Bash – Setting environment variables on OS X


What is the proper way to modify environment variables like PATH in OS X?

I've looked on Google a little bit and found three different files to edit:

  • /etc/paths
  • ~/.profile
  • ~/.tcshrc

I don't even have some of these files, and I'm pretty sure that .tcshrc is wrong, since OS X uses bash now. Where are these variables, especially PATH, defined?

I'm running OS X v10.5 (Leopard).

Best Answer

Bruno is right on track. I've done extensive research and if you want to set variables that are available in all GUI applications, your only option is /etc/launchd.conf.

Please note that environment.plist does not work for applications launched via Spotlight. This is documented by Steve Sexton here.

  1. Open a terminal prompt

  2. Type sudo vi /etc/launchd.conf (note: this file might not yet exist)

  3. Put contents like the following into the file

    # Set environment variables here so they are available globally to all apps
    # (and Terminal), including those launched via Spotlight.
    # After editing this file run the following command from the terminal to update
    # environment variables globally without needing to reboot.
    # NOTE: You will still need to restart the relevant application (including
    # Terminal) to pick up the changes!
    # grep -E "^setenv" /etc/launchd.conf | xargs -t -L 1 launchctl
    # See
    # and
    # Note that you must hardcode the paths below, don't use environment variables.
    # You also need to surround multiple values in quotes, see MAVEN_OPTS example below.
    setenv JAVA_VERSION 1.6
    setenv JAVA_HOME /System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions/1.6/Home
    setenv GROOVY_HOME /Applications/Dev/groovy
    setenv GRAILS_HOME /Applications/Dev/grails
    setenv NEXUS_HOME /Applications/Dev/nexus/nexus-webapp
    setenv JRUBY_HOME /Applications/Dev/jruby
    setenv ANT_HOME /Applications/Dev/apache-ant
    setenv ANT_OPTS -Xmx512M
    setenv MAVEN_OPTS "-Xmx1024M -XX:MaxPermSize=512m"
    setenv M2_HOME /Applications/Dev/apache-maven
    setenv JMETER_HOME /Applications/Dev/jakarta-jmeter
  4. Save your changes in vi and reboot your Mac. Or use the grep/xargs command which is shown in the code comment above.

  5. Prove that your variables are working by opening a Terminal window and typing export and you should see your new variables. These will also be available in IntelliJ IDEA and other GUI applications you launch via Spotlight.