Linux Know-How provides a collection of introductory texts on often needed Linux skills.

System-wide configuration files


When invoked interactively with the --login option or when invoked as sh, Bash reads the /etc/profile instructions. These usually set the shell variables PATH, USER, MAIL, HOSTNAME and HISTSIZE.

On some systems, the umask value is configured in /etc/profile; on other systems this file holds pointers to other configuration files such as:

  • /etc/inputrc, the system-wide Readline initialization file where you can configure the command line bell-style.

  • the /etc/profile.d directory, which contains files configuring system-wide behavior of specific programs.

All settings that you want to apply to all your users' environments should be in this file. It might look like this:

# /etc/profile

# System wide environment and startup programs, for login setup


# No core files by default
ulimit -S -c 0 > /dev/null 2>&1

USER="`id -un`"


# Keyboard, bell, display style: the readline config file:
if [ -z "$INPUTRC" -a ! -f "$HOME/.inputrc" ]; then

PS1="\u@\h \W"


# Source initialization files for specific programs (ls, vim, less, ...)
for i in /etc/profile.d/*.sh ; do
    if [ -r "$i" ]; then
        . $i

# Settings for program initialization
source /etc/java.conf
export NPX_PLUGIN_PATH="$JRE_HOME/plugin/ns4plugin/:/usr/lib/netscape/plugins"


unset i

This configuration file sets some basic shell environment variables as well as some variables required by users running Java and/or Java applications in their web browser. See Section 3.2.

See Chapter 7 for more on the conditional if used in this file; Chapter 9 discusses loops such as the for construct.

The Bash source contains sample profile files for general or individual use. These and the one in the example above need changes in order for them to work in your environment!


On systems offering multiple types of shells, it might be better to put Bash-specific configurations in this file, since /etc/profile is also read by other shells, such as the Bourne shell. Errors generated by shells that don't understand the Bash syntax are prevented by splitting the configuration files for the different types of shells. In such cases, the user's ~/.bashrc might point to /etc/bashrc in order to include it in the shell initialization process upon login.

You might also find that /etc/profile on your system only holds shell environment and program startup settings, while /etc/bashrc contains system-wide definitions for shell functions and aliases. The /etc/bashrc file might be referred to in /etc/profile or in individual user shell initialization files.

The source contains sample bashrc files, or you might find a copy in /usr/share/doc/bash-2.05b/startup-files. This is part of the bashrc that comes with the Bash documentation:

alias ll='ls -l'
alias dir='ls -ba'
alias c='clear'
alias ls='ls --color'

alias mroe='more'
alias pdw='pwd'
alias sl='ls --color'

        local pid

        pid=$(ps -ax | grep $1 | grep -v grep | gawk '{ print $1 }')
        echo -n "killing $1 (process $pid)..."
        kill -9 $pid
        echo "slaughtered."

Apart from general aliases, it contains useful aliases which make commands work even if you misspell them. We will discuss aliases in Section 3.5.2. This file contains a function, pskill; functions will be studied in detail in Chapter 11.

Last Update: 2010-12-16