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What is a portable way for a (zsh) script to determine its absolute path?

On Linux I use something like

mypath=$(readlink -f $0)

...but this is not portable. (E.g., readlink on darwin does not recognize the -f flag, nor has any equivalent.) (Also, using readlink for this is, admittedly, a pretty obscure-looking hack.)

What's a more portable way?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

With zsh, it's just:


Now for other shells, though realpath() and readlink() are standard functions (the latter being a system call), realpath and readlink are not standard command, though some systems have one or the other or both with various behaviour and feature set.

As often, for portability, you may want to resort to perl:

abs_path() {
  perl -MCwd -le '
    for (@ARGV) {
      if ($p = Cwd::abs_path $_) {
        print $p;
      } else {
        warn "abs_path: $_: $!\n";
        $ret = 1;
    exit $ret' "$@"

That would behave more like GNU's readlink -f than realpath() (GNU readlink -e) in that it will not complain if the file doesn't exist as long as its dirname does.

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Ive been using this for several years now.

# The absolute, canonical ( no ".." ) path to this script
canonical=$(cd -P -- "$(dirname -- "$0")" && printf '%s\n' "$(pwd -P)/$(basename -- "$0")")
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i like it! so far, that's pretty portable. works on Solaris, OmniOS, Linux, Mac, and even Cygwin on Windows 2008. –  Tim Kennedy May 21 '13 at 17:18
Where it's not equivalent to GNU's readlink -f is when the script itself is a symlink. –  Stéphane Chazelas Jun 11 at 10:26
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Assuming you really meant the absolute path, i.e. a path from the root directory:

case $0 in
  /*) mypath=$0;;
  *) mypath=$PWD/$0;;

This works in any Bourne-style shell, by the way.

If you meant a path with all symbolic links resolved, that's a different matter. readlink -f works on Linux (excluding some stripped-down BusyBox systems), FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD and Cygwin, but not on OS/X, AIX, HP/UX or Solaris. If you have readlink, you can call it in a loop:

realpath () {
  [ -e "$1" ] || return
  case $1 in
    /*) :;;
    *) set "$PWD/$1";;
  while [ -L "$1" ]; do
    set "${1%/*}" "$(readlink "$1")"
    case $2 in
      /*) set "$2";;
      *) if [ -z "$1" ]; then set "/$2"; else set "$(cd "$1" && pwd -P)/$2"; fi;;
  case $1 in
    */.|*/..) set "$(cd "$1" && pwd -P)";;
    */./*|*/../*) set "$(cd "${1%/*}" && pwd -P)/${1##*/}"

If you don't have readlink, you can approximate it with ls -n, but this only works if ls doesn't mangle any non-printable character in the file name.

poor_mans_readlink () {
  if [ -L "$1" ]; then
    set -- "$1" "$(LC_ALL=C command ls -n -- "$2"; echo z)"
    set -- "${2%??}"
    set -- "${2#*"$1 -> "}"
  printf '%s\n' "$1"

(The extra z is in case the link target ends in a newline, which command substitution would otherwise eat up. The realpath function doesn't handle that case for directory names, by the way.)

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Do you know of any ls implementation that mangles non-printable characters when the output doesn't go to a terminal. –  Stéphane Chazelas Jun 11 at 10:09
@StéphaneChazelas touch Stéphane; LC_ALL=C busybox ls Stéphane | catSt??phane (that's if the name is in UTF-8, latin1 gives you a single ?). I think I've seen that on older commercial Unices too. –  Gilles Jun 11 at 18:11
@StéphaneChazelas I've fixed several bugs but not tested extensively. Let me know if it still fails in some cases (other than lack of execution permissions in some directories, I'm not going to deal with that edge case). –  Gilles Jul 4 at 15:45
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In zsh you can do the following:


Or, to get the directory in which the script resides:


Source: zshexpn(1) man page, section HISTORY EXPANSION, subsection Modifiers (or simply info -f zsh -n Modifiers).

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Sweet! I've been looking for somethink like this for ages and read the whole bunch of the zsh manpages searching for it, but it would never have occurred to me to look under 'History expansion'. –  Vucar Timnärakrul May 20 at 20:04
The equivalent of GNU's readlink -f would rather be $0:A. –  Stéphane Chazelas Jun 11 at 10:23
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This should be quite portable:

mypath=$(exec 2>/dev/null;cd $(dirname $0);unset PWD;/usr/bin/pwd||/bin/pwd||pwd)
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