Home » How does /usr/bin/env know which program to use?

How does /usr/bin/env know which program to use?


The shebang line (from “sharp bang”, i.e. #!) is processed by the kernel. The kernel doesn’t want to know about environment variables such as PATH. So the name on the shebang line must be an absolute path to an executable. You can also specify an additional argument to pass to that executable before the script name (with system-dependent restrictions I won’t go into here). For example, for a Python script, you can specify


on the first line, and when you execute the script, the kernel will in fact execute /usr/bin/python /path/to/script. But that’s not convenient: you need to specify the full path of the command. What if you have python in /usr/bin on some machines and /usr/local/bin on others? Or you want to set your PATH to /home/joe/opt/python-2.5/bin so as to use a specific version of Python? Since the kernel won’t do the PATH lookup for you, the idea is to make the kernel run a command that in turns looks up the desired interpreter in the PATH:

#!/fixed/path/to/path-lookup-command python

That path-lookup-command must take the name of an executable as an argument and look it up in PATH and execute it: the kernel will run /fixed/path/to/path-lookup-command python /path/to/script. As it happens, the env command does just that. Its main purpose is to run a command with a different environment, but since it looks up the command name in $PATH, it’s perfect for our purpose here.

Although this is not officially guaranteed, historic Unix systems provided env in /usr/bin, and modern systems have kept that location precisely because of the widespread use of #!/usr/bin/env. So, in practice, the way to specify that a script must be executed by the user’s favorite Python interpreter is

#!/usr/bin/env python

The shebang expects a full path to the interpreter to use so the following syntax would be incorrect:


Setting a full path like this might work:


but would be non portable as python might be installed in /bin, /opt/python/bin, or wherever other location.

Using env

#!/usr/bin/env python

is a method allowing a portable way to specify to the OS a full path equivalent to the one where python is first located in the PATH.

Right, so run:

env | grep PATH

Your $PATH is a list of directories. Unix will go through that list of directories, in order, until it finds “python”.

You can see which directory it finds with the ‘which’ command:

which python

Related Solutions

Joining bash arguments into single string with spaces

[*] I believe that this does what you want. It will put all the arguments in one string, separated by spaces, with single quotes around all: str="'$*'" $* produces all the scripts arguments separated by the first character of $IFS which, by default, is a space....

AddTransient, AddScoped and AddSingleton Services Differences

TL;DR Transient objects are always different; a new instance is provided to every controller and every service. Scoped objects are the same within a request, but different across different requests. Singleton objects are the same for every object and every...

How to download package not install it with apt-get command?

Use --download-only: sudo apt-get install --download-only pppoe This will download pppoe and any dependencies you need, and place them in /var/cache/apt/archives. That way a subsequent apt-get install pppoe will be able to complete without any extra downloads....

What defines the maximum size for a command single argument?

Answers Definitely not a bug. The parameter which defines the maximum size for one argument is MAX_ARG_STRLEN. There is no documentation for this parameter other than the comments in binfmts.h: /* * These are the maximum length and maximum number of strings...

Bulk rename, change prefix

I'd say the simplest it to just use the rename command which is common on many Linux distributions. There are two common versions of this command so check its man page to find which one you have: ## rename from Perl (common in Debian systems -- Ubuntu, Mint,...

Output from ls has newlines but displays on a single line. Why?

When you pipe the output, ls acts differently. This fact is hidden away in the info documentation: If standard output is a terminal, the output is in columns (sorted vertically) and control characters are output as question marks; otherwise, the output is...

mv: Move file only if destination does not exist

mv -vn file1 file2. This command will do what you want. You can skip -v if you want. -v makes it verbose - mv will tell you that it moved file if it moves it(useful, since there is possibility that file will not be moved) -n moves only if file2 does not exist....

Is it possible to store and query JSON in SQLite?

SQLite 3.9 introduced a new extension (JSON1) that allows you to easily work with JSON data . Also, it introduced support for indexes on expressions, which (in my understanding) should allow you to define indexes on your JSON data as well. PostgreSQL has some...

Combining tail && journalctl

You could use: journalctl -u service-name -f -f, --follow Show only the most recent journal entries, and continuously print new entries as they are appended to the journal. Here I've added "service-name" to distinguish this answer from others; you substitute...

how can shellshock be exploited over SSH?

One example where this can be exploited is on servers with an authorized_keys forced command. When adding an entry to ~/.ssh/authorized_keys, you can prefix the line with command="foo" to force foo to be run any time that ssh public key is used. With this...

Why doesn’t the tilde (~) expand inside double quotes?

The reason, because inside double quotes, tilde ~ has no special meaning, it's treated as literal. POSIX defines Double-Quotes as: Enclosing characters in double-quotes ( "" ) shall preserve the literal value of all characters within the double-quotes, with the...

What is GNU Info for?

GNU Info was designed to offer documentation that was comprehensive, hyperlinked, and possible to output to multiple formats. Man pages were available, and they were great at providing printed output. However, they were designed such that each man page had a...

Set systemd service to execute after fstab mount

a CIFS network location is mounted via /etc/fstab to /mnt/ on boot-up. No, it is not. Get this right, and the rest falls into place naturally. The mount is handled by a (generated) systemd mount unit that will be named something like mnt-wibble.mount. You can...

Merge two video clips into one, placing them next to each other

To be honest, using the accepted answer resulted in a lot of dropped frames for me. However, using the hstack filter_complex produced perfectly fluid output: ffmpeg -i left.mp4 -i right.mp4 -filter_complex hstack output.mp4 ffmpeg -i input1.mp4 -i input2.mp4...

How portable are /dev/stdin, /dev/stdout and /dev/stderr?

It's been available on Linux back into its prehistory. It is not POSIX, although many actual shells (including AT&T ksh and bash) will simulate it if it's not present in the OS; note that this simulation only works at the shell level (i.e. redirection or...

How can I increase the number of inodes in an ext4 filesystem?

It seems that you have a lot more files than normal expectation. I don't know whether there is a solution to change the inode table size dynamically. I'm afraid that you need to back-up your data, and create new filesystem, and restore your data. To create new...

Why doesn’t cp have a progress bar like wget?

The tradition in unix tools is to display messages only if something goes wrong. I think this is both for design and practical reasons. The design is intended to make it obvious when something goes wrong: you get an error message, and it's not drowned in...