Change the Default Text Editor in Ubuntu

Change the Default Text Editor in Ubuntu

So I’m a huge advocate of Ubuntu. It has long term support releases, more packages than you would ever need, free online unattended patching, and you always have an in-place upgrade path to the next LTS version. What more could you ask for? I’d like to ask that nano loose its privileged status as the default text editor!

When making changes to sudoers, passwd, or group files you should really be using the built-in tools visudo, vipw, and vigr. These tools will check your syntax prior to committing changes to the file that could break your system. By default Ubuntu opens these files in nano which I find bothersome. If like me you would rather use vim when making these changes here’s how to change default.

Change Ubuntu’s default editor with update-alternatives.

Option 1) change the editor interactively.

sudo update-alternatives –config editor

There are 4 choices for the alternative editor (providing /usr/bin/editor).


Selection    Path                Priority   Status

* 0            /bin/nano            40        auto mode
1            /bin/ed             -100       manual mode
2            /bin/nano            40        manual mode
3            /usr/bin/vim.basic   30        manual mode
4            /usr/bin/vim.tiny    10        manual mode
Press <enter> to keep the current choice[*], or type selection number:

You can see that the option we want is 3 vim.basic which after selecting will change the default from nano to vim.

Option 2) change the editor with a single command string.

Alternatively and probably better if you need to script it is to just set the default with a single command string.

sudo update-alternatives --set editor /usr/bin/vim.basic

This command will output a confirmation that the editor has been changed to vim.

You can verify that your change has been made as follows:

sudo update-alternatives --query editor

This command will output a lot of information:

Name: edito
Link: /usr/bin/editor
editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/man1/editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/fr/man1/editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/it/man1/editor.1.gz
editor.ja.1.gz /usr/share/man/ja/man1/editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/pl/man1/editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/ru/man1/editor.1.gz

Status: manual
Best: /bin/nano
Value: /usr/bin/vim.basic
Alternative: /bin/ed

Priority: -100

editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/man1/ed.1.gz
Alternative: /bin/nano

Priority: 40

editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/man1/nano.1.gz
Alternative: /usr/bin/vim.basic

Priority: 30

editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/man1/vim.1.gz /usr/share/man/fr/man1/vim.1.gz /usr/share/man/it/man1/vim.1.gz
editor.ja.1.gz /usr/share/man/ja/man1/vim.1.gz /usr/share/man/pl/man1/vim.1.gz /usr/share/man/ru/man1/vim.1.gz
Alternative: /usr/bin/vim.tiny

Priority: 10

editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/man1/vim.1.gz /usr/share/man/fr/man1/vim.1.gz /usr/share/man/it/man1/vim.1.gz
editor.ja.1.gz /usr/share/man/ja/man1/vim.1.gz /usr/share/man/pl/man1/vim.1.gz /usr/share/man/ru/man1/vim.1.gz


Notice specifically the lines labeled:

Status: manual

Best: /bin/nano

Value: /usr/bin/vim.basic

This output confirms that we switch from automatic selection to manual selection of our editor, and that instead the “Best” (Say’s who!?) value we chose vim.

Luke has an RHCSA for Red Hat Enterpirse Linux 7 and currently works as a Linux Systems Adminstrator in Ohio.

This post, re-published here with permission, was originally published on Luke’s site here.

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