Let's say I'm administering an Ubuntu setup with multiple users for my organization.

We have a standard .bash_profile and .bashrc with aliases, prompt settings, PATH declarations, etc... that we want all users to use. When a server is spun up it will be initialized with chef, which will be used to install these dotfiles on the system.

What's the best way to go about doing this? I see a few options, but they all have their downsides -

  1. Install them under /etc (e.g. /etc/profile).Pros: Every user will read from this system-wide location. Cons: It overwrites any existing version of those flies that come pre-installed. We could always copy those into ours to begin with, but then we have to update and maintain them. May not be a problem depending on how often versions of Ubuntu end up changing the default dotfiles

  2. Install them under /etc, but with another names (e.g. /etc/bash_configs) and then append a line to the stock profile and bashrc files to source our new files. Pros: It will also work and our settings will be sources. Cons: Seems really hack, and relies on programmatically appending a line to the end of the stock files to source our additional custom files.

  3. Install them under /etc/skel so that every time a new user is created, those templates will get copied to their home directory. Pros: Each user will get their copy of the files correctly. Cons: What if we update the files, will they get updated in each individual directory? I'm guessing now. It would be better if there a way to symlink the files so all users point to the same files.

I might be over-complicating it, but it just feels like there has to be a cleaner way to do this that I'm missing. I'd be most interested in if there's a way to implement #3 with some sort of auto-update mechanism.


  • You can't have an auto update mechanism. That would delete any modifications the users might have made to their local versions.
    – terdon
    Jun 11, 2015 at 23:23

2 Answers 2


I think I would go for a mixture of 2 and 3. Place your modified files in /etc/bash_config or wherever. Then, modify the defaults in /etc/skel and have them source the files in /etc/bash_config.

This has some of the advantages of both 2 and 3:

  • New users will have the right files;
  • Any changes will immediately be propagated since the files are being sourced;
  • This allows users to still modify their own dotfiles as they please.
  • It does not involve editing the stock /etc/bash.bashrc or /etc/profile files. This means that upgrades won't break your system.

Note that upgrades modifying the /etc/skel files could cause issues since that would mean your modifications were removed. That shouldn't be a big deal though.

As for its being hacky, well OK, it is. A little. Not too bad though, all you need is to run something like this once:

echo ". /path/to/my_bashrc/" >> /etc/skel/.bashrc
echo ". /path/to/my_profile/" >> /etc/skel/.bashrc

Just place you modifications in /etc/profile.d/ with .sh extension (e.g. /etc/profile.d/MYCOMPANY.sh). They will be called by /etc/profile automatically.

This way you can always update and all users will get those updates.

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