it also won’t take stdin as input unless you pass a dash1.

To fix this I modified the script to check for an existing macvim process, and if it exists attach tabs to it.2 Additionally, it checks for args and if none are present (or just -) the script invokes stdin. I am not much of a bash hacker though, so there are a few caveats…

  • –remote-tab-silent doesn’t seem to work with listening on stdin, so the script always pops it out into a new window.

  • You (apparently) can’t pass extra parameters when using –remote-tab-silent, so tricks like mvim /etc/hosts +5 to have it open with the cursor on line 5 will not work.

These are both irritating, but I feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Hopefully someone can contribute fixes to these problems!

# This shell script passes all its arguments to the binary inside the
# application bundle.  If you make links to this script as view,
# gvim, etc., then it will peek at the name used to call it and set options
# appropriately.
# Based on a script by Wout Mertens and suggestions from Laurent Bihanic.  This
# version is the fault of Benji Fisher, 16 May 2005 (with modifications by Nico
# Weber and Bjorn Winckler, Aug 13 2007.  Some mediocre hacking by Paul Kehrer Sep 30 2009).
# First, check "All the Usual Suspects" for the location of the bundle.
# You can short-circuit this by setting the VIM_APP_DIR environment variable
# or by un-commenting and editing the following line:
# VIM_APP_DIR=/Applications

if [ -z "$VIM_APP_DIR" ]
  myDir="`dirname "$0"`"
  for i in ~/Applications ~/Applications/vim $myDir $myDir/vim $myAppDir $myAppDir/vim /Applications /Applications/vim /Applications/Utilities /Applications/Utilities/vim; do
    if [ -x "$i/" ]; then
if [ -z "$VIM_APP_DIR" ]
  echo "Sorry, cannot find  Try setting the VIM_APP_DIR environment variable to the directory containing"
  exit 1

# Next, peek at the name used to invoke this script, and set options
# accordingly.

name="`basename "$0"`"

# GUI mode, implies forking
case "$name" in m*|g*|rg*) gui=true ;; esac

# Restricted mode
case "$name" in r*) opts="$opts -Z";; esac

# vimdiff and view
case "$name" in
    opts="$opts -dO"
    opts="$opts -R"


#let's see if we need to read from stdin
#script currently assumes NO PARAMETERS
if [ -z "$1" ] || [[ $1 == \- ]]; then

# Last step:  fire up vim.
# The program should fork by default when started in GUI mode, but it does
# not; we work around this when this script is invoked as "gvim" or "rgview"
# etc., but not when it is invoked as "vim -g".
if [ "$gui" ]; then
  # Note: this isn't perfect, because any error output goes to the
  # terminal instead of the console log.
  # But if you use open instead, you will need to fully qualify the
  # path names for any filenames you specify, which is hard.
  if $stdinoption; then
    exec "$binary" -g -
    if $tabs && [ `ps x|grep 'MacOS/MacVim'|grep -v grep|wc -l` = "1" ] && [[ `$binary --serverlist` = "VIM" ]]; then
      #when using remote tabs you can't pass things like +5.
      exec "$binary" -g $opts --remote-tab-silent ${1:+"$@"}
      exec "$binary" -g $opts ${1:+"$@"}
  exec "$binary" $opts ${1:+"$@"}
  1. This is the standard vim way, but feels irritatingly inelegant to me. 

  2. The script does a ps x to check for the existence of a macvim process. This is done before the serverlist check because the script will output ugly errors to stdout if there is no macvim process.