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Inspired by the comments to this answer I am curious how to actually setup and use forward/reverse (inverse) search with vim, pdflatex and an open-source PDF-viewer under Linux.

Btw, to give more details:

Forward search means that when you at some location in your text editor you issue some command and auto-magically the PDF-viewer jumps to the corresponding location in the typeset PDF. Perhaps even marks it somehow.

Reverse search means that issuing a command in your PDF-Viewer (e.g. clicking somewhere in the document), instructs the PDF-viewer to send a command to your editor that then jumps to the corresponding source location.

Edit: Currently I am not using any latex plugin in vim. And usually the LaTeX documents I edit with vim make use of \include or \input a lot.

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Just saw your edit. I might be able to give some advice about overcoming the \input or \include problem, but it'll mean knowing something about whether you put anything in your included documents to mark what the master document is for a given subdocument, or whether you use any other conventions. (E.g., is the main document always called main.tex or something? Or do you put % mainfile=whatever.tex on one of the first lines of the file, or ...? –  frabjous Sep 9 '10 at 19:25
@frabjous: No, currently I am just using \include (for parts, chapters, sections - depending on the documentclass and size of the divisions) and \input (for e.g. complicated tables/figures) without any marking. The main file is not always of the same name. –  maxschlepzig Sep 10 '10 at 8:11
Are you willing to mark it somehow? Consider that it's possible to use the same subdocument in multiple master documents, and then it'll be impossible for vim to know which pdf to forwardsearch in. You need a way to tell vim which one you want. Anyway, the important thing that won't work in my instructions below is "%:p:r.pdf", which is vim-ese for "the current document name with full path, with the extension removed, and .pdf" stuck on. That won't work if the .pdf name doesn't match the name of the file you're editing. You'll need to change that part of the function when working with subdocs. –  frabjous Sep 10 '10 at 22:01
I realize that this topic is kind of dead by now. Still I would like to see vim+synctex+(nice pdf reader) work sometime. Concerning the mainfile. As long as you don't edit 2 LaTeX documents at the same time, this mainfile is uniquely determined by the intersection of all open *.tex files, and all open *.pdf files. Might this work, to make multiple master documents possible? I guess with a little bit of more fu, it is possible to ask the system which candidate of the multiple master documents was active as last. What do you think? –  jmc Jun 28 '12 at 17:47

5 Answers 5

up vote 21 down vote accepted

It would help to know which, if any, LaTeX plugin you're using for vim. (E.g., the latex-suite, vim-auctex, latex-box, etc.)

Next, as far as viewer choice, the only widely used open source PDF viewer for Linux which currently supports SyncTeX well out of the box is Okular. That's probably your best choice.

There are instructions fo setting up SyncTeX with Okular with the vim-latex plugin here, and some related observations here. I had mixed results following those directions. Here's what seems to be important.

  1. Be sure that your LaTeX compilation method (which will depend on your plugin) calls pdflatex (or xelatex or whatever) with the -synctex=1 flag.

  2. I think something like this should suffice for Forward Searches with Okular, though it might be better to try to rewrite or modify the forward search function for your plugin (there's some info on that in one of the links above). Put this in your .vimrc (and change the mapping to whatever you like).

    function! SyncTexForward()
         let execstr = "silent !okular --unique %:p:r.pdf\\#src:".line(".")."%:p &"
         exec execstr
    nmap <Leader>f :call SyncTexForward()<CR>
  3. For reverse searches, set the editor line in Okular to gvim --servername GVIM --remote +%l %f. It might also work to use gvim --servername GVIM --remote-send "<Esc>%lgg" if you only use it with the file already open. Change the servername to whatever you use. (Not sure if it's different with regular vim, but this doesn't make much sense out of a graphical environment.)

I do not have Okular installed right now, however, so I could not test any of that. (And the links I gave earlier have slightly different advice which is worth trying.) I really hope someone with both Okular and gvim installed can test this advice, and correct where I went wrong.

And all of that advice isn't going to work well if you're using subdocuments called through \input{...} or \include{...}, where the PDF name doesn't match the name of the document you're editing. There are ways around that, but it would require knowing more about what LaTeX plugins and methods you're already using, if any.

However, other choices are kinda/sorta already available. The next version of evince will support SyncTeX through D-Bus, and apparently someone is already working on a plugin for vim to make use of it. Details here. However, it's very unlikely that this version of evince is already available for your Linux distribution, and there may be some problems with it.

There's an old fork of an old version evince that provides synctex support; there are instructions that come with that detail how to set this up with gvim. It works fine. It's easy to set up if you're using Arch Linux, since this is in the AUR. If you're not, I don't know how hard it would be to compile. (I used to use Ubuntu before Arch, and couldn't get it working there, but that may have been my ignorance.)

Next, I wrote some scripts that provide very limited, very poor, but still better than nothing, synctex support between gvim and the open-source vim-like PDF viewer Zathura, which uses vim-like keybindings. You'll find them mentioned and detailed in this thread in the Arch forums here. (post #370)

Finally, I think this kind of stuff will work its way into the major LaTeX plugins for vim soon, and then you don't have to resort to so much trial and error.

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It should be noted that instead of passing -synctex=1 to the pdflatex or xelatex processor, you can also put \synctex=1 in the preamble of your document. –  Konrad Rudolph Sep 11 '10 at 8:09
In okular you must shift-click to activate the editor. The vim-latex documentation says double-click and debugging this caused me much frustration. –  Dan Stahlke Oct 12 '12 at 22:32
Sometimes okular won't come to the foreground with this command: I'm forcing it with wmctrl: :execute "silent !make && okular --caption OkularVIM --unique %:p:r.pdf\\#src:" . line(".") . "%:p && wmctrl -a OkularVIM &"<cr> –  Ciro Santilli Aug 23 at 9:25
Evince also seems to be supporting it: help.gnome.org/users/evince/stable/synctex-editors.html.en –  Ciro Santilli Aug 23 at 10:27

This is a solution for evince, thanks to José Aliste who wrote gedit-synctex-plugin:


  1. Download these files
  2. deflate them to ~/bin (or something within $PATH)

Backward Search (Evince → Editor)

  1. Adopt the first line of »~/bin/evince« (EDITORCMD) to your needs. (run »evince_backward_search« to get help for possible entries)
  2. Compile your .tex File with synctex (»pdflatex -synctex=1 myfile.tex«)
  3. Run »evince myfile.pdf« (The script should run evince_backward_search and evince)
  4. click on some text in evince with »Ctrl+leftclick«
  5. the editor should jump to the corresponding line

Forward Search (Editor → Evince)

  1. you have to tell your editor, to run »evince_forward_search $PDFFILE $LINE $TEXFILE« when pressing some key.
  2. go to some line in your editor and press the key
  3. evince should mark the corresponding line

Using vim-latexsuite, write in ~/.vim/ftplugin/tex.vim:

function! Tex_ForwardSearchLaTeX()
  let cmd = 'evince_forward_search ' . fnamemodify(Tex_GetMainFileName(), ":p:r") .  '.pdf ' . line(".") . ' ' . expand("%:p")
  let output = system(cmd)

Afterwards you can do forward search in vim with \ls

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How is the first step for forward search explicitly for emacs? –  student Jul 27 '11 at 15:24

Automatic LaTeX Plugin for Vim supports forward and backward search for many viewers (Xpdf, Okular, Evince, or Skim on MacOs).

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If this is a product of yours, please disclose it, see the faq. –  doncherry Nov 24 '12 at 16:55

sure, I'm a little late. I'm using vim without any tex plugins + ConteXt + synctex (but this should work for LaTeX too), but here is my current method (save as file into ftplugin directory):

if exists("b:did_context_synctex_plugin")
let b:did_context_synctex_plugin = 1

function! SynctexShow()
    let synctex = glob("*.synctex.gz")
    if strlen(synctex) == 0
        echo "no synctex file found"
        let pdffile = substitute(synctex,"synctex.gz","pdf","")
        let execline = printf(":!okular --unique '%s#src:%d %s'", shellescape(pdffile), line("."),shellescape(bufname("%")))
        exec execline

map <buffer> <localleader>f :call SynctexShow()<Enter><Enter>

When creating the document with synctex support a file "*.synctex.gz" is generated, so this script will just look for a file ending with "synctex.gz", find the current buffer and syncs the view with the pdf viewer. Due to the use of the synctex file for naming the pdf (which must have the same base name) one can split up the TeX document and use synctex, too.

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Does this work if you have more than one *.synctex.gz file in the current directory? In that case syntex and pdffile will be strings of multiple lines, and the execline command not be correct. –  Aditya Feb 6 '11 at 3:35
this script is just very simple serving more or less my needs at least ... if you want support for more synctex-files in a directory there are some possible options to improve the script. Use for example <synctex_files = split(glob("*.synctex.gz"),"\n"))> to retrieve a list of all synctex files. Using that list one can either ask the user or unzip the files and test if the current file is referenced in any of them (hopefully just one, or open all). Alternatively add a global variable with the correct synctex file, which can be changed by the user at any time. or maybe combine all of these... –  urso Feb 6 '11 at 7:19

Evince also has an overview page for that which uses the dbus script from the gedit latex plugin.


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