Setting a default browser on Linux

Setting a default browser on Linux

So I had a little problem recently with a "default browser" in Linux. I am using terminator with zsh as my terminal and I could click links so that they were opened in my default browser, chromium, until I had installed midori, another webkit-based browser. Since then all links in terminator were opened in midori instead of chromium. In icedove as well, actually.

As I stated elsewhere, I'm running Debian wheezy with xmonad instead of a proper desktop environment (like GNOME/KDE/XFCE/LXDE) which is hilarious at times like when I actually forgot how the file manager was called because I hadn't used it in months. I only remembered the ones I didn't have installed (mc, thunar, dolphin) and only a day later stumbled over nautilus. Ah well.

Now, as it turns out, the task of setting your default browser in Linux is less than userfriendly or even practical or sane.

The best overview you find after a little searching is this forum thread which shows us

  • update-alternatives --config x-www-browser
  • update-alternatives --config gnome-www-browser (both on Debian-based distros)
  • exo-preferred-applications (XFCE)
  • xdg-open '' and its config stuff:
    • xdg-settings --list
    • xdg-settings set default-web-browser chromium.desktop (yeah sure, I don't have a desktop, but /usr/share/applications is full of *.desktop files)
  • gconf
  • the $BROWSER environment variable

Actually I lied, and the last two I learned about elsewhere, but whatever. There's also xdg-mime which I still couldn't persuade to produce any meaningful output.

Yet none of those worked and after about an hour of fiddling I still had made no progress.

In this bug report I had finally found the solution, but see the update note below.

You have to add something like this to your

[Default Applications]

(I added the last two lines myself, but they were easy enough to guess.)

Update 2014-02-05: At FOSDEM I just learned that it is now mimeapps.list instead of defaults.list in the same folder. Syntax seems to be the same. Detailed infos on ArchWiki. Thanks, Jerome - and you should totally watch his talk.

Update 2016-01-28: Apparently emacs also is a special snowflake and doesn't apply any of the above settings. There is browse-url which defaulted to Firefox for me until I did run M-x customize-option -> browse-url-browser-function and set it to browse-url-chromium (with a dropdown, setq seems to be the way for real emacs users). Here some more info on the topic.

End of Updates

Yeah, simple as that. Paste some arcane stuff in a file you don't even have and it magically works. I'm not often hating on Linux desktop stuff because I am actually pretty happy and productive, but this is a little insane.