vim can't open file for writing

Normally, you can use :w to write changes in vim, or :wq to save the changes and exit. But occasionally, you’ll encounter the “Vim can’t open file for writing (E212)” error when trying to write the changes.

According to Vim documentation, E212 occurs if the file you’re writing to cannot be created or overwritten. This could be because the file name is invalid or because you don’t have permission to write in the directory.

Verify File Name and Path

It’s possible that you’re using some invalid characters like * in the filename. You can try saving the file with a different name to test for this.

w: newfilename

In practice, the more common occurrence is that users try to save the file to a directory that doesn’t exist. While you can use editors like Vim to create files, the directory must exist beforehand.

There are a few ways to deal with this situation. You can save the file to a different directory by specifying the path like so

w: /home/anup/doc.txt

You can prefix commands with ! to execute them directly from the editor. In this case, you can create the missing directory from inside Vim.

!sudo mkdir /full/path/to/directory/
!sudo mkdir /home/anup/newfolder/

For instance, if we needed to save doc.txt in the /home/anup/newfolder directory, the above command would create this directory. Then, we’d be able to save the file (:w).

Finally, you can also exit Vim (:q), use mkdir to create the missing directory, then open the file with Vim again and save it. This method is a bit roundabout though, so it’s usually better to create the directory from inside Vim as demonstrated above.

Provide Root Permission

If you run Vim as a non-root user and try to write to a root-owned file or directory, you’ll encounter this error. The fix in this case is very simple. Just launch Vim with root privileges.

sudo vim /home/anup/doc.txt  

Mount File System as Read-Write

Although uncommon, you can also encounter this error if the device containing the file is mounted as read-only. To check for this, you can first list your devices and note the partition identifier for the device like so

sudo lsblk -e7

Now, use the mount command to list the mounted filesystems.


If the device is indeed mounted as read-only (ro), remount it as read-write (rw) like so

sudo mount -o remount,rw /partition/identifier /mount/point

For instance, to mount /dev/sda2 as rw at /, you’d use

sudo mount -o remount,rw /dev/sda2 /
Anup Thapa

Senior Writer

Anup Thapa is a Linux enthusiast with an extensive background in computer hardware and networking. His goal is to effectively communicate technical concepts in a simplified form understandable by new Linux users. To this end, he mainly writes beginner-friendly tutorials and troubleshooting guides. Outside of work, he enjoys reading up on a range of topics, traveling, working out, and MOBAs.