For example, my script is $HOME/bin/sudo. I'd like to search for an executable in $PATH with the same name, sudo, and run it - but not the script $HOME/bin/sudo itself, otherwise I will run into an infinite loop!

EDIT: the point of this is that in some cases i want my replacement scripts to have an higher priority over the regular system commands, while in some other cases i want the opposite. So i've set "$HOME/bin" as first in the PATH, so now i can define priorities for each command individually. Also i want some kind of "portability" so the scripts will be able to run in different systems.

  • 1
    I don't fully understand your question - you have your script located in $HOME/bin and you've put it in some folder in your $PATH and now you don't know, where it is? – Eenoku Oct 24 '14 at 10:01
  • no, i want to write a script that works as an alternative to a system command, but only if the system command does not exist... I guess that without an explicit check the replacement script could override the system command... – eadmaster Oct 24 '14 at 10:04
  • 2
    What are you actually trying to do? Sounds like an XY problem to me. – Bernhard Oct 24 '14 at 13:18

POSIX defines the -p option to the command builtin so...

  • -p Perform the command search using a default value for PATH that is guaranteed to find all of the standard utilities.

Taken with the -v and -V options for either parsable or human-friendly (respectively) output regarding a command's location, and you can pretty well rely on it to get you the intended utility when you ask it for one. Here's a little script to demo how it works:

(   cd ~; mkdir -p bin
    cat >./bin/cat
    chmod +x ./bin/cat
    export "PATH=$HOME/bin:$PATH"
    command -V cat | cat
command -p cat
! printf "I'm not REALLY cat, but '%s' is!\n" \
         "$(command -pv cat)"


cat is /home/mikeserv/bin/cat
I'm not REALLY cat, but '/bin/cat' is!

The first couple statements build an executable script in ~/bin/cat. $PATH is also modified to insert ~/bin at its head.

So when I do command -V cat | cat command writes to my fake cat's stdin. And yet its output still makes it to my screen. This is because command -p cat gets the real one regardless of how I have mangled my $PATH.

  • 1
    The only problem is that is guaranteed to find only the standard utilities, so it could not work in some cases. Btw this is a very concise solution using only POSIX standard features, so i prefer it over the others. (i just hope they won't change the syntax in later revisions ;) – eadmaster Oct 26 '14 at 16:36
  • @eadmaster - this is a legitimate concern. However, if you look at man command, you'll find that in the Rationale they cite the purpose of finding the standard utilities is really to enable you always at least to do: command -p getconf PATH. – mikeserv Oct 26 '14 at 20:28

There is no need for scripting or functions. If you simply put $HOME/bin last in your path, it will only be used if there is no matching command name in any of the previous directories in the $PATH.


[jenny@sameen ~]$ export PATH=/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin:/bin:/sbin
[jenny@sameen ~]$ which foo
/usr/bin/which: no foo in (/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin:/bin:/sbin)
[jenny@sameen ~]$ export PATH=$PATH:$HOME/bin
[jenny@sameen ~]$ which foo
[jenny@sameen ~]$ sudo cp bin/foo  /usr/local/bin/
[jenny@sameen ~]$ which foo

If you don't trust that you can set your own $PATH, so that you still want to do the check from within the script, here's an example:

export ORIGPATH=$PATH  # to revert the path after checking for the binary
export PATH=`echo $PATH |sed -e 's{/home/jenny/bin:{{'`

MYNAME=`basename $0`

if  which $MYNAME
    BINFILE=`which $MYNAME`
    export PATH=$ORIGPATH 
    echo "Found $MYNAME in $BINFILE "
    export PATH=$ORIGPATH
    echo "Here goes the rest of the script"
  • ok, but i cannot make assumptions where "$HOME/bin" is in my $PATH. Also maybe the $PATH search order is not standardized... – eadmaster Oct 24 '14 at 10:23
  • 1
    The search order is standardized. Since you can set your own path, you can set it so that $HOME/bin is last. Or you can put these particular scripts in a different directory (e.g. $HOME/scripts) and add that directory last to your path. – Jenny D Oct 24 '14 at 10:46
  • ok, but i still prefer an explicit check in case i forget this or some system scripts modify my $PATH variable... – eadmaster Oct 24 '14 at 10:50
  • 1
    the side effect of this solution is that "$MYNAME" will run with a modified $PATH too... – eadmaster Oct 25 '14 at 13:42
  • 1
    @eadmaster At some point you really have to step up and take responsibility for setting up your environment the way you want to. Multiple entries are easy to deal with; man sed will tell you how to fix it. Symlinks - less easy, still possible. But, as I said from the start, if you want your $PATH to look a particular way, then you need to set it yourself (preferably in your profile/.bashrc), and then simply use common sense. – Jenny D Oct 27 '14 at 8:04

Search for the command with a modified PATH:

PATH=$(awk -F: 'sub(FS "'$HOME/bin'","")' <<<"$PATH") which sudo

For example:

$ which sudo
$ PATH=$(awk -F: 'sub(FS "/usr/local/bin","")' <<<"$PATH") which sudo
  • this is not working: PATH=$(awk -F: 'sub(FS "$( dirname $0 )","")' <<<"$PATH") which $( basename $0 ) – eadmaster Oct 24 '14 at 10:55
  • @eadmaster Take note of the quotes you are using. Use something like: PATH=$(awk -F: 'sub(FS "'$(dirname $0)'"... – muru Oct 24 '14 at 11:09

I've just found this alternative that seems quite reliable.

EXEPATHSLIST="/usr/bin /usr/sbin /bin /sbin /opt/$1/bin /usr/games /usr/local/bin /usr/local/games /system/bin /system/xbin"
for exepath in $EXEPATHSLIST
    if [ -x  $exepath/$1 ]; then
        exit $?

# alternative using command
command -p "$@"
_ES=$? ; [ $_ES -ne 127 ] && exit $_ES

# more alternative search methods here
# ...

# else command not found
exit 127

If your $HOME/bin path are not in $PATH you could test it with

if [ ! -a $(command -v $(basename $0)) ]; then
   echo "$(basename $0 already exists in $PATH"
  • Downvote without a comment = Bad behavior! What´s wrong with my answer?! – UsersUser Dec 13 '15 at 20:05

I'm not entirely sure I understand what you're after either but type and which should help. For example:

$ type -a sudo
sudo is aliased to `/usr/bin/sudo'
sudo is /home/terdon/scripts/sudo
sudo is /usr/bin/sudo

In the example above, there are 3 possible sudos, one is an alias and two are in my $PATH. You can just parse that to do what you want. If you are using a shell that does not have the type builtin, you can do the same with which (though that does not detect aliases but that shouldn't be an issue with shell scripts anyway.):

$ which -a sudo

With this in mind, if your objective is to avoid an infinite loop based on the name of the current script, you can do something like:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

## Get the name of the matching command from your
## $PATH, excluding the script itself ($0).
com=$(type -a $(basename $0) | grep -v $0 | head -n 1 | awk '{print $NF'})
## Run the command on the arguments passed
$com "$@"

As @edimaster pointed out in the comments, -a is not defined by POSIX so it may not be present in all systems. A more portable approach then, would be to search through the directories of your $PATH:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

## Get the name of the matching command from your
## $PATH, excluding the script itself ($0).
com=$(find $(printf "%s" "$PATH" | sed 's/:/ /g') -name $(basename $0) |
      grep -v $0 | head -n 1)
## Run the command on the arguments passed
$com "$@"
  • Although i like the idea of leaving the PATH variable unchanged, the "-a" option is not standard. – eadmaster Oct 26 '14 at 15:58
  • @eadmaster so it seems, thanks. In that case, you could use find instead. See updated answer. – terdon Oct 26 '14 at 16:14
  • unfortunately any mistrust for $PATH must always also lend itself to find. It is arguable however, that, in any case, any mistrust for $PATH is baseless and that the admin that set it up should either know what they are doing or will learn soon enough and we should all stop trying to circumvent their wishes.... – mikeserv Oct 26 '14 at 21:31

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.