How can I change the default text editor for console programs in Ubuntu. When I run mutt and send a message, it currently loads up Joe and I would prefet to load Vim. I know I can change $EDITOR for me only, but would prefe to do it system wide.
You can change $EDITOR systemwide. Just drop a short script into
/etc/profile.d/ which does this. The file only needs a single line:
There are two ways (at least :-/) in which a program can find an editor to launch. The traditional Unix/Linux mechanism is to use $EDITOR. In addition to that, Debian (and therefore Ubuntu) has special aliases for various kinds of programs. These are provided by the "alternatives" system (a system of configurable symlinks). For editors this provides the aliases
sensible-editor. These can be updated using update-alternatives:
sudo update-alternatives --config editor
(same for sensible-editor). This will prompt you for the editor to use.
However, in Debian programs are suppposed to read $EDITOR first:
Thus, every program that launches an editor or pager must use the EDITOR or PAGER environment variable to determine the editor or pager the user wishes to use. If these variables are not set, the programs /usr/bin/editor and /usr/bin/pager should be used, respectively.
These two files are managed through the dpkg "alternatives" mechanism.
If it is very hard to adapt a program to make use of the EDITOR or PAGER variables, that program may be configured to use /usr/bin/sensible-editor and /usr/bin/sensible-pager as the editor or pager program respectively.
(Debian Policy Manual, http://www.debian.org/doc/debian-policy/ch-customized-programs.html#s11.4 )
In one sentence: Setting $EDITOR globally should be enough.
the mechanism in ubuntu (debian) used to solve this problem is described in
man update-alternatives. essentially it provides a "pseudo binary" (
/usr/bin/editor) which points to the right binary (the "best" alternative)
% sudo update-alternatives --config editor
to change the current "default". with
% update-alternatives --list editor % update-alternatives --display editor
you can see the currently available alternatives.