3 Easy Ways to Show Line Numbers in Vim

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Last updated: July 2, 2023

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To show line numbers in Vim, you can try these methods:

  1. Configuring Vimrc Settings: Add set number to your Vimrc file to enable line numbers permanently.
  2. vim-airline Plugin: Install vim-airline, and line numbers will be displayed on the status bar.
  3. Activating Relative Line Numbers: Enter :set relativenumber to activate relative line numbers.

When showing line numbers in Vim, common errors may include invisible line numbers, out-of-sync numbering, overlapping with text, misalignment with the cursor, and performance slowdowns. To resolve these issues, check configuration settings, use relative line numbering, adjust fonts and spacing, address conflicts, and optimize Vim’s performance.

Continue reading the guide below to learn to show line numbers in Vim and common errors with possible solutions.

Line numbers are an essential feature in Vim that greatly enhances productivity and facilitates navigation within the editor. Line numbers serve as essential markers within your code, enabling you to locate and refer to specific lines quickly. By incorporating line numbers into your Vim workflow, you’ll experience enhanced code navigation, collaboration, and productivity. In this comprehensive guide, I will explore various methods to show line numbers in Vim and common errors that can occur when displaying line numbers in Vim.

How to Show Line Numbers in Vim

To show line numbers in Vim, you can configure your Vimrc settings to enable them by default, install the vim-airline plugin for visually appealing line numbers in the status bar, or activate relative line numbers for dynamic navigation based on line positions.

1. Configuring Vimrc Settings

If you prefer to have line numbers displayed by default whenever you open Vim, you can configure your Vimrc settings. This method ensures line numbers persist across multiple Vim sessions and provides a seamless experience for regular Vim users. To enable line numbers permanently, follow these steps:

  1. Launch your Terminal.
opening terminal 14
  1. Enter the following command to open your Vimrc file: 
<strong>vim ~/.vimrc </strong>
  1. The command will open vim configuration file.


  1. Add the following line to your vimrc file to enable line numbers:
<strong>set number</strong>
  1. Save and exit the Vimrc file by typing :wq and pressing Enter.


  1. Now open the text file in vim by typing the following command:
<strong>vim filename.txt</strong>

Replace filename with the filename in which you made changes.

opening file in vim
  1. The output will be:
displaying line numbers by default

2. vim-airline Plugin

vim-airline is a powerful status bar plugin for Vim that provides valuable information and enhancements to your editing environment. Among its features, vim-airline offers the ability to display line numbers in a visually appealing way. Here’s how to install and utilize vim-airline for line numbering:

  1. Open your vim configuration file.
  2. Add the following line to your configuration file to install vim-airline:
<strong>call plug#begin('~/.vim/plugged')</strong>
<strong>Plug 'vim-airline/vim-airline'</strong>
<strong>call plug#end()</strong>
  1. Save the configuration file and exit.
adding plugin to vim
  1. Restart Vim to apply the changes.
  2. Open Vim, and you will see the status bar at the bottom of the editor window with line numbers displayed.
viewing line numbers in vim using airline plugin

3. Activating Relative Line Numbers

Enabling relative line numbers in Vim offers a dynamic and context-aware way to navigate and reference lines. This method provides a visual representation of line relationships, making it easier to navigate through code and maintain a sense of line hierarchy. To enable relative line numbers in Vim, follow these steps:

  1. Open the file in which you want to add the relative number.
opening file
  1. Enter the following command in Vim’s command mode: 
<strong>:set relativenumber</strong>
  1. Press Enter to activate relative line numbers.
setting relative line numbers in vim

5 Common Errors When Showing Line Numbers in Vim

Showing line numbers in Vim can greatly improve your productivity, but it’s not without its challenges. Understanding these errors will help you troubleshoot and overcome any obstacles that may arise. Here are five common errors that you may encounter:

  • Line Numbers Not Visible: One common error is when the line numbers are not visible in the Vim editor. This can happen for various reasons, such as incorrect configuration settings or conflicts with other plugins. To resolve this issue, first, check your Vimrc file to ensure that line numbers are enabled (set number). Additionally, verify that no conflicting settings or plugins might interfere with line number display. Restart Vim after making any changes to ensure the modifications take effect.
  • 🔄 Line Numbers Out of Sync: Another error you might encounter is line numbers being out of sync with the actual lines in your file. This can occur when hidden or folded lines affect the numbering sequence. To rectify this, try using the :set relativenumber command to switch to relative line numbering. Relative line numbers adjust dynamically based on the current line, ensuring accurate representation even when dealing with hidden or folded lines. If the issue persists, check for any plugins or settings that might interfere with line numbering and consider disabling them.
  • 🧩 Line Numbers Overlapping Text: Sometimes, line numbers can overlap with the text in the Vim editor, making it difficult to read or interact with the code. This issue typically arises due to improper font or spacing settings. To fix this, experiment with different font sizes or fonts that provide better alignment. Adjusting the numberwidth option in your Vimrc file can also help allocate sufficient space for line numbers. By finding the right balance between font, spacing, and number width, you can ensure that line numbers are displayed clearly and do not interfere with the readability of your code.
  • ❗️ Line Numbers Misaligned with Cursor: You may encounter an error when the line numbers are misaligned with the cursor position in Vim. This issue can occur when using certain plugins or when there are conflicts between different Vim settings. To address this, try temporarily disabling any recently installed plugins and observe if the misalignment persists. Additionally, review your Vimrc file for any conflicting settings related to cursor or line numbering. By eliminating conflicting plugins or settings, you can ensure that line numbers and cursor positions align correctly, providing an accurate visual representation of your code.
  • Line Numbers Slowing Down Vim: It is possible for displaying line numbers to have a negative impact on Vim’s performance, leading to sluggish behavior or increased response times. This can be particularly noticeable when working with large files or projects. To mitigate this, consider using plugins or options that optimize line number rendering, such as lazy-loading or displaying line numbers only for smaller portions of the code. Additionally, ensure that your Vim configuration is optimized for speed and performance. By striking a balance between line number visibility and performance, you can maintain a smooth and efficient Vim editing experience.

To Sum Up

I hope this article has shed light on various methods to show line numbers in Vim and has equipped you with the knowledge to enhance your coding workflow. By utilizing plugins like vim-airline, you can easily display line numbers and navigate through your code with ease. However, it’s important to be aware of common errors that can occur, such as line numbers not being visible or misaligned with the cursor.

To continue expanding your knowledge and skills in Vim, I recommend reading the following articles: Vim Configurations for Increased Productivity, Vim Plugins to Boost Editing Efficiency, and Advanced Vim Scripting. With continuous learning and exploration, you’ll become a Vim power user, unlocking the full potential of this powerful text editor.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I customize the appearance of line numbers in Vim?

Vim allows you to customize the appearance of line numbers through various settings and color schemes. To modify the appearance of line numbers, you can explore Vim’s configuration options. You can change the font, size, color, and position of the line numbers to suit your preferences. Vim also supports different color schemes, which can further enhance the visual presentation of line numbers. By experimenting with these settings and color schemes, you can create a personalized and visually appealing display of line numbers in Vim.

Can I display line numbers only for specific file types?

Yes, Vim allows you to configure line numbers on a per-file type basis. This means you can define specific settings in your Vimrc file to show line numbers in Vim only for certain file types. For example, you can enable line numbers for programming files like Python or JavaScript while hiding them for Markdown or plain text files. By leveraging Vim’s filetype detection mechanism and configuring the appropriate settings, you can have fine-grained control over when line numbers should be displayed, tailoring the experience to your specific needs.

Is there a way to toggle line numbers on and off dynamically in Vim?

Yes, Vim provides the flexibility to dynamically toggle line numbers on and off. You can do this by using the :set number command to enable line numbers or :set nonumber to disable them. These commands can be executed in Vim’s command mode. You can assign these commands to custom key mappings to enhance the convenience of toggling line numbers. By creating a custom mapping, you can easily switch between displaying line numbers for reference or turning them off for a distraction-free editing environment, based on your workflow and preferences.



Ojash is a skilled Linux expert and tech writer with over a decade of experience. He has extensive knowledge of Linux's file system, command-line interface, and software installations. Ojash is also an expert in shell scripting and automation, with experience in Bash, Python, and Perl. He has published numerous articles on Linux in various online publications, making him a valuable resource for both seasoned Linux users and beginners. Ojash is also an active member of the Linux community and participates in Linux forums.



Akshat is a software engineer, product designer and the co-founder of Scrutify. He's an experienced Linux professional and the senior editor of this blog. He is also an open-source contributor to many projects on Github and has written several technical guides on Linux. Apart from that, he’s also actively sharing his ideas and tutorials on Medium and Attirer. As the editor of this blog, Akshat brings his wealth of knowledge and experience to provide readers with valuable insights and advice on a wide range of Linux-related topics.

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