I've read quite a number of discussions about people wanting to merge /bin and /sbin into /usr/bin. The same cannot be said for doing it the other way around.

Is there any technical reason why one would not want to merge /usr/bin and /usr/sbin into /bin, or is it mainly a personal preference/design choice?

  • 3
    possible duplicate of /usr/bin vs /usr/local/bin on Linux
    – jasonwryan
    Mar 24 '14 at 21:45
  • I'm well aware of what they're used for. I'm really more interested in why people (I think Fedora did that) chose to merge everything into /usr/bin rather than the other way around. Obviously, it's not really necessary to follow the original intention of /bin and /sbin anymore. At least not on the desktop. I was going to design my own, Debian based distro and this is something I have been pondering with. Just seems more elegant to me to have all applications in /bin.
    – user237251
    Mar 24 '14 at 21:51
  • I think Fedora did that Fedora symlinked /bin, /lib, /lib64 and /sbin to /usr/bin, /usr/lib, /usr/lib64 and /usr/sbin. /bin and /sbin are still separate.
    – Dennis
    Mar 24 '14 at 23:56

The reason that things were merged to /usr and not to / are noted in The Case for the /usr Merge:

Myth #11: Instead of merging / into /usr it would make a lot more sense to merge /usr into /.

Fact: This would make the separation between vendor-supplied OS resources and machine-specific even worse, thus making OS snapshots and network/container sharing of it much harder and non-atomic, and clutter the root file system with a multitude of new directories.


You are correct, Fedora is the avante garde of this, although freedesktop.org, an independent body, then took up the cause in hope of encouraging it pan-linux.

According to this, the merge follows a pattern started by Solaris, the "primary commercial Unix implementation". It is interesting in the sense that the original Unix used /bin, and so getting rid of the split might have meant making the directories in /usr symlinks instead of the other way around.

However, considering that option, linking the toplevels is probably more straight forward and obvious.

  • Thanks for that info. I was actually just trying to symlink /sbin but ended up with a system that was no longer able to boot on it's own ("command /sbin/init not found"). Is this because of the symlinks inside /sbin? I set up a directory inside /bin called "utils", copied all files from /sbin there (using the -rp flag), deleted /sbin and set up a symlink called sbin, pointing toward /bin/utils.
    – user237251
    Mar 31 '14 at 9:37
  • Here's a guess: /sbin/init is itself often a symlink. "init" is the canonical name of the first process; it's the only process actually started by the kernel and cannot be killed, so it is always PID 1 (have a look at, e.g., ps -lp 1). systemd (fedora) and upstart (ubuntu) are new-fangled init systems that symlink their binary from /sbin/init so the kernel can find it. On my fedora here, that link is literally ../lib/systemd/systemd, so if you moved it to /bin/utils the link would be broken (that's not the only symlink in /sbin, either).
    – goldilocks
    Mar 31 '14 at 12:30
  • Thanks. Got it now. For some reason, I was approaching the whole thing from the wrong side. I just generated a list of all symbolic links found on the system. Something that also happened to slightly clear up my earlier confusion as to why people would merge into /usr/bin, rather than the other way around. It's simply way more straight forward, as one doesn't need to care about breaking third party packages.
    – user237251
    Apr 1 '14 at 9:14

/sbin and /usr/sbin historically were where statically linked binaries were kept. /sbin for the admin-level commands needed at init level 1 (single user mode) and /usr/sbin for more general admin commands needed at init level 3 (fully networked, remote logins enabled, NFS enabled). Unfortunately, Linux no longer adopts this model.

  • 1
    Why "unfortunately"? Larger filesystems can now be loaded earlier in the boot sequence, nullifying one of the biggest reasons to split /usr into a separate hierarchy to begin with.
    – jayhendren
    Dec 20 '16 at 22:53

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