How To Save A File In Vim / Vi Without Root Permission With sudo

This happens lot of times. I login as a normal user and start to edit httpd.conf or lighttpd.conf or named.conf in vim / vi text editor. However, I’m not able to save changes due to permission issue (all config files are owned by root). How do I save file without creating a temporary file (/tmp/httpd.conf) and then move the same (mv /tmp/httpd.conf /etc/httpd) as root using vim / vi itself?

[donotprint][/donotprint]You can use the combination of sudo command (assuming that sudo is configured for your account) to save a file without creating a third file in /tmp. This is useful to write a privileged file with sudo command. For example saving a read-only file edited in vim and vi is possible with this trick.

Syntax to save a file in Vim without root permission with sudo

In this example, you will edit a file called /etc/apache2/conf.d/mediawiki.conf as a normal user:
$ vi /etc/apache2/conf.d/mediawiki.conf
Make some changes and try to save by pressing :w, enter:

Fig.01: Vim Cannot Open File (Permission Problem)

To save a file, simply type the following command:
:w !sudo tee %

Fig.02: Save a file using sudo and tee

What the vim and shell command does:

  • :w – Write a file (actually buffer).
  • !sudo – Call shell with sudo command.
  • tee – The output of write (vim :w) command redirected using tee.
  • % – The % is nothing but current file name. In this example, it is /etc/apache2/conf.d/mediawiki.conf. In other words tee command is run as root and it takes standard input (or the buffer) and write it to a file represented by %. However, this will prompt to reload file again (hit L to load changes in vim itself):
Fig.03: Save and Load File In Vim Again Without Login As Root

Update ~/.vimrc file

Open/Edit ~/.vimrc file and append the following code:

" Sample command W
command W :execute ':silent w !sudo tee % > /dev/null' | :edit!

Save and close the file. Open vim/vi and try to edit a privileged file with:
$ vi /etc/hosts
Now, write a privileged file with custom command just type W:

Fig.04 VIM write a privileged file custom W command

Now, sudo requires that you authenticate yourselves with a password:

Fig.05: Sudo in action inside vim

A note about sudo config

Make sure you add yourself to sudo file. Here is my configuration (run ‘sudo visudo‘ OR ‘su -‘ and ‘visudo‘):

# User privilege specification
root    ALL=(ALL) ALL
%admin  ALL=(ALL) ALL

Make sure you add yourself to admin group:
# usermod -a -G admin vivek
# id vivek

Sample outputs:

uid=501(veryv) gid=20(staff) groups=20(staff),80(admin),81(_appserveradm),98(_lpadmin),33(_appstore),100(_lpoperator),204(_developer)

Try vim plugins to write/edit a privileged file or read only file


You just learned how to save a read-only file edited in vim text editor. As a sysadmin you might edit a file non-privileged user. In such case you can save file without login as root using the sudo command.

Posted by: SXI ADMIN

The author is the creator of SXI LLC and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.