When I use visudo, it always opens it with nano editor. How to change the editor to vim?

  • 6
    My favorite method: get rid of nano: sudo apt purge nano. From this answer in the linked duplicate.
    – Nagev
    Sep 29, 2021 at 12:50
  • Sheesh. It's so hard to figure out how to exit Nano, with the additional risk of writing the file. I can't even seem to manage consecutive undo! Please bring back Vim. It's much easier.
    – NeilG
    May 30 at 6:58

2 Answers 2


Type sudo update-alternatives --config editor

You will get a text like below.

There are 4 choices for the alternative editor (providing /usr/bin/editor).

  Selection    Path                Priority   Status
* 0            /bin/nano            40        auto mode
  1            /bin/ed             -100       manual mode
  2            /bin/nano            40        manual mode
  3            /usr/bin/vim.basic   30        manual mode
  4            /usr/bin/vim.tiny    10        manual mode

Press enter to keep the current choice[*], or type selection number: 3

Find vim.basic or vim.tiny selection number. Type it and press enter. Next time when you open visudo your editor will be vim

  • 16
    What's the difference between vim.basic and vim.tiny?
    – Jared Beck
    May 11, 2015 at 15:02
  • 3
  • 2
    sudo EDITOR=vim visudo is the way to go if you do not want to change the configuration permanently (see an another answer below). Feb 13, 2018 at 7:04
  • This solution is not correct for the original question, because only address the problem in the Ubuntu/Debian case. The response should be for every (or at least the majority) of the posix compliant Linux systems, and at least one the responses below is more close to this target. Sep 13, 2019 at 22:14

If you want just to make your user use by default a different editor, add

export EDITOR=vim; 

in your .profile (or wherever you keep your startup environment if using a shell different from bash). Log out, log in, check that the variable is set:

[romano:~] % env | grep EDI

and now all the programs that call an editor (and are well written) will default to vim for your user.

As noticed by @EliahKagan (thanks!) in the comment, this will not work for visudo: since you are supposed to call it using sudo, when you do

sudo visudo

the sudo command will sanitize (read: delete) most environment variables before rising privileges --- and it's a good thing it does. So the change will not percolate to visudo. To still have it working, you have to call it like:

sudo EDITOR=vim visudo

Finally, as hinted here, you can also add a line to your /etc/sudoers file near the top that reads:

Defaults editor=/usr/bin/vim 

A word of warning: when modifying your sudoers configuration, keep a terminal open with a root shell in it (with sudo -i). You never know, and you can easily get locked out of root.

  • 12
    Did you try this out? Running sudo visudo after setting EDITOR (or VISUAL) to vim and exporting it does not--and should not be expected to--result in visudo using vim instead of nano as the editor. By default, sudo resets most environment variables for the commands it runs. Only a handful are retained. EDITOR and VISUAL are not. Thus, after export EDITOR=vim, EDITOR will still not be set to vim for the visudo process launched by sudo visudo. EDITOR=vim sudo visudo does the same thing and thus also doesn't work. sudo EDITOR=vim visudo does work. Oct 20, 2014 at 9:56
  • ...@EliahKagan, you are obviously right. I was thinking in deleting the answer, but your added information is valuable, so I tried to retain it somehow.
    – Rmano
    Oct 20, 2014 at 10:06
  • @EliahKagan ...and I know from where come my confusion... look at unix.stackexchange.com/a/4409/52205 --- seems that, once upon a time, sudo did pass the EDITOR variable.
    – Rmano
    Oct 20, 2014 at 10:13
  • @Rmano it's not "once upon a time" exactly, but depends on what flags visudo was compiled and what options are set in sudoers.
    – muru
    Oct 20, 2014 at 10:20
  • 1
    yes, editing the sudoers file or in my case adding a file /etc/sudoers.d/editor worked perfectly for changing the editor, thanks :)
    – xeruf
    Apr 5, 2020 at 21:10

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