What does /etc/alternatives stand for? How and why is it used?

I found gnome-tex-editor in /usr/bin which is linked as follows:

/usr/bin/gnome-text-editor -> /etc/alternatives/gnome-text-editor
/etc/alternatives/gnome-text-editor -> /usr/bin/gedit

So gedit and gnome-text-editor seem to be the same thing.

So why are some commands (e.g.: gedit and gnome-text-editor) provided twice?

And what is the use of /etc/alternatives/ - how does it work?

1 Answer 1


There are some programs that are considered generic. Many programs can provide the required functionality.

For example, view is one such meta-program that can be provided by any tool capable of displaying text, such as more,less,vim,etc.

/etc/alternatives is a directory that is used in keeping track of the alternatives currently in use, by a tool called update-alternatives.

For more information, read the manual page by man update-alternatives in a terminal. Also visit Debian Alternatives System.

  • As an example for how to use it, I had a problem that nvim was hijacking vim (I probably did it a long time ago) and now wanted to use vim. I first ran update-alternatives --query vim, which is very helpful it showed that it would link to vim.basic, but that nvim was the default. Then I ran update-alternatives --remove vim /usr/bin/nvim, this now meant that vim would link to /usr/bin/vim.basic which is what I wanted.
    – icc97
    Oct 16, 2020 at 12:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.