I have used select-editor and I note that I am using /usr/bin/nano. Is this the default text editor I am using?

When I open text files, It opens with gedit

What command in terminal must be specified to get the default text editor that I am using, and have it returned to e in terminal?

3 Answers 3


First of all you should notice that there are two types of text editors..

  1. The command line editors such as vim, nano, emacs, etc..
  2. GUI text editors such as gedit, kate, ...

The default text editor when using the GUI is not the same as the command line text editors so when you are opening a file using GUI you probably are using the GUI text editors which is gedit by default. While when using the command line so you are using the command line text editors.

To know that is the default command line text editor in your system you can try one of the following methods:

First Method:

sudo update-alternatives --config editor

This command show you the text editors. The one you are using has the * in front

  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

Second Method:

$ echo $EDITOR

to set the default editor you can add the following to your shell configuration ( ~/.bashrc):

export VISUAL="/usr/bin/nano"
  • Ah.. I see.. thats why I was confused with the both type of editors.. Apr 28, 2015 at 6:53
  • nevermind,, this is an environment variable,,, it's not set in your system, you can set it by export EDITOR=/usr/bin/nano and add to the .bashrc
    – Maythux
    Apr 28, 2015 at 6:55
  • 1
    @NewUSer some programs let the value of VISUAL override the value of EDITOR as well.
    – muru
    Apr 28, 2015 at 6:59
  • Thanks, very informative.. so there is no way to extract the default command line editor? I am able to extact the GUI editor from defaults.list Apr 28, 2015 at 7:01
  • @muru Thanks for your note yeah sure im going to edit the answer
    – Maythux
    Apr 28, 2015 at 7:05

In my setup none of the common ways to change the default editor worked. So I just:

alias edit=nano

Was all that I wanted anyways.


with update-alternatives there is the alias application entry point (probably reachable via your executeable path):


that might link to:


that then finally links to your configured application.

these command line will report much of extra information including any lesser ranking options than the default:

update-alternatives --query editor

the respective default selection and more setting options can be updated by these interactive shell command:

sudo update-alternatives --config editor

find more information at the man page of those system helper tool:


or on web pages like that:


  • What does this add to the already accepted answer ?
    – Luuk
    May 23 at 12:02

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