Why are there so many places to put a binary in Linux? There are at least these five:

  1. /bin/
  2. /sbin/
  3. /usr/bin/
  4. /usr/local/bin/
  5. /usr/local/sbin/

And on my office box, I do not have write permissions to some of these.

What type of binary goes into which of these bins?

  • 61
    You forgot /usr/sbin/.
    – Hello71
    Commented Apr 25, 2011 at 20:47
  • 41
    And ~/bin/ for personal stuff.
    – Calmarius
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 16:01
  • 5
    There are fewer places nowadays, since /bin was merged with /usr/bin and /sbin was merged with /usr/sbin – see The Case for the /usr Merge. Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 13:02
  • 1
    @Calmarius, What? shouldn't you use /usr/local/bin?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 6:51
  • 5
    @Pacerier ~/bin is for the current user only. For example in multiuser Linux servers where you are not an admin that's the only way to "install" stuff for yourself.
    – Calmarius
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 10:30

5 Answers 5

  1. /bin (and /sbin) were intended for programs that needed to be on a small / partition before the larger /usr, etc. partitions were mounted. These days, it mostly serves as a standard location for key programs like /bin/sh, although the original intent may still be relevant for e.g. installations on small embedded devices.

  2. /sbin, as distinct from /bin, is for system management programs (not normally used by ordinary users) needed before /usr is mounted.

  3. /usr/bin is for distribution-managed normal user programs.

  4. There is a /usr/sbin with the same relationship to /usr/bin as /sbin has to /bin.

  5. /usr/local/bin is for normal user programs not managed by the distribution package manager, e.g. locally compiled packages. You should not install them into /usr/bin because future distribution upgrades may modify or delete them without warning.

  6. /usr/local/sbin, as you can probably guess at this point, is to /usr/local/bin as /usr/sbin to /usr/bin.

In addition, there is also /opt which is for monolithic non-distribution packages, although before they were properly integrated various distributions put Gnome and KDE there. Generally you should reserve it for large, poorly behaved third party packages such as Oracle.

  • 65
    I think this answer does a great job of clarifying a common set of conventions, but this post from Rob Landley is a really great read if you want insight into the nonsense... lists.busybox.net/pipermail/busybox/2010-December/074114.html
    – Subfuzion
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 23:45
  • 4
    refspecs.linuxfoundation.org/fhs.shtml for the canonical current reference. The link by @kojiro is outdated and doesn't have the new spec.
    – Didier A.
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 18:58
  • 3
    Where do I put a bin I downloaded from the internet? From your description it sounds like it should go in /usr/local/bin or /usr/bin. Is /usr/bin something I should never manually touch, and let only the package manager play with?
    – Didier A.
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 19:12
  • 6
    @DidierA. put it in ~/bin and add that directory to your PATH as a user... Thanks for the note, I deleted my seriously outdated comment.
    – kojiro
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 21:22
  • 6
    I found the answer to the first part of my question here: superuser.com/a/238993/425838. Precedence is based on order in the system PATH variable, and echo $PATH for me shows /usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/usr/games:/usr/local/games, which means that executables in /usr/local/bin take precedence over the ones in /usr/bin which take precedence over the ones in /bin. Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 21:10

I recommend taking a look at the file system hierarchy man page:

man hier

which is also available online, for instance: http://linux.die.net/man/7/hier.  Relevant portions have been copied below.  Depending on your system, it may say something different.


    hier - description of the file system hierarchy


    A typical Linux system has, among others, the following directories:

      This directory contains executable programs which are needed in single user mode and to bring the system up or repair it.
      Like /bin, this directory holds commands needed to boot the system, but which are usually not executed by normal users.
      This is the primary directory for executable programs.  Most programs executed by normal users which are not needed for booting or for repairing the system and which are not installed locally should be placed in this directory.
      Binaries for programs local to the site.
      Locally installed programs for system administration.
      This directory contains program binaries for system administration which are not essential for the boot process, for mounting /usr, or for system repair.

  • 2
    This doesn't answer the user's question. Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 23:54
  • 30
    The man page does contain an entry for each of the bin directories, explaining what goes into them, which was one of the questions.
    – davitenio
    Commented Mar 6, 2011 at 6:52
  • 3
    @BillyONeal Probably a better answer than others because it does answer the question, moreover gives a quick reference command as well. Commented May 11, 2021 at 12:36

The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard entry in Wikipedia helped me answer the same question when I had it, plus it has a very explanatory table.

Excerpt from that page1:

/bin        Essential command binaries that need to be available in single user mode; for all users, e.g., cat, ls, cp.
/usr/bin    Non-essential command binaries (not needed in single user mode); for all users.
/usr/local  Tertiary hierarchy for local data, specific to this host. Typically has further subdirectories, e.g., bin, lib, share
/usr/sbin   Non-essential system binaries, e.g., daemons for various network-services.
/sbin       Essential system binaries, e.g., fsck, init, route.

1 Retrieved on June 19, 2019; permalink.


The sbin directories contains programs which are generally system administration only. Programs for regular users should never go in them.

A few programs are needed during startup, and end up in /bin/ or /sbin/. These must be available before file systems are mounted. Things like mount, and fsck that are required to check and mount files systems must be there.

Most packaged programs end up in /usr/bin/ and /usr/sbin/. These may be on a file system other than the root file system. In some cases they may be on a network mounted drive.

Local programs and scripts belong in /usr/local/bin/ and /usr/local/sbin/. This identifies them as clearly non-standard, and possibly only available on site.

For further explanation try running the command man hier which should provide a description of the recommended file system hierarchy for your distribution. You may also want to read about the File System Hierarchy on Wikipedia

  • 2
    +1 A really concise explanation if top is a little too much.
    – CppLearner
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 13:09
  • "Local programs and scripts belong in /usr/local/bin/ and /usr/local/sbin/" - You mean local programs as in "not at all part of the OS, but I decided to install them and want to use them"?
    – Jim Aho
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 14:46

In the 1970s, UNIX had all official executables in /bin and /usr/bin was a location beneath the users home directories (e.g. /usr/dmr) that was available for any user to store own binaries that might have been of interest for others as well.

The result of this open /usr/bin was a junk yard of undocumented software and so Stephen Bourne wrote a cron script that checked for new binaries every night and removed all binaries that did not have a documentation or that have been updated without updating their documentation as well.

In the late 1970s, /usr/bin was integrated into the OS base distribution and people started to use /usr/local/bin for the purpose of the previous open /usr/bin.

After a while, sysadmins used /usr/local/bin to store non-local software that was imported from the network (e.g. the USENET) and as UNIX companies did not like to repeat the same mistake as with /usr/bin again, there was a file system hierarchy conference around 1987 where all UNIX companies agreed to give up /usr/local/bin and to use /opt/<vendor>/bin instead.

Unfortunately, Linux distros did not follow this decision....

  • 3
    While very interesting, none of this even tries to answer the question asked which was not about /opt and not about UNIX but about Linux. This is like answering "Why do cars have 4 wheels?" with "Bicycles have 2! Sadly, cars don't." which doesn't help the OP understand why cars have 4.
    – terdon
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 14:19
  • 2
    If you are unable to use the given explanation as an explanation to the background of Linux and the fact that Linux likes to mimic UNIX , you may be missing the needed background.
    – schily
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 13:29
  • 1
    Interesting, but something I get confused on and which maybe is also only historical. Today, downloading a bin online, and a company bin isn't very different. If Joe Blow makes a program and I download it, why not put it in /opt/JowBlow/bin instead of /usr/local/bin. Is it a matter of trusted provider versus untrusted? It doesn't seem to make sense to me.
    – Didier A.
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 19:10
  • 1
    I wish I had known this 'exact' history a few years back. a) I wondered why AIX avoided /usr/local, uses /opt/IBM and /opt/ibm and bullfreeware uses /opt/freeware - and why I SHOULD have used a different path (not just /opt/*sbin). As to semi-relevance with Linux - better GNU tools - the default --prefix in auto-tools is /usr/local. Too bad autotools (automake, autoconf, etc. do not follow ... . But we all survive and learn where the distrub. || vendors put their programs. Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 9:00

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