In Debian, I am used to set the LANGUAGE environment variable in /etc/environment. Now with Debian testing I found /etc/default/locale, which is updated by update-locale. The update-locale man page states it performs some sanity checks but never details them, so: what are these checks? are they important or even essential? can I set /etc/default/locale as I did /etc/environment, or should I absolutely use update-locale?

1 Answer 1


There are just two sanity checks:

  • the requested locale must exist (otherwise update-locale exits and /etc/default/locale isn't modified)
  • if a value is specified for LANGUAGE, it must be valid (otherwise it is ignored)

So there's nothing which requires you to use update-locale instead of editing /etc/default/locale yourself, but it is a good idea to use it to avoid mistakes.

  • Thanks a lot, that was exactly what I was looking for. Since I always did /etc/environment, I guess I am qualified enough to do /etc/default/locale myself, if only because I am too lazy to use update-locale. Not that it takes much more effort.
    – Leandro
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 23:12

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