Man Linux: Main Page and Category List


       update-alternatives  -  maintain  symbolic  links  determining  default


       update-alternatives [options] command


       update-alternatives   creates,   removes,   maintains   and    displays
       information about the symbolic links comprising the Debian alternatives

       It is possible for several programs  fulfilling  the  same  or  similar
       functions  to  be  installed  on a single system at the same time.  For
       example, many systems have several  text  editors  installed  at  once.
       This  gives  choice  to  the  users of a system, allowing each to use a
       different editor, if desired, but makes it difficult for a  program  to
       make  a  good  choice  for  an  editor  to  invoke  if the user has not
       specified a particular preference.

       Debian's alternatives system aims to solve  this  problem.   A  generic
       name in the filesystem is shared by all files providing interchangeable
       functionality.  The alternatives system and  the  system  administrator
       together  determine  which  actual  file  is referenced by this generic
       name.  For example, if the text  editors  ed(1)  and  nvi(1)  are  both
       installed on the system, the alternatives system will cause the generic
       name /usr/bin/editor to refer to /usr/bin/nvi by  default.  The  system
       administrator  can  override  this and cause it to refer to /usr/bin/ed
       instead, and the alternatives system will not alter this setting  until
       explicitly requested to do so.

       The  generic  name  is  not  a  direct  symbolic  link  to the selected
       alternative.  Instead,  it  is  a  symbolic  link  to  a  name  in  the
       alternatives  directory, which in turn is a symbolic link to the actual
       file referenced.  This is  done  so  that  the  system  administrator's
       changes can be confined within the /etc directory: the FHS (q.v.) gives
       reasons why this is a Good Thing.

       When each package providing a file with a particular  functionality  is
       installed,  changed or removed, update-alternatives is called to update
       information   about   that   file   in   the    alternatives    system.
       update-alternatives  is usually called from the postinst (configure) or
       prerm (install) scripts in Debian packages.

       It is often useful for a number of alternatives to be synchronised,  so
       that they are changed as a group; for example, when several versions of
       the  vi(1)  editor  are  installed,  the   man   page   referenced   by
       /usr/share/man/man1/vi.1 should correspond to the executable referenced
       by /usr/bin/vi.  update-alternatives handles this by  means  of  master
       and  slave links; when the master is changed, any associated slaves are
       changed too.  A master link and its associated slaves make  up  a  link

       Each  link  group is, at any given time, in one of two modes: automatic
       or manual.  When a group is in automatic mode, the alternatives  system
       will  automatically  decide,  as  packages  are  installed and removed,
       whether and how to update the links.  In manual mode, the  alternatives
       system  will  retain the choice of the administrator and avoid changing
       the links (except when something is broken).

       Link groups are in automatic mode when they are first introduced to the
       system.   If  the  system  administrator  makes changes to the system's
       automatic   settings,   this   will   be   noticed   the   next    time
       update-alternatives  is  run on the changed link's group, and the group
       will automatically be switched to manual mode.

       Each alternative has a priority associated with it.  When a link  group
       is  in  automatic  mode,  the alternatives pointed to by members of the
       group will be those which have the highest priority.

       When using the --config option, update-alternatives will  list  all  of
       the  choices  for  the  link  group  of  which given name is the master
       alternative name. The current choice is marked with a  '*'.   You  will
       then  be prompted for your choice regarding this link group.  Depending
       on the choice made, the link group might no longer be in auto mode. You
       will  need to use the --auto option in order to return to the automatic
       mode (or you  can  rerun  --config  and  select  the  entry  marked  as

       If you want to configure non-interactively you can use the --set option
       instead (see below).

       Different packages providing the same file need to do so cooperatively.
       In  other  words, the usage of update-alternatives is mandatory for all
       involved packages in such case. It is not  possible  to  override  some
       file  in  a  package  that  does  not  employ  the  update-alternatives


       Since the activities of update-alternatives are  quite  involved,  some
       specific terms will help to explain its operation.

       generic name (or alternative link)
              A name, like /usr/bin/editor, which refers, via the alternatives
              system, to one of a number of files of similar function.

       alternative name
              The name of a symbolic link in the alternatives directory.

       alternative (or alternative path)
              The name of a specific file in the filesystem, which may be made
              accessible via a generic name using the alternatives system.

       alternatives directory
              A   directory,  by  default  /etc/alternatives,  containing  the

       administrative directory
              A directory, by default  /var/lib/dpkg/alternatives,  containing
              update-alternatives' state information.

       link group
              A set of related symlinks, intended to be updated as a group.

       master link
              The  alternative  link  in a link group which determines how the
              other links in the group are configured.

       slave link
              An alternative link in a link group which is controlled  by  the
              setting of the master link.

       automatic mode
              When  a link group is in automatic mode, the alternatives system
              ensures that the  links  in  the  group  point  to  the  highest
              priority alternative appropriate for the group.

       manual mode
              When  a  link  group  is in manual mode, the alternatives system
              will  not  make  any  changes  to  the  system   administrator's


       --install link name path priority [--slave link name path]...
              Add  a group of alternatives to the system.  link is the generic
              name for the master link, name is the name of its symlink in the
              alternatives  directory,  and  path  is  the  alternative  being
              introduced for the master link.  The arguments after --slave are
              the generic name, symlink name in the alternatives directory and
              the alternative path for a slave link.   Zero  or  more  --slave
              options,  each  followed  by  three arguments, may be specified.
              Note that the master alternative must exist  or  the  call  will
              fail.   However  if  a  slave  alternative  doesn't  exist,  the
              corresponding  slave  alternative  link  will  simply   not   be
              installed (a warning will still be displayed). If some real file
              is installed where an alternative link has to be  installed,  it
              is kept unless --force is used.

              If   the  alternative  name  specified  exists  already  in  the
              alternatives system's records, the information supplied will  be
              added  as a new set of alternatives for the group.  Otherwise, a
              new group, set to  automatic  mode,  will  be  added  with  this
              information.   If  the group is in automatic mode, and the newly
              added alternatives' priority is higher than any other  installed
              alternatives  for  this  group,  the symlinks will be updated to
              point to the newly added alternatives.

       --set name path
              Set  the  program  path  as  alternative  for  name.   This   is
              equivalent   to   --config   but  is  non-interactive  and  thus

       --remove name path
              Remove an alternative and all of  its  associated  slave  links.
              name  is  a  name  in the alternatives directory, and path is an
              absolute filename to which name could  be  linked.  If  name  is
              indeed  linked to path, name will be updated to point to another
              appropriate alternative (and the group is put back in  automatic
              mode),  or  removed  if  there  is  no  such  alternative  left.
              Associated   slave   links   will   be   updated   or   removed,
              correspondingly.  If the link is not currently pointing to path,
              no links are changed; only the information about the alternative
              is removed.

       --remove-all name
              Remove all alternatives and all of their associated slave links.
              name is a name in the alternatives directory.

       --all  Call --config on all alternatives. It can be  usefully  combined
              with  --skip-auto to review and configure all alternatives which
              are not configured in automatic mode.  Broken  alternatives  are
              also   displayed.    Thus   a  simple  way  to  fix  all  broken
              alternatives is to call yes  ''  |  update-alternatives  --force

       --auto name
              Switch  the  link  group  behind  the  alternative  for  name to
              automatic mode.  In the process,  the  master  symlink  and  its
              slaves  are  updated  to point to the highest priority installed

       --display name
              Display information about the link group.  Information displayed
              includes  the  group's  mode (auto or manual), which alternative
              the master link currently points to, what other alternatives are
              available  (and their corresponding slave alternatives), and the
              highest priority alternative currently installed.

              List all master alternative  names  (those  controlling  a  link
              group)  and  their  status.  Each  line  contains up to 3 fields
              (separated by one or  more  spaces).  The  first  field  is  the
              alternative name, the second one is the status (either "auto" or
              "manual"), and the last one contains the current choice  in  the
              alternative  (beware:  it's  a  filename  and thus might contain

              Read configuration of alternatives  on  standard  input  in  the
              format  generated  by  update-alternatives  --get-selections and
              reconfigure them accordingly.

       --query name
              Display information about the link group  like  --display  does,
              but in a machine parseable way (see section QUERY FORMAT below).

       --list name
              Display all targets of the link group.

       --config name
              Show available alternatives for a link group and allow the  user
              to  interactively  select  which  one  to use. The link group is

       --help Show the usage message and exit.

              Show the version and exit.


       --altdir directory
              Specifies  the  alternatives  directory,  when  this  is  to  be
              different from the default.

       --admindir directory
              Specifies  the  administrative  directory,  when  this  is to be
              different from the default.

       --log file
              Specifies the log file, when this is to be  different  from  the
              default (/var/log/alternatives.log).

              Let  update-alternatives replace any real file that is installed
              where an alternative link has to be installed.

              Skip configuration prompt for alternatives  which  are  properly
              configured  in automatic mode. This option is only relevant with
              --config or --all.

              Generate more comments about what update-alternatives is  doing.

              Don't generate any comments unless errors occur.


              The  default  alternatives  directory.  Can be overridden by the
              --altdir option.

              The default administration directory.  Can be overridden by  the
              --admindir option.


       0      The requested action was successfully performed.

       2      Problems  were  encountered  whilst  parsing the command line or
              performing the action.


       The update-alternatives --query format is  using  an  RFC822-like  flat
       format. It's made of n + 1 blocks where n is the number of alternatives
       available in the queried link  group.  The  first  block  contains  the
       following fields:

       Link: <link>
              The generic name of the alternative.

       Status: <status>
              The status of the alternative (auto or manual).

       Best: <best choice>
              The  path  of  the  best  alternative  for  this link group. Not
              present if there is no alternatives available.

       Value: <currently selected alternative>
              The path of the currently selected alternative. It can also take
              the magic value none. It is used if the link doesn't exist.

       The  other  blocks  describe  the  available alternatives in the
       queried link group:

       Alternative: <path of this alternative>
              Path to this block's alternative.

       Priority: <priority value>
              Value of the priority of this alternative.

       Slaves: <list of slaves>
              When  this  header  is  present,  the next lines hold all
              slave alternatives associated to the master link  of  the
              alternative.  There  is  one  slave  per  line. Each line
              contains  one  space,  the  generic  name  of  the  slave
              alternative,  another  space,  and  the path to the slave

              $ update-alternatives --query editor
              Link: editor
              Status: auto
              Best: /usr/bin/vim.gtk
              Value: /usr/bin/vim.gtk

              Alternative: /bin/ed
              Priority: -100
               editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/man1/ed.1.gz

              Alternative: /usr/bin/vim.gtk
              Priority: 50
               editor.1.gz /usr/share/man/man1/vim.1.gz


       With --verbose update-alternatives  chatters  incessantly  about
       its  activities  on  its  standard  output channel.  If problems
       occur,  update-alternatives  outputs  error  messages   on   its
       standard  error  channel and returns an exit status of 2.  These
       diagnostics should be self-explanatory; if you do not find  them
       so, please report this as a bug.


       There   are   several  packages  which  provide  a  text  editor
       compatible with vi, for example nvi and vim. Which one  is  used
       is controlled by the link group vi, which includes links for the
       program itself and the associated manpage.

       To display the available  packages  which  provide  vi  and  the
       current setting for it, use the --display action:

              update-alternatives --display vi

       To  choose  a  particular vi implementation, use this command as
       root and then select a number from the list:

              update-alternatives --config vi

       To go back to having the vi implementation chosen automatically,
       do this as root:

              update-alternatives --auto vi


       If  you  find  a  bug,  please  report  it using the Debian bug-
       tracking system.

       If  you  find  any  discrepancy   between   the   operation   of
       update-alternatives and this manual page, it is a bug, either in
       the implementation or the documentation; please report it.


       Copyright (C) 1995 Ian Jackson
       Copyright (C) 2009 Raphael Hertzog

       This is free  software;  see  the  GNU  General  Public  Licence
       version 2 or later for copying conditions. There is NO WARRANTY.

       This manual page is copyright  1997,1998  Charles  Briscoe-Smith
       and others.

       This  is  free documentation; see the GNU General Public Licence
       version 2 or later for copying conditions. There is NO WARRANTY.


       ln(1), FHS, the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard.