How to set the program defaults in Gnome Shell [Guide]

If you’re unhappy with the program defaults in Gnome Shell, you’ll probably want to change the program defaults. Thankfully, Gnome Shell is very user-friendly and allows users to swap out program defaults quickly.

Not sure how to set and change the defaults? We can help! In this guide, we’ll be going over how to change the program defaults for the Gnome Shell desktop environment. Also, we’ll cover how to set file-specific defaults with the Gnome file manager.

Default application settings in Gnome

Default program choices in Gnome Shell are handled under the “Default Applications” section of the “Gnome Settings” app.

To get to the “Default Applications” area of Gnome Shell, press the Windows key on your keyboard to open up the Activities search window on the desktop. From there, find the search box, click on it and type “Settings.” Then, click on the application that says “Settings” to go to Gnome Settings.

Note: don’t want to navigate through the Gnome Settings app? Search “Default Applications” in the Activities window instead.

In Gnome Settings, find the section on the left and click on “Default Applications.”

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Program defaults with Gnome Settings

So, you’ve made it to the Default Application section of Gnome Settings.  Now it’s time to set the defaults.

Note: Gnome Shell doesn’t define program defaults globally, so if you make a change, be prepared to do it again for each user.

Web browser

Looking to change the default web browser on your Gnome system? Find the “web” section in “Default” applications. From there, click the drop-down menu and select your browser of choice to switch to it instantly.


Out of the box, Gnome Shell has the Evolution email client as the default. If you’re not happy with this choice, you can easily swap it out by finding the “Mail” section, clicking the drop-down menu and selecting your mail app of choice.


To switch the default calendar application in Gnome Shell, look for the “Calendar” area of the Default Applications area. Then, change it from Evolution to your preferred calendar app.


Rhythmbox has long been the music app of choice for the Gnome Desktop. If you don’t like Rhythmbox and want to change it, find the “Music” area of “Default Applications,” click the drop-down menu and set it to the music app you use on Linux.


The Gnome video player (aka Videos) is pretty good, but it lacks the features of a program like VLC or even MPlayer. For this reason, you may be interested in swapping out the default video player for your Linux system.

To do this, find “Video,” select the drop-down menu and select your preferred video program as default.


Gnome Shell has an excellent photo viewer. However, it’s not for everyone. If you’re looking to use something different, look for the “Photos” section of the “Default Applications” area and use the drop-down menu to swap it to the photo viewing app you prefer.

File defaults in Gnome via the file manager

Did you know that you can set the defaults for individual file-types in Gnome Shell using the file manager? Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Launch the Gnome file manager and navigate to a directory with a file you’d like to change the defaults to.

Step 2: Right-click on the file, then select the “Properties” option.

Step 3: In the “Properties” window, look for the “Open With” option and select it with the mouse.

Step 4: Use the “Open with” option and set the file’s new default application. Repeat the process as desired.

Program defaults – Linux terminal

It is possible to set the default applications on Gnome Shell with the Linux terminal. To do this, you’ll need to edit the mimeapps.list file in the ~/.config/ directory with the Nano text editor.

nano -w ~/.config/mimeapps.list

The Mimeapps.list file defines all of the default applications on the Gnome desktop ( as well as others). Using the Up/Down arrow keys on the keyboard, go through the list and find the sections you’d like to change.

For example, to change the default web browser from Evolution to Thunderbird, I’d make “x-scheme-handler/mailto” look like the code below.


Note: Unsure what the name of the “Desktop” file of the application you’re trying to set as default? Do cd /usr/share/applications. Then, run ls and enter the name of the desktop file that appears in the ls print-out in mimeapps.list.

When you’ve finished making edits, save Nano by pressing Ctrl + O, and exit with Ctrl + X. Upon closing Nano, your desktop should automatically accept the changes. Keep in mind that you must tweak this file for every user you wish to change defaults on.

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