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Get Alt key to work in terminal

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created February 12, 2006 · complexity basic · author Matt Zyzik · version 5.7

xterm, by default, sets eightBitInput to true, meaning that the eighth bit is set for metacharacters (combinations with the Alt key, for instance). Not all terminals have this feature enabled by default, and therefore work differently (they send an ESC before the character key).

So for the xterm, with enables the eight bit, you can just do something like,

map <m-a> ggVG

However, with a terminal that's in 7 bit mode, you have to do this:

set <m-a> = ^[a
map <m-a> ggVG
" the ^[ is an ESC char that comes before the 'a'

My tip is to just set all terminals to work in 8 bit mode. Here are two examples:

Eterm -8
rxvt --meta8


Also, these are the settings I use in my /etc/inputrc:

set meta-flag on
set input-meta on
set convert-meta on
set output-meta on

These are so that alt keys like <m-b>, <m-f>, <m-d> will work well in shell.

See also VimTip738:fix META-keys on Unix terminals.

the only version that works for me: (Vim 7.1 on Ubuntu 8.04 x86, connected to by Putty 0.60 on Windows XP 32bit)

line in .vimrc to map for example "Alt-RightArrowKey" to "switch to next open file":

:map ^[<Right>              :hide bn<CR>

crucial: to get the ^[<Right> press in insert mode Control-V then Alt-x, remove the x, insert the seven Characters "<Right>"

more key special names like "<Right>":

klaus thorn, klaus at

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