Take the 2-minute tour ×
Server Fault is a question and answer site for professional system and network administrators. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'd like to append to the global PATH variable on OS X so that all user shells and GUI applications get the same PATH environment.

I know I can append to the path in shell startup scripts, but those settings are not inherited by GUI applications.

The only way I found so far is to redefine the PATH environment variable in /etc/launchd.conf:

setenv PATH /usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/my/path

I coulnd't figure out a way to actually append to PATH in launchd.conf.

I'm a bit worried about this method, but so far this is the only thing that works. Does anyone know of a better way?

share|improve this question
See: stackoverflow.com/questions/347286 –  rjmunro Aug 25 '09 at 14:10
add comment

8 Answers 8

palmer's GUI info is correct, but there is a more maintainable way to modify the path seen by the shell. Like mediaslave said you can edit /etc/paths, but even better you can drop a text file in /etc/paths.d/ that has a path in it and all shells will construct the path correctly.

For example, on my system:

$ cat /etc/paths
$ ls /etc/paths.d
X11       git      postgres
$ cat /etc/paths.d/postgres
$ echo $PATH
share|improve this answer
Great info, thanks, I'm going to use that from now on. –  Pickle Pumper Jan 12 '11 at 19:54
Nice, thanks! Note: this requires you to log out and log back in before it works. –  weronika Jan 4 '13 at 21:14
@weronika: I found it was sufficient to quit and re-launch X11 (less painful than logging completely out). I didn't try it in Terminal. –  Peter Gluck Feb 28 '13 at 22:18
I was referring to Terminal - you're right, I forgot to specify. –  weronika Mar 1 '13 at 1:42
This is good to know, but it does NOT answer the OP's question in that this mechanism does not apply to GUI apps. The OP was looking for a unified solution that allows him to append to the default $PATH. –  mklement May 31 '13 at 19:15
show 1 more comment


The launchd.conf is the only complete solution that will work for both command line and GUI applications on OS X 10.8, one that will work with GUI and console applications, for all users.

sudo touch /etc/launchd.conf
sudo nano /etc/launchd.conf


setenv PATH /usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/usr/local/bin

In the example above I added /usr/local/bin to the default environment values for PATH.

Keep in mind that this file is not a script and you do not have the option to use substitutions. Also, to have these applied you need to reboot.

Remember, all others are only partial solutions:

  • environment.plist does not work for applications launched via Spotlight.
  • /etc/paths - only for console
  • /etc/csh.cshrc or /etc/bashrc - only for some shells

This answer is based on the same question from http://stackoverflow.com/questions/135688/setting-environment-variables-in-os-x

share|improve this answer
Great finding, but the question already talks about launchd and is asking on how to append to the path in it. –  Cawas Jul 11 '11 at 0:16
Did you really add a comment to the original question pointing to yourself as "the real answer"? –  TJ Luoma Dec 9 '11 at 20:21
I don't known why don't have this file. I have just upgraded to Mountain Lion –  Cam Song Aug 4 '12 at 10:56
I'm also on Mountain Lion, and also don't have this file. :S What to do now? –  thSoft Nov 17 '12 at 22:11
It's implied by your - helpful - answer, but just to spell it out: the OP's desire to append to the default path is not supported, because you can't reference other environment variables in /etc/launchd.conf. –  mklement May 31 '13 at 19:27
show 2 more comments

You're going to have to set it on a shell by shell basis; bash and csh-like shells do not share the same configuration files and syntax for adjusting the PATH.

Trying to do this in launchctl will not work because environment variables are set on login; they do not exist system wide in Unix outside of a shell session.

So you're going to want to add

setenv PATH "$PATH:/add/my/extra/path"

to /etc/csh.cshrc and

export PATH="$PATH:/more/paths:/

to /etc/bashrc.

If you want environment variables in GUI apps, that's more complicated. You have to create a .MacOSX/environment.plist file in each user's home directory. The .MacOSX directory will likely not exist by default, so you'll have to create it.

The format of the file is like so:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">





More on the environment.plist is on Apple's site.

share|improve this answer
But the settings do take effect when set in /etc/launchd.conf... Hmmm... /me is confused. –  Xerxes Jun 1 '09 at 14:59
Really? What environment variable are you setting there? –  palmer Jun 1 '09 at 16:07
Just an update as of OS X 10.8: the ~/.MacOSX/environment.plist approach is no longer supported and there's no substitute at the user level. System-wide you can use /etc/launchd.conf (and there's a per-*.app solution). –  mklement May 31 '13 at 19:24
add comment

Have you had a look at the man page for the path_helper command-line utility on OS X? I answered a somewhat related question on SO that I think you may find helpful.

share|improve this answer
add comment

You can edit your global path by adding lines to /etc/paths.

One path per line.

sudo nano /etc/paths should get you there.

share|improve this answer
This is good to know, but it does not answer the OP's question in that this mechanism does not apply to GUI apps. –  mklement May 31 '13 at 19:20
add comment

Not sure if anyone covered the simplest and most elegant way.
At least on 10.6.
Messing with the [/etc/|~/.] of [profile|bashrc] files may work but it's somewhat of a hack.
The /etc/paths.d/ directory is the way to go.
Sudo into your favorite editor.
Create a new file named *name* (just don't name it something that's already in there) in /etc/paths.d/ with a path per line:


Then add

eval '/usr/libexec/path_helper -s`

to profile or bashrc and you should be good to go.

share|improve this answer
This is good to know, but it does not answer the OP's question in that this mechanism does not apply to GUI apps. –  mklement May 31 '13 at 19:19
add comment

I'm not sure if launchd accepts this, but try:

setenv PATH "$PATH:/my/path"
share|improve this answer
Unfortunately that doesn't work. It doesn't look like launchctl has access to environment variables that easy. There is a command to get environment variables, but there's absolutely no documentation on how to use it. –  lajos Jun 1 '09 at 3:18
add comment

I'm not sure why you'd use /etc/launchd.conf as opposed to /etc/profile - but I'm no expert in Mac OS X - I believe you in that I'm sure it works, but launchd is the Mac OS X implementation/replacement for init - Mac OS X confuses me.

Anyway, setenv PATH "$PATH:/more/paths:/and/more/paths" will work (tcsh), and the bourn shell equivalent is export PATH="$PATH:/more/paths:/and/more/paths" - I have no idea how launchd is related to a particular shell either.

I think I've asked more questions then I've answered =)

share|improve this answer
/etc/profile path settings are not seen by any of the OS X GUI apps. That only applies to bash. I want all applications to get the new path setting. –  lajos Jun 1 '09 at 4:36
Right - thanks for clearing that up for me :) –  Xerxes Jun 1 '09 at 5:34
Unix? Sure, it's unix. I mean, sorta. Yea, we broke stuff that's worked for 30 years, but it's still unix! /sigh –  Matt Simmons Jun 1 '09 at 12:48
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.