I run Debian Jessie without a desktop environment (I use the tiling window manager i3) and like to use xdg-open to quickly open files using a preferred application. I have an ongoing problem setting the preferred app for PDF files though. This is my problem in a nutshell:

$ xdg-mime query filetype ~/Downloads/document.pdf

$ xdg-mime query default application/pdf

$ xdg-open ~/Downloads/document.pdf
[opens gimp!]

Any ideas would be hugely appreciated - this has been plaguing me for about a year. The only way I've ever managed to (temporarily) fix it is by directly editing the mimeinfo.cache and removing the reference to gimp from the application/pdf record.

And yes, /usr/share/applications/qpdfview.desktop exists and contains the correct location of the qpdfview binary. (Indeed, this .desktop file is used when I hand-edit mimeinfo.cache.)

1 Answer 1


You could attempt to manually set it via the command line using mimeopen.


$ mimeopen -d ~/test.pdf

Please choose a default application for files of type application/pdf

    1) E-book Viewer  (calibre-ebook-viewer)
    2) Document Viewer  (evince)
    3) Xournal  (xournal)
    4) GNU Image Manipulation Program  (gimp)
    5) Xpdf PDF Viewer  (xpdf)
    6) Print Preview  (evince-previewer)
    7) Inkscape  (inkscape)
    8) calibre  (calibre-gui)
    9) Other...

use application #2
Opening "/home/saml/Downloads/test.pdf" with Document Viewer  (application/pdf)

Which results in my PDF file, test.pdf opening up in Evince. From this point on Evince is the default when I use xdg-open.


  • 2
    Thanks! I still don't know why the problem existed in the first place, but at least the default now seems to persist beyond an apt-get dist-upgrade.
    – Tim
    Jun 5, 2014 at 2:30
  • @Tim - glad this resolved your issue.
    – slm
    Jun 5, 2014 at 2:34
  • 4
    Why does this work, but setting the default application using xdg-mime doesn't work? This is the kind of stuff that drives me insane! To elaborate, I tried xdg-mime default /usr/share/applications/evince.desktop application/pdf, and xdg-mime query filetype /some/file.pdf confirmed that the default application was set, but xdg-open completely ignored my preferences and opened Print Preview instead.
    – Hubro
    Jan 25, 2016 at 12:29
  • 3
    @Hubro xdg-open is a shell script wrapper for opener commands of various desktop environment. I guess you could try running sh -x $(which xdg-open) /some/file.pdf, figuring out which actual opener command is called, then hope to find out where to searching for next...
    – Naitree
    Jun 10, 2017 at 3:01
  • @sim Sorry but why was this the accepted answer? The answer seems to provide a workaround (it does not in my case) but does not actually answer the issue of why xdg-open ignores the xdg-mime query.
    – TSGM
    Dec 29, 2020 at 23:08

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