Modifying the system PATH variable Andrew Mallett | September 2017

Dennis Ritchie 1941-2011Dennis Ritchie (the co-founder of Unix) famously noted that, "Unix is simple. It just takes a genius to understand its simplicity." And I couldn't agree more. Like many, the more complex tasks I undertake, the more I look for simple solutions. This is so true in the case of shell-scripts where a few lines of code (in plain text!) can perform complex functions.

So because I believe in not making things any more complicated than they need to be, I like to keep all my custom scripts in one directory..


This provides a number of advantages, including quick access and ease of backup. It also means I can run these scripts from anywhere by having the /sc directory in the system path.

Paths and environments

When you run a command, the system will look in the $PATH statement to find the location of that command. If it can't find the executable (and you haven't typed in its full path), then you will get a message indicating the command has not been found. Unix doesn't even look in the current directory, which can seem a bit odd if you've come from other DOS-like command-line operating systems. DOS will look in the current directory before checking on the path variable.

Tell Unix to look in the current directory for the required command with a dot and a forward slash..


By putting my scripts directory in the system path, I avoid some of this quirkiness and can run them from anywhere in the file system. The following command will reveal the hidden secrets of your system path..

echo $PATH

There are a few ways to append a new directory to the system path. Under Ubuntu and similar distros I simply edit the /etc/environment file..


Other options include editing the PATH statement in the relevant file in your home directory, which might include ~/.profile or ~/.bashrc or ~/.bash_profile, which you may need to create and assumes you'll be using the BASH shell

The change will stick the next time you log into X-Windows or the terminal session.

A word on executables

Users coming from a DOS/Windows environment will be used to file extensions which indicate a file is executable, such as .com, .bat and .exe. Unix does not require a file extension, although some files may have them. Any file can be made executable using the chmod command..

chmod 755 filename

I like to name my shell scripts using the .sh extension so that they are immediately apparent. Also I can 'associate' this file extension with a text reader for quick and convenient reading. Why make things harder..?


More custom scripts at Shell-scripts.com