I'm using ubuntu 9.10 and the default text editor is nano, which i hate. (doesn't everyone?)

Normally it's not a problem as i just vi or gedit everything but crontab -e is opening with nano. I tried changing it to vim using sudo update-alternatives --config editor and selecting option 3 ("/usr/bin/vim.basic"). This has changed it for sudo and non-sudo alike. But crontab -e still opens nano. Any ideas? max

12 Answers 12


The crontab -e command will check the environment variables $EDITOR and $VISUAL for an override of the default text editor, so...

export VISUAL=vim


export EDITOR=vim

should do the trick.

  • 10
    Remember if you are editing another users's crontab, use sudo -E crontab -e where sudo -E specifies use your env vars.
    – MarkHu
    Jan 28, 2016 at 19:15

In ubuntu, try run: select-editor, which interactively creates ~/.selected_editor:

# Generated by /usr/bin/select-editor
  • 4
    Above answers didn't work...this does.
    – mlissner
    Jan 25, 2013 at 19:59
  • 2
    Yup, this changes ~/.sensible_editor used by /usr/bin/sensible-editor. It seems that in the absence of the environment variables specifying the editor, crontab runs sensible-editor not editor as the former allows per-user configuration.
    – eel ghEEz
    Feb 25, 2015 at 5:25
  • 2
    @MaxWilliams, running select-editor will not show the previously made selection, which is stored in ~/.sensible_editor.
    – eel ghEEz
    Feb 25, 2015 at 5:27
  • 5
    @eelghEEz - Do you mean ~/.selected_editor? That's what's on my system and what I've seen elsewhere.
    – Wilson F
    Jun 13, 2016 at 18:03
  • 1
    works for debian too
    – JSBach
    Sep 3, 2017 at 17:46

If you hate nano so much you can just uninstall it:

sudo apt-get remove nano

crontab should then just default to the next EDITOR (for me it was vim.basic).

  • We run our cron jobs with super-user account, but login to a dev account. So from dev account I need to do sudo crontab -e. I set export EDITOR=vim in both super-user's and the dev account's .bashrc, but sudo crontab -e was still opening up in nano. After uninstalling nano, it opens vim. Thanks!
    – arun
    Jul 27, 2013 at 17:06
  • 1
    This is the only solution that worked for me. Tried 4-5 things before this :) Nov 24, 2015 at 1:54
  • 1
    This is by far the best solution if, as the OP implies, you never need nano. Not sure why it didn't occur to me before - probably that I didn't realise crontab would just default to the next available editor! Awesome
    – Luke
    Mar 20, 2017 at 16:08

From man crontab:

The -e option is used to edit the  current  crontab  using  the  editor
specified  by  the  VISUAL  or EDITOR environment variables.  After you
exit from the editor, the modified crontab will be installed  automati‐
cally.  If  neither  of  the environment variables is defined, then the
default editor /usr/bin/editor is used.

Add to your ~/.bashrc:

export EDITOR=vim
export EDITOR=vi && crontab -e 

works on debian squeeze

  • 2
    A little explanation would go a long way.
    – ChrisF
    Oct 1, 2012 at 21:15
  • 3
    this sets the EDITOR environment variable and subsequently edits the crontab file, EDITOR=vim crontab -e will work as well, but only one time.
    – 0x4a6f4672
    Nov 21, 2012 at 16:56

The better choice is to set alternative of editor (not just one user) :

sudo update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/editor editor /usr/bin/vim 100
  • 4
    Why is it better to change the setting for other users, who did not asked for the change?
    – ceving
    Apr 25, 2017 at 15:37

Unfortunately I can not comment or vote.

On Ubuntu the configuration file is called ~/.selected_editor

With the following command you can select the default editor again:

$ select-editor

Removing the file in your home directory also works.

$ rm ~/.selected_editor

Only setting the variables $VISUAL or $EDITOR will work but is only persistent if you write it to a script which is executed in your environment.

Add to your rc file

$ echo "export VISUAL=/usr/bin/vi" >> ~/.bashrc

But i wouldn't recommend to use the last solution.

  • If you don't recommend it why did you provide it?
    – Ramhound
    Jan 5, 2016 at 11:52
  • Just for completion and because other people may prefer that way.
    – André
    Jan 6, 2016 at 14:46

You should best remove the ~/.sensible_editor file and then running crontab -e will prompt you to choose the preferred editor.
From then on your preference will be remembered in the ~/.sensible_editor file.

  • not sure why this was down voted it is exactly what I need and worked perfectly.
    – rob
    Oct 28, 2015 at 13:28
  • Ubuntu does not seem to know emacsclient.
    – ceving
    Apr 25, 2017 at 15:35

Easiest would be to get rid of the product you don't want in its entirety. All other config changes would be automatical.

apt-get install vim -y && apt-get remove nano -y


The first answer worked for me, but I had to do this after saving changes in ~/.bashrc

source ~/.bashrc

That way you refresh your configuration.

  • 1
    Welcome to Super User! Before answering an old question having an accepted answer (look for green ✓) as well as other answers ensure your answer adds something new or is otherwise helpful in relation to them. Here is a guide on How to Answer. There is also a site tour and a help center. Aug 29, 2022 at 17:00

for Debian, use :

sudo update-alternatives --config editor command


06  * 0          /bin/nano            40       
07  1            /bin/nano            40       
08  2            /usr/bin/vim.basic   30        
09  3            /usr/bin/vim.tiny    10        

select '2' and press enter. Got it!

  • 1
    Welcome to Super User! Please read the question again carefully. Your answer does not answer the original question. The OP already tried this (it's in the question) and it did not fix his problem.
    – DavidPostill
    Dec 19, 2015 at 18:03

On older machines like some Debian ones, this works also and is the most portable solution.

mv /usr/bin/editor /usr/bin/.editor
ln -s $(which vim) /usr/bin/editor
  • 1
    No, don't mess with anything in /usr/bin manually; these locations are managed by dpkg and should not be manipulated directly.
    – tripleee
    Apr 12, 2018 at 11:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .