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How to use Tim Pope's Pathogen

How to use Tim Pope’s Pathogen

I’ll assume you are on Linux or Mac OSX. For Windows, replace ~/.vim/ with $HOME\vimfiles\ and forward slashes with backward slashes.

The idea

Vim plugins can be single scripts or collections of specialized scripts that you are supposed to put in “standard” locations under your ~/.vim/ directory. Syntax scripts go into ~/.vim/syntax/, plugin scripts go into ~/.vim/plugin, documentation goes into ~/.vim/doc/ and so on. That design can lead to a messy config where it quickly becomes hard to manage your plugins.

This is not the place to explain the technicalities behind Pathogen but the basic concept is quite straightforward: each plugin lives in its own directory under ~/.vim/bundle/, where each directory simulates the standard structure of your ~/.vim/ directory.

Let us take two simple, imaginary, plugins called foo and bar as an example. With the standard installation method we should have this mess:


With the help of Pathogen, we maintain the standard structure but we move it under ~/.vim/bundle/<pluginname>/:



Now, our plugins are easy to delete, update or modify because they are carefully segregated from each other.

That mechanism also applies to single-file scripts but they require a bit more work.

  1. Identify the nature of that script. Is it a generic plugin? A filetype plugin? A syntax script? Let us assume it is a syntax script.

  2. Come up with a descriptive name for that single-file plugin, say baz.

  3. Place your script in ~/.vim/bundle/baz/syntax/baz.vim.

Prepare your environment

If they don’t exist already, create these two directories:


Get Pathogen

Save to


Configure Pathogen

Put these lines at the top of your vimrc:

execute pathogen#infect()

filetype plugin indent on
syntax on

The two last lines have nothing to do with pathogen but, if you have them in your ~/.vimrc, be sure to put them after the pathogen line. If you don’t have those lines, well… add them! What good is Vim without syntax highlighting and filetype detection?

Install a plugin

We are going to install delimitMate. Once it is installed in ~/.vim/bundle/, you should get:



Unzip in ~/.vim/bundle/delimitMate-master/.

With Git, no submodules:

$ cd ~/.vim/bundle
$ git clone

With Git, using submodules:

Assuming your .vim directory is already a Git repository…

$ cd ~/.vim
$ git submodule init
$ git submodule add bundle/delimitMate

All methods:

Once you are back in Vim, it is recommended to execute the :Helptags command, provided by Pathogen, to make the plugin’s documentation available globally:


Update a plugin


Same as installation process.

With Git, with or without submodules:

$ cd ~/.vim/bundle/delimitMate-master
$ git pull

Both methods:

Use :Helptags to update the index of the plugin’s documentation.

Remove a plugin

Manually and with Git, no submodules:

Simply remove its directory from ~/.vim/bundle.

With Git, using submodules:

Assuming your .vim directory is already a Git repository…

$ cd ~/.vim
$ git submodule deinit -f bundle/delimitMate
$ git rm -rf bundle/delimitMate
$ rm -rf .git/modules/bundle/delimitMate

manasthakur commented Jan 6, 2017

Hi @romainl,

I think the following step should also be added to the last section (removing plugins using submodules):

$ rm -rf .git/modules/bundle/delimitMate

Without this, I recently ran into a problem where I was trying to replace a copy of vim-vinegar with another fork; even though I was adding the new link, the old one was getting installed. Solution courtesy:


romainl commented Jul 29, 2017

@manasthakur, sorry for the delay, I didn't receive any notification.

Anyway, I updated the gist. Thanks.

For a new .vim folder, I got the following error :
$ git submodule init
fatal: Not a git repository (or any of the parent directories): .git

May be you could add the below step for new comers
They need to run the below command :
$ git init

to fix the above error message

Thanks for the great gist!
Not too different, but why not update the "install delimitMate with git" command to:
git clone ~/.vim/bundle


romainl commented Jan 20, 2018

@asarfraaz, point taken. Git and Git submodules are beyond the scope of this Gist but I edited it lightly.


romainl commented Jan 20, 2018

@zorawar87, that command wouldn't work as expected anyway. The following would:

$ git clone ~/.vim/bundle/delimitMate
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