I'm wondering where a new path has to be added to the PATH environment variable. I know this can be accomplished by editing .bashrc (for example), but it's not clear how to do this.

This way:

export PATH=~/opt/bin:$PATH

or this?

export PATH=$PATH:~/opt/bin

12 Answers 12


The simple stuff




depending on whether you want to add ~/opt/bin at the end (to be searched after all other directories, in case there is a program by the same name in multiple directories) or at the beginning (to be searched before all other directories).

You can add multiple entries at the same time. PATH=$PATH:~/opt/bin:~/opt/node/bin or variations on the ordering work just fine. Don't put export at the beginning of the line as it has additional complications (see below under “Notes on shells other than bash”).

If your PATH gets built by many different components, you might end up with duplicate entries. See How to add home directory path to be discovered by Unix which command? and Remove duplicate $PATH entries with awk command to avoid adding duplicates or remove them.

Some distributions automatically put ~/bin in your PATH if it exists, by the way.

Where to put it

Put the line to modify PATH in ~/.profile, or in ~/.bash_profile or if that's what you have. (If your login shell is zsh and not bash, put it in ~/.zprofile instead.)

The profile file is read by login shells, so it will only take effect the next time you log in. (Some systems configure terminals to read a login shell; in that case you can start a new terminal window, but the setting will take effect only for programs started via a terminal, and how to set PATH for all programs depends on the system.)

Note that ~/.bash_rc is not read by any program, and ~/.bashrc is the configuration file of interactive instances of bash. You should not define environment variables in ~/.bashrc. The right place to define environment variables such as PATH is ~/.profile (or ~/.bash_profile if you don't care about shells other than bash). See What's the difference between them and which one should I use?

Don't put it in /etc/environment or ~/.pam_environment: these are not shell files, you can't use substitutions like $PATH in there. In these files, you can only override a variable, not add to it.

Potential complications in some system scripts

You don't need export if the variable is already in the environment: any change of the value of the variable is reflected in the environment.¹ PATH is pretty much always in the environment; all unix systems set it very early on (usually in the very first process, in fact).

At login time, you can rely on PATH being already in the environment, and already containing some system directories. If you're writing a script that may be executed early while setting up some kind of virtual environment, you may need to ensure that PATH is non-empty and exported: if PATH is still unset, then something like PATH=$PATH:/some/directory would set PATH to :/some/directory, and the empty component at the beginning means the current directory (like .:/some/directory).

if [ -z "${PATH-}" ]; then export PATH=/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin; fi

Notes on shells other than bash

In bash, ksh and zsh, export is special syntax, and both PATH=~/opt/bin:$PATH and export PATH=~/opt/bin:$PATH do the right thing even. In other Bourne/POSIX-style shells such as dash (which is /bin/sh on many systems), export is parsed as an ordinary command, which implies two differences:

So in shells like dash, export PATH=~/opt/bin:$PATH sets PATH to the literal string ~/opt/bin/: followed by the value of PATH up to the first space. PATH=~/opt/bin:$PATH (a bare assignment) doesn't require quotes and does the right thing. If you want to use export in a portable script, you need to write export PATH="$HOME/opt/bin:$PATH", or PATH=~/opt/bin:$PATH; export PATH (or PATH=$HOME/opt/bin:$PATH; export PATH for portability to even the Bourne shell that didn't accept export var=value and didn't do tilde expansion).

¹ This wasn't true in Bourne shells (as in the actual Bourne shell, not modern POSIX-style shells), but you're highly unlikely to encounter such old shells these days.

  • Still not able to understand the complication with export. can you please simplify it? Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 5:49
  • 8
    @priojeetpriyom Simple explanation: you don't need export. Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 8:30
  • 2
    Thank you for this answer, perfectly detailed. You say "You should not define environment variables in ~/.bashrc", but unfortunately 100% of the programs that I have installed on my system that modify the path (FZF and Rust's Cargo) modify the path in .bashrc. I assume because FZF is written in Rust too it's following the pattern of Rust.
    – icc97
    Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 10:32
  • could it also be export PATH ... Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 11:50
  • 1
    @TomRussell: you shouldn't be setting your environment variables in .bashrc, since that is specifically for interactive shells and you want your variables available to non-interactive shells too.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Mar 18, 2022 at 16:15

The bullet-proof way of Appending/Prepending

The usual methods for appending/prepending

PATH="$PATH:~/opt/bin"   # appending
PATH="~/opt/bin:$PATH"   # prepending

may bring hard headaches.

The bullet-proof way to add a path (e.g., ~/opt/bin) to the PATH environment variable is

PATH="${PATH:+${PATH}:}~/opt/bin"   # appending
PATH="~/opt/bin${PATH:+:${PATH}}"   # prepending


This avoids the spurious leading/trailing colon when $PATH is initially empty, which can have undesired side effects and can become a nightmare, elusive to find (this answer briefly deals with the case the awk-way).

Explanation (from Shell Parameter Expansion):


If parameter is null or unset, nothing is substituted, otherwise the expansion of word is substituted.

Thus, ${PATH:+${PATH}:} is expanded to:

  1. nothing, if PATH is null or unset,
  2. ${PATH}:, if PATH is set.

Note: This is for bash.

I wonder why system scripts typically do not use this. EDIT: I have just found that scripts like devtoolset-6/enable actually use this,

$ cat /opt/rh/devtoolset-6/enable
# General environment variables
export PATH=/opt/rh/devtoolset-6/root/usr/bin${PATH:+:${PATH}}
  • 4
    ${PATH:+:${PATH}} is confusing because the first : is part of the syntax and the second : is the list delimiter.
    – Roger Dahl
    Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 2:38
  • 3
    Well, I guess you will have to get used to it. Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 9:18
  • 3
    : is context-sensitive. It's a rudimentary form of AI. :-) Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 3:04
  • 1
    this :+ is acceptable to include in .profile, since that's POSIX compatible, right?
    – xdavidliu
    Commented May 29, 2022 at 0:40
  • 1
    What about "$p/bin${PATH:+:}$PATH" like shown in Nix Pill 12? Seems legit and marginally simpler (less braces) to me Commented May 28, 2023 at 10:10

Either way works, but they don't do the same thing: the elements of PATHare checked left to right. In your first example, executables in ~/opt/bin will have precedence over those installed, for example, in /usr/bin, which may or may not be what you want.

In particular, from a safety point of view, it is dangerous to add paths to the front, because if someone can gain write access to your ~/opt/bin, they can put, for example, a different ls in there, which you'd then probably use instead of /bin/ls without noticing. Now imagine the same for ssh or your browser or choice... (The same goes triply for putting . in your path.)

  • 10
    But if you want to have your own, customized version of ls, you need to put it in a directory ahead of /bin.
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 20:20
  • 25
    or alias ls=myls
    – waltinator
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 1:27

I'm confused by question 2 (since removed from the question since it was due to an unrelated issue):

What's a workable way to append more paths on different lines? Initially I thought this could do the trick:

export PATH=$PATH:~/opt/bin
export PATH=$PATH:~/opt/node/bin

but it doesn't because the second assignment doesn't only append ~/opt/node/bin, but also the whole PATH previously assigned.

This is a possible workaround:

export PATH=$PATH:~/opt/bin:~/opt/node/bin

but for readability I'd prefer to have one assignment for one path.

If you say


that's all that will be in your PATH. PATH is just an environment variable, and if you want to add to the PATH, you have to rebuild the variable with exactly the contents you want. That is, what you give as an example to question 2 is exactly what you want to do, unless I'm totally missing the point of the question.

I use both forms in my code. I have a generic profile that I install on every machine I work on that looks like this, to accommodate for potentially-missing directories:

export PATH=/opt/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/contrib/bin:/bin:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin/X11
# add optional items to the path
for bindir in $HOME/local/bin $HOME/bin; do
    if [ -d $bindir ]; then
  • 2
    You are right about the example of question 2, it works. Another PATH related issue on my system confused me. Sorry for that.
    – Paolo
    Commented Dec 5, 2011 at 0:59

Linux determines the executable search path with the $PATH environment variable. To add directory /data/myscripts to the beginning of the $PATH environment variable, use the following:


To add that directory to the end of the path, use the following command:


But the preceding are not sufficient because when you set an environment variable inside a script, that change is effective only within the script. There are only two ways around this limitation:

  • If within the script, you export the environment variable it is effective within any programs called by the script. Note that it is not effective within the program that called the script.
  • If the program that calls the script does so by inclusion instead of calling, any environment changes in the script are effective within the calling program. Such inclusion can be done with the dot command or the source command.


source $HOME/myscript.sh

Inclusion basically incorporates the "called" script in the "calling" script. It's like a #include in C. So it's effective inside the "calling" script or program. But of course, it's not effective in any programs or scripts called by the calling program. To make it effective all the way down the call chain, you must follow the setting of the environment variable with an export command.

As an example, the bash shell program incorporates the contents of file .bash_profile by inclusion. Place the following 2 lines in .bash_profile:

export PATH

effectively puts those 2 lines of code in the bash program. So within bash, the $PATH variable includes $HOME/myscript.sh, and because of the export statement, any programs called by bash have the altered $PATH variable. And because any programs you run from a bash prompt are called by bash, the new path is in force for anything you run from the bash prompt.

The bottom line is that to add a new directory to the path, you must append or prepend the directory to the $PATH environment variable within a script included in the shell, and you must export the $PATH environment variable.

More information here


For some time now I've kept with me two functions pathadd and pathrm that assist in adding elements to the path without the need to worry about duplications.

pathadd takes a single path argument and an optional after argument which if supplied will append to the PATH otherwise it prepends it.

In almost every situation if you're adding to the path then you're likely wanting to override anything already in the path, which is why I opt to prepend by default.

pathadd() {
    if [ -d "$1" ] && ! echo $PATH | grep -E -q "(^|:)$newelement($|:)" ; then
        if [ "$2" = "after" ] ; then

pathrm() {
    PATH="$(echo $PATH | sed -e "s;\(^\|:\)${1%/}\(:\|\$\);\1\2;g" -e 's;^:\|:$;;g' -e 's;::;:;g')"

Put these in any script you wish to alter the PATH environment and you can now do.

pathadd "/foo/bar"
pathadd "/baz/bat" after
export PATH

You're guaranteed not to add to the path if it's already there. If you now want to ensure /baz/bat is at the start.

pathrm "/baz/bat"
pathadd "/baz/bat"
export PATH

Now any path can be moved to the front if it's already in the path without doubling.

  • Related and cleaner approach to check for presence of a directory in your PATH: unix.stackexchange.com/a/32054/135943
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 19:03
  • I've found it useful to add to this a check that the path exists as well, and silently ignore the call if it doesn't.
    – Roger Dahl
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 0:47
  • 1
    That check is already present @RogerDahl , the use of -d
    – Brett Ryan
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 11:02
  • 1
    (1) echo $PATH can mess up if $PATH contains field separators or glob characters.  Yeah, sure, you ‘‘shouldn’t’’ create directories with field separators or glob characters in their names, but why not handle that case correctly, when it’s so easy to do?  (2) Why the silent failure if the directory doesn’t exist?  If you type pathadd "/opt/newprogran/bin" and then newprogram, and you get a “command not found” error, how long will you scratch your head before you notice that you misspelled the directory in the pathadd command?  … (Cont’d) Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 20:22
  • 1
    (Cont’d) …  (3) Your pathrm will fail if the argument contains ;. Again, you ‘‘shouldn’t’’ create directories with semicolons in their names, but you should try harder to handle it (or at least document it as a weakness of your code).  (4) And ;::;:; is fun to read … NOT!  (5) Your pathrm also fails silently if you mistype the argument. Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 20:22

I can't speak for other distributions, but Ubuntu has a file, /etc/environment, that is the default search path for all users. Since my computer is only used by me, I put any directories that I want in my path there, unless it is a temporary addition that I put in a script.


To add a new path to the PATH environment variable:

export PATH=$PATH:/new-path/

For this change to be applied to every shell you open, add it to the file that the shell will source when it is invoked. In different shells this can be:

  • Bash Shell: ~/.bash_profile, ~/.bashrc or profile
  • Korn Shell: ~/.kshrc or .profile
  • Z Shell: ~/.zshrc or .zprofile


# export PATH=$PATH:/root/learning/bin/
# source ~/.bashrc
# echo $PATH

You can see the provided path in the above output.


There are some situations where it using PATH=/a/b:$PATH might be considered the "incorrect" way to add a path to PATH:

  1. Adding a path that's not actually a directory.
  2. Adding a path that's already in PATH in the same form.
  3. Adding a relative path (since the actual directory searched would change as you change the current working directory).
  4. Adding a path that's already in PATH in a different form (i.e., an alias due to using symlinks or ..).
  5. If you avoid doing 4, not moving the path to the front of PATH when it's intended to override other entries in PATH.

This (Bash-only) function does the "right thing" in the above situations (with an exception, see below), returns error codes, and prints nice messages for humans. The error codes and messages can be disabled when they're not wanted.

prepath() {
    local usage="\
Usage: prepath [-f] [-n] [-q] DIR
  -f Force dir to front of path even if already in path
  -n Nonexistent dirs do not return error status
  -q Quiet mode"

    local tofront=false errcode=1 qecho=echo
    while true; do case "$1" in
        -f)     tofront=true;       shift;;
        -n)     errcode=0;          shift;;
        -q)     qecho=':';          shift;;
        *)      break;;
    esac; done
    # Bad params always produce message and error code
    [[ -z $1 ]] && { echo 1>&2 "$usage"; return 1; }

    [[ -d $1 ]] || { $qecho 1>&2 "$1 is not a directory."; return $errcode; }
    dir="$(command cd "$1"; pwd -P)"
    if [[ :$PATH: =~ :$dir: ]]; then
        $tofront || { $qecho 1>&2 "$dir already in path."; return 0; }
        PATH="${PATH#$dir:}"        # remove if at start
        PATH="${PATH%:$dir}"        # remove if at end
        PATH="${PATH//:$dir:/:}"    # remove if in middle

The exception is that this function does not canonicalize paths added to PATH via other means, so if a non-canonical alias for a path is in PATH, this will add a duplicate. Trying to canonicalize paths already in PATH is a dicey proposition since a relative path has an obvious meaning when passed to prepath but when already in the path you don't know what the current working directory was when it was added.

  • regarding relative paths: what about having a '-r' switch, which would add the path without making it absolute first, and which would also look for it as absolute before adding it? If this were script, one could use it in other shells. Is there any benefit of having it as a function? nice code!
    – hoijui
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 6:23
  • 1
    @hoijui It has to be a function because it's modifying the current environment. If it were a script, it would modify the environment of the subprocess running the script and, when the script exited you'd have the same $PATH as you had before. As for -r, no, I think that relative paths in $PATH are just too unreliable and weird (your path changes every time you cd!) to want to support something like that in a general tool.
    – cjs
    Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 10:15

For me (on Mac OS X 10.9.5), adding the path name (e.g. /mypathname) to the file /etc/paths worked very well.

Before editing, echo $PATH returns:


After editing /etc/paths and restarting the shell, the $PATH variable is appended with /pathname. Indeed, echo $PATH returns:


What happened is that /mypathname has been appended to the $PATH variable.

  • 3
    Better to add a file to the /etc/paths.d directory than to edit the /etc/paths file itself.
    – rbrewer
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 20:50

Here is my solution:

PATH=$(echo -n $PATH | awk -v RS=: -v ORS=: '!x[$0]++' | sed "s/\(.*\).\{1\}/\1/")

A nice easy one liner that doesn't leave a trailing :

  • 2
    -bash: awk: No such file or directory -bash: sed: No such file or directory Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 19:18
  • 1
    @davidcondrey - awk and sed are very common external commands. This answer provides a pure-bash way of achieving the same, so it works even in cases when awk and/or sed are not present (or their respective directories are not in the path!) Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 9:45


    [ -z "$2" ] && return 2
    PATH=$(printf ":$PATH:" | sed "s:\:$2\::\::g")
    case $1 in
    -p ) PATH=$2$PATH ;;
    -a ) PATH=$PATH$2 ;;
    -r ) ;;
    * ) return 2 ;;
    PATH=$(printf "$PATH" | tr -s :) PATH=${PATH#:} PATH=${PATH%:}

pathedit -p path prepends path to $PATH
pathedit -a path appends path to $PATH
pathedit -r path removes path from $PATH

also removes extraneous colons

without external commands (non-POSIX)

    [[ -z $2 ]] && return 2
    PATH=:$PATH: PATH=${PATH//:$2:/}
    case $1 in
    -p ) PATH=$2$PATH ;;
    -a ) PATH=$PATH$2 ;;
    -r ) ;;
    * ) return 2 ;;
    while [[ $PATH == *::* ]] ; do
    PATH=${PATH#:} PATH=${PATH%:}
  • Doesn't respect paths with space characters and other characters which affect shell behavior (parentheses etc.)
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 8:48
  • @einpoklum - not sure what you mean as it works for me (with spaces, &c.)
    – dicktyr
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 17:03
  • Hmm... interesting.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 15, 2022 at 19:47

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