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I want to edit my $PATH environment variable. According to several tutorials and other sources (e.g. this Q&A), the most common way is to edit ~/.profile. However, for me, no such file exists. What can I do? (Are there different names on some systems? Should I create it? What needs to go in there? Are there other ways?)

I am a user on a network cluster, obviously I don't want to edit any global environment variables. I've edited ~/.bashrc before to change some stuff for my user, and there are several ~/.-files, but not ~/.profile.

I'm on Ubuntu 16.04.2 LTS Codename: Xenial. echo $PATH gives me only some global bin-directories, but after installing some user specific bins (to /path/to/home~/expanded/.local/bin/) I just want to add this to the PATH.

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  • A .local (a hidden directory) in your $PATH is poor taste IMHO. Better use $HOME/bin which might even be "automatically" added on some distributions (but you need to login again) – Basile Starynkevitch Oct 9 '17 at 10:15
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    @BasileStarynkevitch See unix.stackexchange.com/questions/370943/… – Kusalananda Oct 9 '17 at 10:21
  • @BasileStarynkevitch Thank you for your advice. As the excellent pointer from Kusalananda suggests, I'm setting up python which uses .local/bin by default. – Honeybear Oct 9 '17 at 11:04
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If you have a ~/.bash_profile file, then edit that instead (since you seems to be using bash (since you are on Linux and since you mention that there is a ~/.bashrc file present that you've edited before)). The bash shell will only try to read ~/.profile if ~/.bash_profile does not exist. If neither file exists, you may create ~/.bash_profile.

The line you are likely to want to add is

PATH="$HOME/.local/bin:$PATH"

or

PATH="$PATH:$HOME/.local/bin"

depending on whether you want/need the added directory to be searched first or last.

There is no need for export as the PATH variable is already exported.

$HOME is the same as ~, but is IMHO more expressive in shell scripts. It also behaves as a proper variable whereas ~ does not. See e.g. Why doesn't the tilde (~) expand inside double quotes?

Also note that paths are delimited with forward slash (/) on Unix, not backslash (\), so you want ~/.bash_profile and not ~\.bash_profile.


Most sh-like shells (of which bash is one) reads .profile in the user's home directory when started as a login shell. This is why the answer that you linked to mentions .profile rather than .bash_profile; the specific shell used was not mentioned in the question.

Some shells, like bash, will ignore it if their own special startup file is present.

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    Thanks a lot for this comprehensive answer. I corrected the backslashes to forward-slashes in the paths. Bad habit back from using Windows. – Honeybear Oct 9 '17 at 11:06

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