So Wikipedia (link) tells me that the command pwd is short for "print working directory", and that makes sense.

But for the environment variable, the "P" has to be an acronym for something else than print.

I hear people talking about "current working directory", which sounds better and is more intuitive, but still the environment variable seems to be called $PWD, and not $CWD. Nobody ever says "Did you check the print working directory variable?".

I am currently playing around with the web application server uWSGI, and when running it tells me (on the uWSGI stats page):


so they obviously like the (more intuitive acronym) cwd over pwd.

I guess I am trying to figure out if I misunderstood something, or if it is just a matter of having given the environment variable an unintuitive name?

  • 8
    Present Work Directory?
    – DarioP
    Dec 19, 2014 at 16:12
  • 3
    I suspect you're just overthinking it. $PWD is equivalent to `pwd`, and that was justification enough. Dec 19, 2014 at 17:36
  • 2
    Another guess: Process Working Directory?
    – oxfn
    Apr 21, 2019 at 18:50

2 Answers 2


That depends on what you're doing.  First of all, $PWD is an environment variable and pwd is a shell builtin or an actual binary:

$ type -a pwd
pwd is a shell builtin
pwd is /bin/pwd

Now, the bash builtin will simply print the current value of $PWD unless you use the -P flag.  As explained in help pwd:

pwd: pwd [-LP]

    Print the name of the current working directory.


          print the value of $PWD if it names the current working directory
          print the physical directory, without any symbolic links

    By default, ‘pwd’ behaves as if ‘-L’ were specified.

The pwd binary, on the other hand, gets the current directory through the getcwd(3) system call which returns the same value as readlink -f /proc/self/cwd.  To illustrate, try moving into a directory that is a link to another one:

$ ls -l
total 4
drwxr-xr-x 2 terdon terdon 4096 Jun  4 11:22 foo
lrwxrwxrwx 1 terdon terdon    4 Jun  4 11:22 linktofoo -> foo/
$ cd linktofoo
$ echo $PWD
$ pwd
$ /bin/pwd

So, in conclusion, on GNU systems (such as Ubuntu), pwd and echo $PWD are equivalent unless you use the -P option, but /bin/pwd is different and behaves like pwd -P.

Source https://askubuntu.com/a/476633/291937

  • 3
    @llua Nothing forbids PWD to be an environment variable. It is actually the default case with most if not all shells and that makes sense to provide it to children processes.
    – jlliagre
    Dec 19, 2014 at 12:02
  • 3
    I wonder why people downvoted, it seems like a good answer, and thoroughly explained. Dec 19, 2014 at 12:12
  • 4
    @MadsSkjern Most builtins are required by the POSIX standard to be also available as commands. This is to allow calling them directly from other programs without the need to launch a shell.
    – jlliagre
    Dec 19, 2014 at 12:23
  • 7
    This doesn't really answer the question to me. The question isn't really about the differences between $PWD and pwd (which have already been covered on U&L before I believe), but about the reasons which led to naming the variable "PWD". Dec 19, 2014 at 13:15
  • 5
    @Thushi You are more than likely correct. PWD was introduced by ksh88 which document it as: PWD The present working directory set by the cd command. You should add this to your reply.
    – jlliagre
    Dec 19, 2014 at 14:09

$PWD is the Pathname of the current Working Directory.

When there are symbolic links, there could be different results from reading $PWD compared to executing the command pwd.


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