3.13.2.1 The PATH environment variable


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  When you use the ls command, how does the shell find the ls executable itself? In fact, ls is found in /bin/ls on most systems. The shell uses the environment variable PATH to locate executable files for commands which you type.

For example, your PATH variable may be set to:

/bin:/usr/bin:/usr/local/bin:. This is a list of directories for the shell to search, each directory separated by a « : ». When you use the command ls, the shell first looks for /bin/ls, then /usr/bin/ls, and so on.

Note that the PATH has nothing to do with finding regular files. For example, if you use the command

/home/larry# cp foo bar The shell does not use PATH to locate the files foo and bar—those filenames are assumed to be complete. The shell only uses PATH to locate the cp executable.

This saves you a lot of time; it means that you don’t have to remember where all of the command executables are stored. On many systems, executables are scattered about in many places, such as /usr/bin, /bin, or /usr/local/bin. Instead of giving the command’s full pathname (such as /usr/bin/cp), you can simply set PATH to the list of directories that you want the shell to automatically search.

Notice that PATH contains « . », which is the current working directory. This allows you to create a shell script or program and run it as a command from your current directory, without having to specify it directly (as in ./makebook). If a directory isn’t on your PATH, then the shell will not search it for commands to run—this includes the current directory.

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Next: 3.13.3 Shell initialization scripts Up: 3.13.2 Shell variables and Previous: 3.13.2 Shell variables and

Matt Welsh
mdw@sunsite.unc.edu