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How To Make Changes to Your PATH Environment Variable in Ubuntu

Ubuntu 10

The PATH environment variable is a critical component of the Ubuntu operating system. It tells the shell which directories to search for executable files in response to commands typed by a user. This article will guide you through the process of making changes to your PATH environment variable in Ubuntu.

Quick Answer

To make changes to your PATH environment variable in Ubuntu, you need to edit certain files such as ~/.bash_profile, ~/.bash_login, or ~/.profile. Open the desired file in a text editor, add the new directory to the existing PATH using the export command, save the file, and either log out and log back in or run the source command in the current Terminal window to apply the changes. Verify the changes by checking the PATH in a new Terminal window.

Understanding the PATH Environment Variable

Before we delve into the how-to, it’s essential to understand what the PATH environment variable is. The PATH is a list of directories that your shell will look in for executable files when you issue a command. It’s like a map for the system, telling it where to go to execute specific tasks.

Checking Your Current PATH

To check your current PATH, open a Terminal window and type the following command:

echo $PATH

This command will display a colon-separated list of directories in your current PATH.

Choosing the Right File to Edit

When you want to make changes to your PATH that are available in every Terminal session, you will need to modify certain files. Here are the files you should consider:

  • ~/.bash_profile: This file gets executed whenever you log in via the terminal. This is the file you should edit if it exists.
  • ~/.bash_login: If ~/.bash_profile does not exist, bash attempts to read this file.
  • ~/.profile: If neither of the above files exists, bash reads this file.

Making Changes to PATH

Once you’ve determined which file to edit, follow these steps:

  1. Open the file in a text editor. For example, to open the file in nano, you would use the command:
nano ~/.profile
  1. Add the following line at the end of the file:
export PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/foo

Here, export is a command that makes the variable available to child processes of the current shell. PATH is the variable we’re exporting, and $PATH:/usr/local/foo is the new value we’re assigning to PATH. This command appends the directory /usr/local/foo to the existing PATH.

  1. Save the file and exit the text editor. In nano, you can do this by pressing Ctrl+X, then Y to confirm that you want to save the changes, and finally Enter to confirm the file name.
  2. To make the changes take effect, you can either:
    • Log out and log back in.
    • Close the Terminal window and open a new one.
    • Or run the command source ~/.profile in the current Terminal window.

Verifying the Changes

To verify that the changes have been made, open a new Terminal window and run:

echo $PATH

You should see /usr/local/foo at the end of the colon-separated list.


Modifying the PATH environment variable in Ubuntu might seem daunting at first, but once you understand what you’re doing and why, it becomes a straightforward process. Remember, the PATH is an essential part of your system, so be careful when making changes. Always double-check your work to avoid potential issues.

Remember, the changes you make to the PATH variable are critical for the system’s operation. So, always double-check your work to avoid potential issues. If you have any questions or run into any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help from the Ubuntu community.

How can I add multiple directories to my PATH?

To add multiple directories to your PATH, you can separate them using a colon (:) character. For example, if you want to add /usr/local/foo and /usr/local/bar to your PATH, you would use the following line in your profile file: export PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/foo:/usr/local/bar.

Can I remove a directory from my PATH?

Yes, you can remove a directory from your PATH by modifying the profile file and removing the corresponding entry. Simply open the file in a text editor, locate the line that contains the directory you want to remove, and delete it. Save the file and either log out and log back in or run source ~/.profile to apply the changes.

How can I temporarily modify the PATH for a single Terminal session?

If you only want to modify the PATH for a single Terminal session, you can use the export command directly in the Terminal. For example, to add /usr/local/foo to your PATH for the current session, you can run export PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/foo. This change will only be valid until you close the Terminal window.

What should I do if I made a mistake while editing the profile file?

If you made a mistake while editing the profile file, you can always revert the changes by restoring a backup of the file or by manually correcting the mistake. It’s a good practice to create a backup of the file before making any modifications. If you’re unsure about how to correct the mistake, you can ask for help from the Ubuntu community or seek assistance from a knowledgeable friend or colleague.

Can I prepend a directory to my PATH instead of appending it?

Yes, you can prepend a directory to your PATH by modifying the profile file accordingly. Instead of using export PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/foo to append /usr/local/foo, you can use export PATH=/usr/local/foo:$PATH to prepend it. This way, the directory will be searched first when running commands. Remember to save the file and apply the changes for them to take effect.

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