I'd like to append to the global PATH environment 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 couldn'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. Is there a better way?


8 Answers 8


palmer's GUI information 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
  • 1
    Nice, thanks! Note: this requires you to log out and log back in before it works.
    – weronika
    Commented Jan 4, 2013 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. Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 22:18
  • I was referring to Terminal - you're right, I forgot to specify.
    – weronika
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 1:42
  • 10
    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
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 19:15
  • what do you mean by "my system" here, @cogg? Aren't we all using OS X here? Sorry but I'm still new to OS X. I'm using OS X 10.7
    – ericn
    Commented Jun 1, 2013 at 9:37


The launchd.conf file is **the only complete solution that will work for both command line and GUI applications on OS X v10.8 (Mountain Lion) and v10.9 (Mavericks), 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 Setting environment variables on Mac OS X.

  • 7
    Great finding, but the question already talks about launchd and is asking on how to append to the path in it.
    – cregox
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 0:16
  • 22
    Did you really add a comment to the original question pointing to yourself as "the real answer"?
    – TJ Luoma
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 20:21
  • 7
    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
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 19:27
  • It isn't global--the command line environment will discard this when /etc/profile calls path_helper and rebuilds PATH from /etc/paths and /etc/paths.d/
    – Dave X
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 20:54
  • 2
    according to apple.stackexchange.com/questions/106355/…, this no long works for Yosemite or later
    – ericn
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 6:32

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 applications, 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.

  • But the settings do take effect when set in /etc/launchd.conf... Hmmm... /me is confused.
    – khosrow
    Commented Jun 1, 2009 at 14:59
  • Really? What environment variable are you setting there?
    – palmer
    Commented Jun 1, 2009 at 16:07
  • 2
    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
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 19:24
  • Does not answer OP's questions. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 18:47

You can edit your global path by adding lines to /etc/paths, one path per line.

sudo nano /etc/paths should get you there.

  • 2
    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
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 19:20

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.


I am not sure if anyone covered the simplest and most elegant way. At least on Mac OS X v10.6 (Snow Leopard).

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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 19:19
  • Is the file name literally *name*? Or do you mean just name? Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 19:10

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

setenv PATH "$PATH:/my/path"
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jun 1, 2009 at 3:18

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 =)

  • 4
    /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
    Commented Jun 1, 2009 at 4:36
  • 1
    Unix? Sure, it's unix. I mean, sorta. Yea, we broke stuff that's worked for 30 years, but it's still unix! /sigh Commented Jun 1, 2009 at 12:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .