I recently installed VIM 8.0 on my Ubuntu 14.04 machine. When I open vim, it outputs an error:

> vim ~/.vimrc
Error detected while processing /usr/local/share/vim/vim80/syntax/syncolor.vim:
line   36:
E254: Cannot allocate color Orange1
E254: Cannot allocate color Orange1
Press ENTER or type command to continue

When I hit enter, it opens without syntax highlighting (but with a colorscheme, the colors change slightly if I change :colorscheme to something different).

But if I run as root, it opens with syntax highlighting.

sudo vim ~/.vimrc

I assumed it was a permission issue, so I set syncolor.vim to be readable by all:

> ll /usr/local/share/vim/vim80/syntax/syncolor.vim 
-rwxrwxrwx 1 root root 4.0K Dec 22 23:29 /usr/local/share/vim/vim80/syntax/syncolor.vim

Still no luck. Then I wondered if vim was set to something different under root than under my user:

> which vim
> /usr/local/bin/vim --version
VIM - Vi IMproved 8.0 (2016 Sep 12, compiled Dec 22 2016 23:01:25)

> sudo which vim
> sudo /usr/local/bin/vim --version
VIM - Vi IMproved 8.0 (2016 Sep 12, compiled Dec 22 2016 23:01:25)

My next thought was that root's TERM was different:

> echo $TERM
> sudo echo $TERM

Both root and my own user are using the same .vimrc file:


I'm at a loss. What else could be different between my user and root that would cause colors not to load?

  • Well, I know this is old, but your tests for $VARIABLES are invalid. They are expanded before sudo is ran. Instead, you should test like sudo bash -c 'echo $VARIABLE'. (notice the single quotes) you can check with $PATH or $LOGNAME which are usually different between you and sudo.
    – dpb
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 18:35
  • Hi! I just saw this comment now. I will try that and see if it does the trick. Thanks!
    – AaronM
    Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 21:42

1 Answer 1


The problem is most likely 'defaults.vim' in your '$VIMRUNTIME' folder, which in this case would have likely meant.. /usr/local/share/vim/vim80/defaults.vim

I've just been trying to fix the same issue on OpenVMS with vim 8.1, and that turned out to be the cause - loading vim with vim -u [some garbage filename] forces vim to load without the system .vimrc, but also without the system defaults.vim

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