My $PATH looks like this:


In bash, I can without problem invoke wand located in



$ wand
(i) Mål från "main.cpp" har registrerats
(i) Skapar katalog "__wand_targets_dbg"
(i) Kör g++ "main.cpp" -fpic -L"/home/torbjorr/deployed"  -g -Wall -std=c++11 -I"/home/torbjorr/deployed" -o "__wand_targets_dbg/cb-template

However, in bourne shell compatibility mode, wand cannot be found:

$ wand
sh: 2: wand: not found

It seems like the problem is the % sign in these paths. This sign has been added by URL encoding so the name "GNU/Linux" can be used in the directory name even though it is not a valid filename. Is it possible to get the name working in sh, or make the sh command work as bash. That is, make bash behave the same even though it was invoked with the /bin/sh command, which symlinks to bash anyway.

  • Nice question. It seems that the '%' character is not working correctly in $PATH from sh (it is ok in bash and zsh though). Directly calling the executable works in sh; really strange.
    – Rmano
    Apr 28, 2014 at 18:22
  • What happens if you use 2 %%?
    – mikeserv
    Apr 28, 2014 at 18:29
  • Or escape the %?
    – mdpc
    Apr 28, 2014 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


That's not the Bourne shell, or bash emulating the Bourne shell, that's the Almquist shell, in your case probably the Debian Almquist shell (a Linux fork by Debian of BSDs' sh itself based on the original Almquist shell).

In the Almquist shell (the original one and the modern versions), % is used in PATH for extra features specific to ash. Quoting from the documentation:

Path Search

When locating a command, the shell first looks to see if it has a shell function by that name. Then, if PATH does not contain an entry for %builtin, it looks for a builtin command by that name. Finally, it searches each entry in PATH in turn for the command.

The value of the PATH variable should be a series of entries separated by colons. Each entry consists of a directory name, or a directory name followed by a flag beginning with a percent sign. The current directory should be indicated by an empty directory name. If no percent sign is present, then the entry causes the shell to search for the command in the specified directory. If the flag is %builtin then the list of shell builtin commands is searched. If the flag is %func then the directory is searched for a file which is read as input to the shell. This file should define a function whose name is the name of the command being searched for.

Command names containing a slash are simply executed without performing any of the above searches.

Other shells like ksh or zsh have a similar autoloading of functions mechanism, but they use a different variable ($FPATH), but you can't define which of functions or executables take precedence.

In your case, /home/torbjorr/deployed/vector/x86_64-GNU%2fLinux is interpreted as the /home/torbjorr/deployed/vector/x86_64-GNU directory with the 2fLinux flag. That flag is ignored as it is unknown.

There is no way around that. Even if ash had an escape mechanism so that this % not be treated specially, it would then not work in other shells or other things that look up $PATH like execvp().

You'll need to remove the % characters from $PATH, so rename your directory or add a symlink.

Or don't use ash for your /bin/sh. Other lightweight POSIX shell implementations that don't do that include yash and mksh.

  • Although this answer gives an explanation, it does not give a solution. Is there a compatible way of keeping %.
    – user877329
    Apr 29, 2014 at 7:07
  • @user877329, there's no real solution here. See my edit. Apr 29, 2014 at 7:14
  • 3
    In other words, the Debian sh violates the POSIX standard. Given that the point of having a separate sh is exactly that you should be sure not to trip over some incompatible shell extension (I guess nobody uses /bin/sh as login shell these days), I'd consider that a bug.
    – celtschk
    Apr 29, 2014 at 7:47
  • 1
    @celtschk, agreed though the point of using ash for /bin/sh is more to avoid the performance penalty of using bash, so using yash or mksh (or posh if you want to exclude all extensions) is still a better option than using bash. Also, one may consider it a corner case. Nobody would normally have % in a path component. Most shells have corner cases where they're not POSIX compliant. Apr 29, 2014 at 9:29
  • 1
    @mtmiller, that's not how I read the meaning of the portable filename character set (PFCS). POSIX specifies programming APIs but not filesystem implementations. the PFCS is the minimum POSIX guarantees will work whatever the filesystem, whatever the current locale but is no excuse for a tool not to accept a character in a filename if it's supported by the filesystem and valid in the current locale. Note that for instance POSIX requires there be a [ command even though that character is not in the PFCS. Apr 30, 2014 at 11:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.