I am using my school's computers and would like to use zsh instead of bash. I'd like to make it the default shell, but I cannot run a command such as $ chsh -s $(which zsh) because I don't have admin privileges.

Is there a way I can put something in my .bashrc or something that automatically calls zsh when it opens as a workaround?

To clarify, zsh is already installed.

  • 2
    Yes, just add zsh on the .bashrc file. Logout and login and done!
    – fedorqui
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 13:45
  • Sorry about that. But to finish the question, I just put zsh on the first line?
    – goodcow
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 13:47
  • 3
    Placing zsh in .bashrc would make it always execute even when bash is called explicitly. Better place it in .bash_profile instead.
    – konsolebox
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 13:51
  • You can set zsh as your default shell in the terminal preferences (create a new profile).
    – lmaooooo
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 13:42

8 Answers 8


Create .bash_profile in your home directory and add these lines:

export SHELL=/bin/zsh
exec /bin/zsh -l

Update: .profile may work as a general solution when default shell is not bash. I'm not sure if .profile may be called by Zsh as well that it could go redundant but we can do it safely with a simple check:

export SHELL=/bin/zsh
[ -z "$ZSH_VERSION" ] && exec /bin/zsh -l

We can also use which to get the dynamic path of zsh which relies on the value of $PATH:

export SHELL=`which zsh`
[ -z "$ZSH_VERSION" ] && exec "$SHELL" -l
  • What if a Linux admin (root) changes your default shell to something other than bash (but not zsh), for example ksh? Then .bash_profile won't get referenced. How about put this in .profile instead? Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 17:10
  • @JoshuaHuber Last test I made, .profile didn't work. Also wouldn't .profile be called by Zsh? It could go redundant. Haven't checked that yet though. (Update: It did work now, not sure what mistake I made before.) Any thoughts about possible drawbacks with using .profile?
    – konsolebox
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 17:10
  • 1
    @konsolebox Bash only sources .profile if .bash_profile doesn't exist (unless you manually source it from .bash_profile, of course). Specifically, bash sources the first one of the files [.bash_profile > .bash_login > .profile] it finds. It only looks for .profile as a POSIX (Bourne shell) compatibility feature.
    – pyrocrasty
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 11:28
  • @pyrocrasty Indeed. Just as said in the manual: "After reading that file, it looks for ~/.bash_profile, ~/.bash_login, and ~/.profile, in that order, and reads and executes commands from the first one that exists and is readable."
    – konsolebox
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 17:06
  • It worked for to set up a new terminal profile with Run custom command instead of my shell changed to zsh. .bash_profile and .profile didn't work (the files were not even executed, Fedora 26 on a university computer).
    – lmaooooo
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 13:41

Normally you can use chsh as a non-root user. But it's occasionally disabled, usually in sites that use some form of networked user database like NIS and LDAP. There might be a ypchsh (NIS) or chsh.ldap (LDAP) instead.

chsh will also usually allow only some approved shells, typically the ones listed in /etc/shells.

If you can't use chsh or its variants at your site, then arrange for your login shell to exec your favorite shell, and set the SHELL variable to point to your favourite shell.

  • If your login shell is sh, dash or ksh: the file you need to edit is ~/.profile. Beware that this file is read at the beginning of an interactive session as well as by some non-interactive session startup scripts (e.g. for X11 sessions), so you need to take care: only call exec (which replaces the current process) when the current shell is interactive. Except for the Bourne shell (the /bin/sh of Solaris 10 and before), you can tell that a shell is interactive by the presence of i in the option list ($-).

    if [ -x /bin/zsh ]; then
    if [ -n "$preferred_shell" ]; then
      case $- in
        *i*) SHELL=$preferred_shell; export SHELL; exec "$preferred_shell";;

    If you want zsh to read your .zprofile, pass the -l option.

  • If your login shell is bash, you can proceed as above. Alternatively, you may put these commands in ~/.bash_profile. Most session startup scripts only read ~/.profile and not ~/.bash_profile, but I've seen some that run under bash and read .bash_profile, so even there you should be careful not to call exec in a non-interactive shell.

  • If your login shell is csh or tcsh, see an example in Changing the default shell without chsh or administrator priviledges

  • chsh will also usually allow only some approved shells, typically the ones listed in /etc/shells This was the key. I have added zsh with full path here and it worked.
    – TuralAsgar
    Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 18:25

If you can't run chsh because you don't have admin privileges, talk to someone who does.

Most likely you can't use chsh as non-root because the system you're using is configured so that chsh wouldn't work, for example because the system uses NIS or LDAP rather than just the /etc/passwd file. Or perhaps your system's administrator just wants to maintain some control.

The procedure for changing your shell depends on your organization's policies. There may be a local command that does what chsh normally does. Or you may need to submit a support ticket requesting a shell change.

Most of the other answers are good, but if your administrators are reasonably responsive you might not want to bother hacking your startup scripts. I'd probably just invoke zsh -l manually after logging in until the administrator gets around to updating my account.

Another thing to keep in mind: Sometimes different shells can use the same startup files. For example, sh and bash can both execute $HOME/.profile, and csh and tcsh can both execute $HOME/.login and $HOME/.cshrc (though shell-specific startup files like .bashrc, .bash_profile, and .tcshrc can override those). If your default shell is /bin/csh and you want to use /bin/tcsh, updating your .login to invoke /bin/tcsh -l could create an infinite loop. zsh doesn't happen to execute bash-specific startup files, so that's not an issue for you.

Most shells set variables that identify which shell you're running ($BASH_VERSION, $tcsh, $ZSH_VERSION). If you're going to write startup code to invoke your preferred shell, it's not a bad idea to enclose it in an if so it's executed only if you're not already running that shell. Using the code from konsolebox's answer:

if [ "${ZSH_VERSION:-unset}" = "unset" ] ; then
    export SHELL=/bin/zsh
    exec /bin/zsh -l

(The added complication of checking "${ZSH_VERSION:-unset}" rather than just "$ZSH_VERSION" allows for the possibility that you've done set -o unset, an option that causes a reference to an undefined variable to be an error.)


I believe that the command, chsh is for this very purpose. Although, I'm not sure that every Linux/Unix distro support that. Check the man page of chsh.

  • Some systems also have it as passwd -s. Commented Dec 18, 2015 at 9:49

I can think of a few scenarios.

  1. zsh is not in /etc/shells, and the OP wishes to use it without having to type zsh at the command prompt. Possible solutions.

    a) use profile tricks to execute it on login. This is just as effective as actually changing the shell.

    b) beg the admin to add zsh to /etc/shells so you can chsh to it

    c) beg the admin to change your shell. this is not wise, because it will lose you the ability to ftp in. you can only use ftp if you have a shell in /etc/shells

  2. user wishes to escape a restricted shell, most likely rbash or rsh.

    If .profile is editable, the PATH can be expanded by editing it. Once /bin is in the path, you can then start bash from inside rsh/rbash, gaining access to the chsh command to let you change shells. Many commands have shell escapes which can be used to escape a restricted shell and regain access to chsh.

  3. chsh really doesn't work because of some other reason. solution a from possibility 1 is an answer here as well.

Scenario 2 is the only reason to actually change the default shell (it's too restrictive).


I think this could be another method where we can set the custom command to run zsh instead of default bash command enter image description here


I tried much of the above and had no luck personally. Something to do with how our IT department has things set up. Another option that seems to be working for me is adding this at the end of my bashrc:

[ -z "$PS1" ] || zsh && exit

This should check if the shell is interactive before running zsh. Just running zsh at the end broke some other things for me, so ymmv.


I do not think the provided answer actually makes zsh the default shell. It simple changes the shell to zsh as soon as user logs in to his/her default shell. User will still login to its DEFAULT SHELL but with this, shell will change to zsh

To change the default shell use:

usermod -s /path/to/shell username 

You should be root to do that.

Otherwise the above workaround will come handy.

Added from comment

chsh -s /path/to/zsh  # considered as standard as compared to usermod

and it can be invoked by user for him/herself.

  • 4
    The question pretty clearly states that modifying the system user database (the bit you need root to do in this answer) is not an option.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:37
  • 3
    chsh -s /path/to/zsh is more standard and usually (but not always) doesn't require root access, unlike usermod which always does. So your answer has more problems than what the question already states as not working. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 23:09
  • Also, "Is there a way I can put something in my .bashrc or something that automatically calls zsh when it opens as a workaround? ".
    – konsolebox
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 15:49

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