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I have read just about every article on this subject. To wit, I know about:

  • launchctl setenv
  • /etc/launchd.conf
  • /etc/paths
  • /etc/paths.d/*
  • /etc/profile
  • /etc/bashrc
  • ~/.profile
  • ~/.bashrc
  • ~/.MacOSX/environment.plist
  • ~/Library/Preferences/.MacOSX/environment.plist

Let's start whittling all this craziness down:

  • From other reading, I know that on Mavericks anything that relies on an environment.plist is no longer supported or read.
  • I know that /etc/profile erases any PATH previously set by launchctl setenv or present in /etc/launchd.conf, and uses a default set of paths appended with anything found in /etc/paths.d/* and /etc/paths.
  • I also know that applications launched via Spotlight or the Dock obviously don't read your ~/.profile or ~/.bashrc.

That leaves launchctl setenv and /etc/launchd.conf (same thing, really).

At any rate, in my case I find that in a Terminal window—I should stress I have none of the following files: ~/.profile, ~/.bashrc, ./bash_profile—I find that the output of env | grep PATH has /opt/subversion/bin appended to the end of it. This string does not show up in any of the sources listed above, so it must be coming from somewhere else. I was not aware of there being anywhere else for it to come from.

So then: how does Mac OS X Mavericks build its PATH variable?

  • Where did you get your installation of subversion? – Alistair McMillan Jul 30 '14 at 23:31
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    Found the root of my own personal problem: there was an emacs backup file in /etc/paths.d that had the old information in it that was not being shown by ls given the way I was invoking it. I'd still be interested in the full list, which I've never seen anywhere. – Laird Nelson Jul 30 '14 at 23:36
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You're trying to understand the theory and that's great. I'll just say that from practical experience, you can modify .bashrc, .profile and/or .bash_profile and the path setting will stick. I prefer ~/.profile simply out of habit. My teammates all use .bash_profile. Either way it works as long as you pay attention to the order of processing precedence.

Here are a few other thoughts on the matter:

Hope that helps.

  • Hi; thanks for your answer. The PATH setting in that case won't stick for my Emacs.app launched from the Dock or from Spotlight. Since I don't want to have duplicate PATH entries in both /etc/launchd.conf and ~/.profile, I was hoping for the full startup sequence to see if I could find the common denominator. – Laird Nelson Jul 31 '14 at 18:32
  • what if you modify .profile to include what you want, use Automator to call a shell script that simply says bash open -fa /Applications/Emacs.app (or whatever the path is) and see if that works. Or maybe there's a PATH option buried somewhere in the Emacs Preferences? – SaxDaddy Aug 5 '14 at 23:26

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