I've seen people mention in other answers that it's a bad idea to include the current working directory ('.') in your $PATH environment variable, but haven't been able to find a question specifically addressing the issue.

So, why shouldn't I add . to my path? And if despite all warnings I do it anyway, what do I have to watch out for? Is it safer to add it to the end than to the the start?


3 Answers 3


If you're the only user on the machine it's okay, as long as you know what you're doing. The general concern is that by having your current directory in PATH, you cannot see commands as a constant list. If you need to run a script/program from your current directory, you can always explicitly run it by prepending ./ to its name (you telling the system "I want to run this file from my current directory").

Say, now you have all these little scripts all over your filesystem; one day you'll run the wrong one for sure. So, having your PATH as a predefined list of static paths is all about order and saving oneself from a potential problem.

However, if you're going to add . to your PATH, I suggest appending it to the end of the list (export PATH=$PATH:.). At least you won't override system-wide binaries this way.

If you're a root on the system and have system exposed to other users' accounts, having . in PATH is a huge security risk: you can cd to some user's directory, and unintentionally run a malicious script there only because you mistyped a thing or script that has the same name as a system-wide binary.

  • 1
    +Accept for the underlying theory and for mentioning that the problems can still exist even when you're the only user on the system. Both answers bring up excellent points. I'll add that any time you share directories with another user, there is increased risk, whether you're root or not.
    – Jander
    Feb 25, 2013 at 14:48
  • 11
    even as the only user on the machine: everytime you extract an untrusted tar it can place an ls in your current directory. next you run ls to inspect the extracted files and you have already run the malicious code.
    – Lesmana
    Feb 10, 2017 at 8:26
  • @lesmana That couldn't happen if you have . at the end of PATH though, could it?
    – flarn2006
    Oct 18, 2021 at 4:23
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    @flarn2006 not exactly that, no, but the tar could put sl or lss for example in the current directory, and if you mistype ls as one of those options then it will execute that malicious code
    – villapx
    Jun 14, 2022 at 16:45

The risk is someone put a malicious executable in the directory that happen to be your current one.

The worst case happen when:

  • you are logged as root as the malicious command has unlimited damage power
  • . is at the beginning of your PATH as standard commands can be overridden without you noticing it (typically an ls which could hide itself from the list).

The risk is much lower if you are logged as a regular user and have the . at the end of your PATH but it still exists:

  • someone might find out you frequently mistype a command and install a matching one
  • someone might install a fake command with the name of one that is not installed.

Note that in any case, the risk is still there even if you are the only user of the machine. Malicious software would be installed if, for example, you happen to extract an archive downloaded from a malicious or compromised site.

  • 18
    Install sl to see how often point 3 happens.
    – jordanm
    Feb 22, 2013 at 6:19
  • or alias l=`ls`.
    – Anko
    Mar 31, 2014 at 11:15
  • it doesn't have to be malicious. I expect ls to get a directory listing but some project I download might have a ls script in their root project folder as a shortcut to something else. ls is probably a bad example but I can certainly imagine e for edit, d for debug, m for make, b for build. I have some of those myself globally. If I type m I expect make to launch (my shortcut), not some local script called m to execute.
    – gman
    Oct 24, 2019 at 7:03
  • @gman Right. A non malicious command might unwittingly have adverse effects indeed. Note that single letter commands/aliases were frowned upon since Unix inception due to the high risk of mistyping. Rare standard ones are w and [.
    – jlliagre
    Oct 24, 2019 at 9:07

Even if you are always very careful with what you type, putting . to your PATH, even at the end, is still insecure because some programs change the current directory to /tmp (which is world writable) and may also try execute utilities that are actually not installed, thus defaulting to what is in /tmp. If this occurs, this is a vector of attack.

Note also that there isn't much drawback of avoiding . in PATH, because ./ is easy to type (in particular on keyboards like QWERTY, where these characters are on consecutive keys and do not need Shift) and using ./ will also help completion, thus potentially saving keystrokes at the end.

If you really want to be able to type commands from the current directory, then modern shells (like zsh, with its command_not_found_handler) may provide features to do that safely, i.e. allowing you to add all the security checks you want in the handler, before the command is executed.

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