I want to add a directory to search my search path. I know I have to modify the PATH environment variable. However, I want the change to be permanent, so that it is always in effect, for every Terminal (bash) window I open.

There is an overload of confusing and possibly conflicting information in https://help.ubuntu.com/community/EnvironmentVariables

I am using Ubuntu 10.04. Suppose I want to add /usr/local/foo to my PATH. Which file (.bashrc, .profile, .bash_login, etc...) should I modify and what should the new line(s) look like?

10 Answers 10


The following command adds a path to your current path:

export PATH=$PATH:/my/custom/path

If you want your setup to execute this command every time, there are a number of places where you can put it. When you login, the following scripts will be executed in this order:

/etc/profile      (which starts by loading everything in /etc/profile.d)
~/.profile        (which starts by loading ~/.bashrc if you are running bash)


  • ~/.profile is only loaded if ~/.bash_profile and ~/.bash_login DO NOT EXIST. Otherwise, at least bash, will load them instead. It is advisable to use .profile and not the bash specific scripts. So, if in these attempts you created .bash_login, please delete it now.

  • ~/.bashrc is only loaded if you are running an interactive session. (something with a prompt where you can actually type something).

  • ~/.bashrc is loaded again and again, every time you open up a new terminal. So a new tab in gnome-terminal, a new virtual terminal, etc. So even if you don't login again, .bashrc is loaded (and thereby resets its environment) every time you open a new shell.

  • Things like byobu should really go into .profile, (otherwise it won't work ;-)

  • Things like paths should go into .profile if you want them to work outside of the interactive sessions. (say when you press Alt+F2 in GNOME)

  • 1
    I'll mark this as the answer if you update it to include the requested export line that should be added to .profile. Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 0:13
  • This used to be valid only for console logins (e.g. ssh, or the virtual terminals accessible for Ctrl+Alt+Fx). I didn't know that /etc/gdm/Xsession sources ~/.profile these days. Neat! Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 14:31
  • 1
    to make this answer more comprehensive please add MattH's comment about sourcing ~/.profile to activate changes without a logoff/on cycle. Commented Nov 17, 2010 at 21:36
  • 2
    @JoshuaFlanagan: export is not necessary for PATH. PATH is already an environment variable (as opposed to a shell variable)
    – MestreLion
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 8:26
  • 1
    @schwiz: ~/.profile is not executed on each terminal, it is executed before, when your desktop session starts. The one executed on every terminal is ~/.bashrc
    – MestreLion
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 8:28

I got it to work by modifying ~/.profile

It looks like adding ~/bin to my path was a bad example, as there is already code in ~/.profile to do that automatically, if the directory exists.

To add the usr/local/foo directory to my path for every session going forward, I add/edit the following line at the end of my .profile:

export PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/foo

However, to make this take effect, I needed to log out and log back in (simply closing the Terminal window and opening a new one did NOT work).

  • 4
    Make that export PATH="$PATH:/usr/foo", in case you ever have spaces or other special characters in $PATH. Commented Sep 6, 2010 at 19:52
  • 3
    You can reload the current environment without logging out by typing ". ~/.profile"
    – hookenz
    Commented Sep 7, 2010 at 2:30
  • 1
    @MattH: no you can't. if you source ~/.profile in a given terminal, it will be effective for that terminal only
    – MestreLion
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 8:32
  • @MestreLion - you are right. I was mentioning it for convenience for the current terminal. Forgot to add that.
    – hookenz
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 1:18
  • What if I already have something in PATH? Could I append to it like PATHS work in Windows? For example I have PATH="$HOME/bin:$HOME/.local/bin:$PATH" already. Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 22:29

To reload .profile and take changes effects without logout/login, run:

source ~/.profile
  • 3
    this one should be a comment to previous answer Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 11:43
  • @Pavlo, or maybe editing that answer and adding it would be more appropriate. Thank You for the comment. And, Bruno, for the answer anyway - it was useful to me.
    – kcpr
    Commented Feb 15 at 21:38

You can add the path to /etc/environment, but be aware that no shell expansions will work; the variable will be set to literally the characters you enter.

  • Out of the two methods(adding export command in .profile and adding full path name to PATH in etc/environment), which should be preferred? Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 13:14

Before setting a PATH variable, you need to understand why you are setting the PATH variable. The Path variable is where the system tries to search when you issue some command in your terminal.

Example: whereis ls command shows ls is there inside /bin. The ls command only works if /bin is registered in the path variable.

echo $PATH gives the currently registered locations. If you want to add another custom location to your path variable there are several ways you can try.

  1. PATH="$PATH:/someLocation"
    New Path variable is only valid till your terminal closes. No other terminal will be affected. No subprocess can use the new variable.
  2. export PATH="$PATH:/someLocation"
    New Path variable is valid till your terminal close also all subprocesses will get the new Path variable. No other terminal will get a new variable.
  3. export PATH="$PATH:/someLocation"

Add this line into the .bashrc file present in your home folder. Which is called every time a new bash shell is created. This means you get a new Path variable exported every time a new terminal is opened. But this variable is created for only bash shells. You can use the old Path variable in other shells(ksh, sh, ssh ..).

  1. export PATH="$PATH:/someLocation"

Add this line into the .profile file present in your home folder. Which is called every time you log in. This means you get a new Path variable exported every time your session is created. Which is available everywhere.

If you can't find the .profile or .bashrc file in your home folder, try to create a new one. Sometimes these files won't be created by the system.

ps: Works in ubuntu. Open to any corrections.


You can modify the .bashrc file in your $HOME directory.

At the very end of this file, add the line:

export PATH="$HOME/directory_to_include_in_path/:$PATH"

You can also modify the .profile file, also in your $HOME directory, including the following line:


This worked for me.

  • 2
    I don't see what this adds to the other answers which explain more thoroughly.
    – Zanna
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 15:47
  • This is correct answer if you want change to affect terminal windows. Changing .profile has no effect in terminal windows. Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 12:36

If you have ohmyzsh goto your home directory via the terminal and type

nano .zshrc

At the end of the file enter

export PATH="$HOME/directory_to_include_in_path/:$PATH"

Finally restart your terminal. Worked for me. Hope this was helpful.


This is what worked for me

While setting JAVA_HOME variable

In the Terminal, run to create the variable

echo 'export JAVA_HOME=“/Library/Java/JavaVirtualMachines/jdk1.8.0_181.jdk/Contents/Home' | sudo tee -a ~/.profile

run to add the variable to the Path

echo 'export PATH="${JAVA_HOME}/bin:$PATH"' | sudo tee -a ~/.profile


source ~/.profile

To see if the variable is set correctly run

vi .profile

then :q to quit

To modify the .profile file (In case of a correction) run

sudo vi .profile

Press I to insert.

After modifications press Esc and :wq to save and quit.


First add a shell script to the /etc/profile.d directory.

echo 'export PATH=$PATH:/path/to/app' | sudo tee /etc/profile.d/custom-apps-path.sh > /dev/null

The app will then be available via direct invocation the next time you login to the shell.

To make the app instantly available in the current shell, run the following command:

source /etc/profile.d/custom-apps-path.sh

Going through the basics, I will suggest the following steps:

  1. It's recommended to set environment variables in /etc/environment
  2. Open the file as superuser in an editor as it's a read only file e.g. gedit:

    gksu gedit /etc/environment
  3. System will need password to open it in editable mode. Enter your superuser password and get file opened in a new gedit window.
  4. Add new line at the end of file with export PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/foo
  5. Save and close the window. It will get command back to terminal.
  6. Refresh the environment by running the following command:

    . /etc/environment
  7. You may check by executing the following command:

    echo $PATH
  • 1
    This is incorrect and will not work. Parameter expansion is not performed in /etc/environment
    – Zanna
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 15:16

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