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How To Set a System-Wide PATH for All Users (Including Root/Sudo)

Ubuntu 20

In this tutorial, we will walk through the process of setting a system-wide PATH that applies to all users, including those with root or sudo privileges. This is especially useful in a multi-user environment or when you want to ensure that certain command line tools are available to all users regardless of their privileges.

Quick Answer

To set a system-wide PATH for all users, including root/sudo, you can edit the /etc/environment file and add the desired directories to the PATH variable. Save the file, apply the changes, and the updated PATH will be available to all users. However, it’s important to note that when using sudo -s, the environment variables may not be inherited, and the /etc/environment file is overridden by sudo by default. Workarounds include using sudo su instead of sudo -s or modifying the /etc/sudoers file.

What is the PATH variable?

The PATH is an environment variable on Unix-like operating systems, DOS, OS/2, and Microsoft Windows, specifying a set of directories where executable programs are located. In general, each executing process or user session has its own PATH setting.

Setting the PATH for All Users

To set the PATH so it applies to all users, including root/sudo, we need to edit the /etc/environment file. This file is a system-wide configuration file, used for setting up the environment of all processes.

Step 1: Open the /etc/environment file

Open the /etc/environment file using a text editor with root privileges. You can use any text editor you’re comfortable with. For this tutorial, we’ll use nano:

sudo nano /etc/environment

The sudo command allows you to run programs with the security privileges of another user (by default, as the superuser). nano is a simple, user-friendly text editor in Unix-like systems.

Step 2: Modify the PATH variable

In the opened file, add the desired directories to the PATH variable. Each directory should be separated by a colon (:). For example:

PATH="/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin"

This sets the PATH to include the /usr/local/sbin, /usr/local/bin, /usr/sbin, /usr/bin, /sbin, and /bin directories.

Step 3: Save and Exit

After adding the directories to the PATH, save the file and exit the text editor. If you’re using nano, you can do this by pressing Ctrl+X, then Y to confirm the save, and finally Enter to confirm the file name.

Step 4: Apply the Changes

To apply the changes, you can either reboot the system or use the source command to reload the environment variables in the current session:

source /etc/environment

The source command reads and executes commands from the file specified as its argument in the current shell environment.

Now, the updated PATH should be available to all users, including root/sudo.

Additional Considerations

It’s important to note that when using sudo -s, the environment variables may not be inherited. This is because sudo has a policy of resetting the environment and setting a secure path. The /etc/environment file is overridden by sudo by default.

As a workaround, you can use sudo su instead of sudo -s. This command will provide a shell with root privileges while preserving the correct PATH.

Alternatively, you can modify the /etc/sudoers file to include the desired directories in the secure path. However, directly editing this file is not recommended. Instead, you can use the sudo sed command to add the directory to the secure path:

sudo sed -i '/^Defaults secure_path/ s/$/:\/usr\/local\/bin/' /etc/sudoers

Remember to replace /usr/local/bin with the desired directory.

Conclusion

By following these steps, you can set the system-wide PATH variable to be inherited by all users, including root/sudo. This is a powerful way to ensure that all users on your system have access to the same set of command line tools, regardless of their individual privileges.

How do I check the current value of the PATH variable?

You can check the current value of the PATH variable by running the command echo $PATH in the terminal. This will display the directories that are currently included in the PATH.

Can I add a directory to the PATH variable without modifying the /etc/environment file?

Yes, you can add a directory to the PATH variable without modifying the /etc/environment file. You can do this by editing the .bashrc or .bash_profile file in your home directory and adding the desired directory to the PATH variable. Remember to use the format export PATH=$PATH:/path/to/directory to append the directory to the existing PATH.

How do I remove a directory from the PATH variable?

To remove a directory from the PATH variable, you can edit the /etc/environment file or the .bashrc/.bash_profile file in your home directory and remove the directory from the PATH variable. Alternatively, you can use the export PATH=$(echo $PATH | sed -e 's/:\/path\/to\/directory//') command to remove the directory from the PATH variable.

Can I set a different PATH variable for a specific user?

Yes, you can set a different PATH variable for a specific user by editing the .bashrc or .bash_profile file in that user’s home directory. Simply add the desired directories to the PATH variable in the user’s specific configuration file.

How do I know if the changes to the PATH variable have been applied?

After applying the changes to the PATH variable, you can open a new terminal session and run the command echo $PATH to check if the changes have been applied. The updated directories should be displayed in the output.

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