"Joe's own editor" does not come naturally to me. How do I change to using nano or vim?

I've tried

export EDITOR=nano

but it doesn't seem to be respected. I'd like visudo to respect this as well.

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  • You're way should work but you have to manually export EDITOR each time you start the shell. Try this: echo "export EDITOR=nano" >> ~/.bashrc. – user20601 Jul 10 '12 at 3:05
  • Thanks Bryan, but it actually wasn't working at all. I'm not sure what the deal was b/c this works in other distros and environments for me. – hidden_premise Jul 10 '12 at 3:25
  • @BryanDunsmore No, not to ~/.bashrc, to ~/.profile. See Alternative to .bashrc – Gilles Jul 11 '12 at 0:15

To change the default editor at the system level:

sudo update-alternatives --config editor

and then follow the onscreen prompts.

  • 2
    If your editor isn't on the list, do this first (for geany) update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/editor editor /usr/bin/geany 10 – PJ Brunet Feb 6 '15 at 5:25
  • 1
    This doesn't work for non-root users – Petr May 28 '15 at 8:02

The way to change the default editor for your account is to set the EDITOR environment variable. If that doesn't work for you, you've done something unusual. Check that you haven't also defined VISUAL, or if you have, give the two variables the same value (see VISUAL vs. EDITOR – what’s the difference?). Add these lines to your ~/.profile (note: not to ~/.bashrc):


Under the Debian policy, all programs are supposed to support EDITOR and VISUAL to set the default editor.

Under Debian and derivatives, you can use the alternatives mechanism to set the system-wide default editor, as mentioned by Steve Robillard: run update-alternatives --config editor as root.

  • It is also changing an editor only for you, not for every user. There's a little possibility that someone may not be familiar with vim if you set it system-wide as default editor. – mykolaj Jan 4 '16 at 15:06

The solution mentioned above works, but it isn't scriptable. If you want to do this in a scriptable (non-interactive) fashion, you should use --set:

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

You can get a list of the choices with:

$ update-alternatives --list editor

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