I've been trying to come to terms with how to set environment variables needed by launched applications in Sierra, but I'm puzzled.

Following various bits of advice found online, I created a file ~/Library/LaunchAgents/environment.plist. It looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">
      launchctl setenv FOO foo
      launchctl setenv BAR bar
      <!-- ... -->
      launchctl setenv PATH /usr/local/opt/scala210/bin:/usr/local/bin:$PATH

From my experimenting, it appears that nothing less than a system reboot will make changes to this file take effect. I did find mentions of this command that will supposedly do the trick:

$ launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/environment.plist

...but when I run it I get this response:

[my home dir]/Library/LaunchAgents/environment.plist: service already loaded

In the documentation for launchctl I see mention of a -F flag that seems relevant:

Force the loading or unloading of the plist. Ignore the Disabled key.

However, it makes no difference if I include this switch; I get the same output and the file is ignored.

So anyway, rebooting does make the changes take effect (maybe logging out and back in also would? I didn't check), but with one exception: the PATH variable. That variable just stayed the same no matter how I changed it, and across reboots. Eventually I stumbled across a Stack Exchange answer that offhandedly warned that changing PATH in this way would be ignored until the Dock was restarted with the killall Dock command. So I did that, and rebooted, and finally I had my PATH set correctly.

So, anyway, I suppose my main question would be: Is there any more hassle-free way to update environment variables than the way I outline above? And a subsidiary question might be: Does the special handling of PATH make any sense at all?

  • Unload the launch agent:

    launchctl unload ~/Library/LaunchAgents/environment.plist
  • Modify the plist/env settings
  • Load the launch agent again:

    launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/environment.plist

You have to quit and relaunch Terminal to get the new value of the variable in the Terminal shell.

I recommend to use something like

<string>launchctl setenv FOO foo; launchctl setenv BAR bar; launchctl setenv SUP sup</string>
  • 1
    This doesn't work. I launched Terminal; typed echo $FOO; saw foo; and exited Terminal. Then I unloaded environment.plist with your launchctl unload ... command above, changed the command in that file to launchctl setenv FOO bar, saved the file, and loaded the file with your launchctl load ... command. Finally I launched Terminal again, typed echo $FOO, and still saw the output foo. ...Ah, if I kill and restart the dock with killall Dock, then launch Terminal again, I finally see the updated value of FOO. Bloody hell, what a pain. – Sean Jul 7 '17 at 18:18
  • @Sean Now tested in Sierra and it also works. No need to reboot, or kill an app (except Terminal which has to be relaunched). I'll try to add a work-around or a better solution... – klanomath Jul 7 '17 at 18:36

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