How do I change the default session I get when I log in? I'm on Debian jessie. I tried changing settings on gdm3, tried installing lightdm and following this but it's just not working.

For more specificity, I'm trying to default to gnome-classic instead of gnome. I want to turn on the computer, log in as any arbitrary user, and see gnome-classic, not gnome3 (preferably I'd remove the gnome3 default session, if there's a way to do that).


On Debian, you should set the x-session-manager default command to choose your default session manager:

# update-alternatives --config x-session-manager

There, you can select the session manager you want GDM3 to use by default.

If gnome-session-classic does not appear in the listing, try creating the link on your own. Something like the following:

# update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/x-session-manager x-session-manager /usr/bin/gnome-session-classic 60

Then you should be able to select gnome-classic with update-alternatives --config x-session-manager.

To customize the session managers listed by GDM, I think the only way is to go to /usr/share/xsessions and create/remove Desktop Entry files there. The format is easy to understand, but in case you need help, you can consult the Desktop Entry specification or the GNOME documentation about Desktop Entry files.

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  • This is exactly what I was looking for. Sorry for being MIA, I didn't go into work for a few days. – Academiphile Jun 2 '17 at 14:41
  • What does 60 in update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/x-session-manager x-session-manager /usr/bin/gnome-session-classic 60 mean ? – GypsyCosmonaut Aug 20 '17 at 21:50

With GDM, have you tried modifying your ~/.dmrc file? You can set gnome classic as your default session like this:


reference: GDM manual

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  • This is not preferable, since I'd like it to be global, and not per user. – Academiphile May 28 '17 at 6:31

try to edit /etc/gdm/custom.conf:


but I think that by default it will offer you the last used for that user anyway...

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