All PATHs lead to…

I’d asked the question recently as to what happens if you add lots of items to your PATH variable in Bash, Z shell or your other favourite shell of choice. I didn’t find any straight answers, so I thought I’d experiment.

The reasoning behind the question comes from the way I have my shell configured. I’ve a number of script on Github which are duplicated in my own “dotfiles” type repository. I wanted to do away with this duplication, and I also wanted to avoid symlinking stuff into a main bin directory.

The ideal solution is to just have each of my GitHub repos checked out and added to my PATH environment variable, but I wondered if having a large number of paths would slow things down.

So, experiment time!


# Standard bash command to make a temporary directory.
MKTEMP_DIR_CMD='mktemp -d';

# Number of items to add to PATH

# Choose the correct commands for non-standard platforms
function get_platform_cmds() {

        # Mac
        if [ $(uname) == 'Darwin' ]; then
                MKTEMP_DIR_CMD="mktemp -d ${TMPDIR}tmp.XXXXXXXXXX"



# Create executable files in their own directories and those directories to PATH
for i in $(seq 1 $COUNT); do
        filename=$(echo $dir | sed 's|^.*/||g')
        echo "${dir}/${filename}"
        cat << EOF > ${dir}/${filename}
echo 'Test'
        chmod +x ${dir}/${filename}

echo ''

# Export the modified PATH variable for the subshell
export PATH

# Run a new subshell without sourcing configs, so we don't override PATH
/bin/bash --noprofile --norc

exit $?

This script just creates 1000 temporary directories, with a uniquely named executable file in each of them. It then adds them to the PATH variable and exports it for a subshell.

So, with 1000 extra directories in my path, were things any slower? Not that I could tell, and in practice I’d be surprised if I went above adding 20 new directories.

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