Choosing between .bashrc, .profile, .bash_profile, etc


This is embarrassing, but after many years of using POSIX systems full time, I still have a hard time figuring out if a shell customization should go in .bashrc, .profile, or somewhere else. Not to mention some of the OS-specific config files like .pam_environment.

Yes, I know how to puzzle through the documentation and learn when each file is or isn't loaded. What I'm wondering is if anyone has every put together comprehensive guidelines for how to decide which file to put a given type of customization in.

Best Answer


  • ~/.bash_profile should be super-simple and just load .profile and .bashrc (in that order)

  • ~/.profile has the stuff NOT specifically related to bash, such as environment variables (PATH and friends)

  • ~/.bashrc has anything you'd want at an interactive command line. Command prompt, EDITOR variable, bash aliases for my use

A few other notes:

  • Anything that should be available to graphical applications OR to sh (or bash invoked as sh) MUST be in ~/.profile

  • ~/.bashrc must not output anything

  • Anything that should be available only to login shells should go in ~/.profile

  • Ensure that ~/.bash_login does not exist.