Does vi silently add a newline (LF) at the end of file?

POSIX requires this behavior, so it's not in any way unusual.

From the POSIX vi manual:


See the INPUT FILES section of the ex command for a description of the input files supported by the vi command.

Following the trail to the POSIX ex manual:


Input files shall be text files or files that would be text files except for an incomplete last line that is not longer than {LINE_MAX}-1 bytes in length and contains no NUL characters. By default, any incomplete last line shall be treated as if it had a trailing <newline>. The editing of other forms of files may optionally be allowed by ex implementations.

The OUTPUT FILES section of the vi manual also redirects to ex:


The output from ex shall be text files.

A pair of POSIX definitions:

3.397 Text File

A file that contains characters organized into zero or more lines. The lines do not contain NUL characters and none can exceed {LINE_MAX} bytes in length, including the <newline> character. Although POSIX.1-2008 does not distinguish between text files and binary files (see the ISO C standard), many utilities only produce predictable or meaningful output when operating on text files. The standard utilities that have such restrictions always specify "text files" in their STDIN or INPUT FILES sections.

3.206 Line

A sequence of zero or more non- <newline> characters plus a terminating <newline> character.

These definitions in the context of these manual page excerpts mean that while a conformant ex/vi implementation must accept a malformed text file if that file's only deformity is an absent final newline, when writing that file's buffer the result must be a valid text file.

While this post has referenced the 2013 edition of the POSIX standard, the relevant stipulations also appear in the much older 1997 edition.

Lastly, if you find ex's newline appension unwelcome, you will feel profoundly violated by Seventh Edition UNIX's (1979) intolerant ed. From the manual:

When reading a file, ed discards ASCII NUL characters and all characters after the last newline. It refuses to read files containing non-ASCII characters.

This is the expected vi behavior.

Your file has an incomplete last line so strictly speaking (i.e. according to the POSIX standard), it is not a text file but a binary file.

vi which is a text file editor, not a binary one, gracefully fixes it when you save it.

This allows other text file tools like wc, sed and the likes to provide the expected output. Note that vi isn't silent about the issue:

$ printf "one\ntwo" >file     # Create a unterminated file
$ cat file                    # Note the missing newline before the prompt
two$ wc -l file               # wc ignores the incomplete last line
       1 file
$ sed '' file > file1
$ cat file1                   # so does a legacy sed
$ PATH=$(getconf PATH) sed  '' file
one                           # while a POSIX conformant sed warns you:
sed: Missing newline at end of file file.
$ vi file
~                             # vi tells you too about the issue
"file" [Incomplete last line] 2 lines, 7 characters


"file" 2 lines, 8 characters  # and tells it writes two lines
                              # You'll even notice it writes one more
                              # character if you are a very shrewd observer :-)
$ cat file                    # the file is now valid text
$ wc -l file                  # wc reports the expected number of lines
       2 file
$ sed '' file > file1         # sed works as expected
$ cat file1

Note, to get some clues about what vi version you are running, you can use the :ve command. It shows here I'm using a legacy SVR4 one here, definitely not vim:

Version SVR4.0, Solaris 2.5.0

Apparently, yours is stating:

Version 3.10

That likely means AIX vi is based on SVR3 source code.

In any case, this behavior, and the [Incomplete last line] warning message have been in the legacy Bill Joy's vi source code since at least 1979 and AFAIK, retained in all branches created from System V source code releases, from which proprietary Unix like AIX were built.

Chronologically speaking, this behavior is then not a consequence of POSIX conformance but more a consequence of Bill Joy's original decision to be helpful with users editing bogus text files, and then, a decade later, the POSIX committee decision to keep this tolerance.

If you use ed instead of vi, you'll notice that the former is more verbose about the issue, at least if your ed is from SVR3 or newer source branch:

$ ed file
'\n' appended

Note also that an empty file is a valid text file that happens to contain zero lines. As there is then no unterminated line to fix, vi doesn't append a newline when saving the file.