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Mac OS X: Set / Change $PATH Variable

I need to add dev tools (such as JDK and friends) to my PATH. How do I change $PATH variable in OS X 10.8.x? Where does $PATH get set in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion?

Tutorial details
DifficultyEasy (rss)
Root privilegesNo
RequirementsNone
Estimated completion time5m
$PATH is nothing but an environment variable on Linux, OS X, Unix-like operating systems, and Microsoft Windows. You can specify a set of directories where executable programs are located using $PATH. The $PATH variable is specified as a list of directory names separated by colon (:) characters. To print the current settings, open the Terminal and then type:

 
echo "$PATH"
 

OR

 
printf "%s\n" $PATH
 

Sample outputs:

Fig.01: Displaying the current $PATH settings using echo / printf on OS X

Fig.01: Displaying the current $PATH settings using echo / printf on OS X

OS X: Change your PATH environment variable

You can add path to any one of the following method:

  1. $HOME/.bash_profile file using export syntax.
  2. /etc/paths.d directory.

Method #1: $HOME/.bash_profile file

The syntax is as follows:

export PATH=$PATH:/new/dir/location1
export PATH=$PATH:/new/dir1:/dir2:/dir/path/no3

In this example, add /usr/local/sbin/modemZapp/ directory to $PATH variable. Edit the file $HOME/.bash_profile, enter:
vi $HOME/.bash_profile
OR
vi ~/.bash_profile
Append the following export command:

export PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/sbin/modemZapp

Save and close the file. To apply changes immedialty enter:
source $HOME/.bash_profile
OR
. $HOME/.bash_profile
Finally, verify your new path settings, enter:
echo $PATH
Sample outputs:

/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/opt/X11/bin:/usr/local/sbin/modemZapp

Method #2: /etc/paths.d directory

Apple recommends the path_helper tool to generate the PATH variable i.e. helper for constructing PATH environment variable. From the man page:

The path_helper utility reads the contents of the files in the directories /etc/paths.d and /etc/manpaths.d and appends their contents to the PATH and MANPATH environment variables respectively.

(The MANPATH environment variable will not be modified unless it is already set in the environment.)

Files in these directories should contain one path element per line.

Prior to reading these directories, default PATH and MANPATH values are obtained from the files /etc/paths and /etc/manpaths respectively.

To list existing path, enter:
ls -l /etc/paths.d/
Sample outputs:

total 16
-rw-r--r--  1 root  wheel  13 Sep 28  2012 40-XQuartz

You can use the cat command to see path settings in 40-XQuartz:
cat /etc/paths.d/40-XQuartz
Sample outputs:

/opt/X11/bin

To set /usr/local/sbin/modemZapp to $PATH, enter:

 
sudo -s 'echo "/usr/local/sbin/modemZapp" > /etc/paths.d/zmodemapp'
 

OR use vi text editor as follows to create /etc/paths.d/zmodemapp file:
sudo vi /etc/paths.d/zmodemapp
and append the following text:

/usr/local/sbin/modemZapp

Save and close the file. You need to reboot the system. Alternatively, you can close and reopen the Terminal app to see new $PATH changes.

Conclusion

  1. Use $HOME/.bash_profile file when you need to generate the PATH variable for a single user account.
  2. Use /etc/paths.d/ directory via the path_helper tool to generate the PATH variable for all user accounts on the system. This method only works on OS X Leopard and higher.
See also:
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{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Kip October 6, 2014, 10:03 pm

    thank you for this.

    to append multiple executables in one group, e.g ‘modemZapp2′:
    sudo -s ‘echo “/usr/local/sbin/modemZapp2″ >> /etc/paths.d/zmodemapp’

  • Evgheni December 8, 2014, 8:23 pm

    Thank you for your useful article! It helped me a lot!

  • fred February 14, 2015, 11:17 am

    I cannot get this to work. You write “Save and close the file”. How do I do this please?

  • fred February 14, 2015, 11:57 am

    I would like to be able to use gcc to compile a file.
    I see gcc-4.0 and gcc-4.2 in /Developer/usr/bin/
    echo “$PATH” gives me this:
    /usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/local/MacGPG2/bin:/usr/X11/bin
    If I need to set the path also to /Developer/usr/bin/ where my gcc is (I mean I guess I have to do that, not even sure) I am kind of lost. I append this:
    vi $HOME/.bash_profile
    Then I see in he Terminal many line breaks with ~ in front, the cursor is before all these breaks and at the bottom I read “”~/.bash_profile” [New File]” (in my firs attempts it was written “INSERT”).
    If I paste “export PATH=$PATH:/Developer/usr/bin” there, I don’t know how to go further. If I then paste “source $HOME/.bash_profile” after, I get a mess: I had to re-install xcode everytime I messed up with the Terminal which kept on scrolling and scrolling with error messages.

  • fred February 14, 2015, 11:59 am

    Actually as soon as I paste “export PATH=$PATH:/Developer/usr/bin”, he word “INSERT” comes up at the bottom replacing ”~/.bash_profile” [New File]”
    So I guess from now on I should save my new bash_profile, bu I do not know how.

  • fred February 14, 2015, 8:16 pm

    I got it to work. gcc never worked, but g++ did.
    Now the ./a.out command form the script I want to create is not working. Nerverending story. FIle not found no matter where my source file is.

  • Biniam March 2, 2015, 10:36 am

    Thank you!

  • Bhujosam June 30, 2015, 4:39 am

    When I did echo “$PATH”, I got
    /usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin

    In my .bash_profile file, I have put
    PATH=”/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/usr/local/bin:$PATH”
    export PATH

    But, when ever I execute a command, I need to give the full path in the command. For example,
    when I take update in SVN. The command should be “svn update” but in my case i need to give “/usr/local/bin/svn update”. It happens for me in every command.
    FYI: I am using OS X Yosemite, 10.10.3

    Is there anything I need to change in resolving this issue ? Thanks in advance.

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