Why can’t I locate programs like Chrome or Safari or FireFox with the which command line tool?

pasocon:~ ThisUser$ which python
pasocon:~ ThisUser$ which firefox
pasocon:~ ThisUser$ which Safari
pasocon:~ ThisUser$ which chrome
pasocon:~ ThisUser$ 

This is what I get with the which command. It is not giving me the path for many applications. Am I making a mistake here or is this potentially an issue to be fixed?

Alternatively, I was just looking for the path of Safari (so that you can open Safari by directing to this path in a configuration file). I am sure this is basic knowledge but I've somehow failed to find it.


4 Answers 4


which searches for binaries in the $PATH, a.k.a. command-line tools. User applications are not such tools and not available in the command line.

While Safari.app is an application, the Safari binary is not usually added to the $PATH because it is not a command line tool — if you just run Safari in Terminal your shell will inform you that the command cannot be found.

To find the path to an application, you can use lsregister, which is a tool for adding and querying the Launch Services database, used by macOS in part to find applications.


You can -dump the database and filter with grep.

/System/L*/Fr*/CoreSe*/V*/A/F*/L*/V*/A/S*/lsregister -dump |
  grep -ie "path:.*safari"
    path:          /Applications/Safari.app

This will return every instance of Safari registered with Launch Services, which will include backups. If you just want to open Safari, you shouldn't be dealing with getting paths and handling it yourself; instead, get macOS to do that for you: open -a Safari.

  • 2
    As much as I love the wildcards, I worry that someday Apple will add another service with a similar path and break the commands. It would be good to expand the path fully; it also makes it clearer just what’s being executed.
    – nneonneo
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 21:27
  • 1
    @nneonneo I was under the impression that first point wasn’t an issue, since providing the full name of the tool at the end will ensure the correct tool is always found, for example try running /System/*/*/*/*/A/*/*/*/A/*/lsregister — the path given in the answer will be faster than the path in this comment since the answer provides enough to be unique, but both should work just as well! (‘A’ is preserved in this minimal path since ‘Current’ is symlinked to ‘A’.) I’ll see about grabbing the full path and adding it to the answer if you really think it improves clarity.
    – grg
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 22:06
  • 1
    I mean, I just don’t see how a bunch of wildcards is clear at all as to what’s being run. I would much rather see a long, deep path than a bunch of wildcards, and I think that would be a lot clearer.
    – nneonneo
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 22:46
  • One can run locate lsregister and then use the path to run the above command.
    – Surya
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 7:08

This is working as designed.

which is a command line executable that looks on your path (and other parts of shell environment) to find things you can start from the command line

Applications like Safari (anything bundled as an application which will be a directory ending in .app with certain files in specific sub directories) are not launched from the command line. They are launched from the desktop and not via any shell commands.

You can however launch applications from the command line using the command open. man open gives details. The example to launch Safari is open -a Safari

Note that if you are trying to open Safari when you login putting this command in your shell files will not work as the shell is not run until you launch Terminal.app.
The easiest way to launch Safari at login is to run the app from the desktop, right click on the app's icon in the dock and choose Options then Open at Login.
There is also a list of things that are launched at login for each user in System Preferences->Users & Groups and this can be edited there.


On macOS applications aren‘t part of the standard PATH and can‘t be started by calling them from the command line (well, yes, they can, but it‘s not so easy). But you can use

open foo.html


open -a Safari

to start Safari from bash.


Add following in your .bash_profile.

alias safari="/Applications/Safari.app/Contents/MacOS/Safari"  

You can now start safari in your Terminal. As mentioned before, .app are bundles and cannot start directly from Terminal.

To Edit your .bash_profile:

  1. Type in Terminal nano .bash_profile (make sure your are in your home-directory test it with the pwd command. Usually /Users/Username.

  2. add the alias Line above at the end of the document.

  3. type CTRL-O to save the file
  4. type CTRL-X to exit nano
  5. type source .bash_profile to update
  6. type safari to start Safari.

You can do this with most of the applications in the /Application-Folder.

  • 1
    This is a very special case - I would think open is the better command unless you have a very special need.
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 15:54

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