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Where should a local executable be placed?


In general, if a non-system installed and maintained binary needs to be accessible system-wide to multiple users, it should be placed by an administrator into /usr/local/bin. There is a complete hierarchy under /usr/local that is generally used for locally compiled and installed software packages.

If you are the only user of a binary, installing into $HOME/bin is the appropriate location since you can install it yourself and you will be the only consumer. If you compile a software package from source, it’s also appropriate to create a partial or full local hierarchy in your $HOME directory. The full local hierarchy would look like this.

  • $HOME/bin Local binaries
  • $HOME/etc Host-specific system configuration for local binaries
  • $HOME/games Local game binaries
  • $HOME/include Local C header files
  • $HOME/lib Local libraries
  • $HOME/lib64 Local 64-bit libraries
  • $HOME/man Local online manuals
  • $HOME/sbin Local system binaries
  • $HOME/share Local architecture-independent hierarchy
  • $HOME/src Local source code

When running configure, you should define your local hierarchy for installation by specifying $HOME as the prefix for the installation defaults.

./configure --prefix=$HOME

Now when make && make install are run, the compiled binaries, packages, man pages, and libraries will be installed into your $HOME local hierarchy. If you have not manually created a $HOME local hierarchy, make install will create the directories needed by the software package.

Once installed in $HOME/bin, you can either add $HOME/bin to your $PATH or call the binary using the absolute $PATH. Some distributions will include $HOME/bin into your $PATH by default. You can test this by either echo $PATH and seeing if $HOME/bin is there, or put the binary in $HOME/bin and executing which binaryname. If it comes back with $HOME/bin/binaryname, then it is in your $PATH by default.

As uther mentioned, /usr/local is intended as a prefix for, essentially, software installed by the system administrator, while /usr should be used for software installed from the distribution’s packages.

The idea behind this is to avoid clashes with distributed software (such as rpm and deb packages) and give the admin full reign over the “local” prefix.

This means that an admin can install custom compiled software while still using a distro like debian.

From the FHS

Software placed in / or /usr may be overwritten by system upgrades (though we recommend that distributions do not overwrite data in /etc under these circumstances). For this reason, local software must not be placed outside of /usr/local without good reason.

When installing user-specific software, uther suggests using $HOME as the prefix since this ensures you have write permissions. Personally, I feel using $HOME/.local to be a more elegant solution, since it avoides cluttering your (hopefully) nice and tidy home directory!

$HOME/.local/share is already used in the freedesktop.org XDG Base Directory specification, so it doesn’t take much to envision adding a $HOME/.local/bin to your $PATH and making a $HOME/.local/lib, etc, while you’re at it.

If you don’t really want your prefix to be a hidden directory, you could easily create a symbolic link to it as well, e.g:

ln -s .local ~/local


It is worth noting that .config (not .local/etc) is the default value for $XDG_CONFIG_HOME used for user specific config files. I should also point out that, unfortunately, a large portion of software ignores the XDG and creates config files wherever they like (usually in the root of $HOME). Also note that $XDG_CONFIG_HOME may be unset if the default $HOME/.config is desired.

Oddly, there is no directory reserved for a distribution’s default config files, so there is no way to know if a file in /etc was supplied by the distro or edited by the system administrator.

The XDG Base Directory Specification Version 0.8 states local executables should be placed in ~/.local/bin:

User-specific executable files may be stored in $HOME/.local/bin. Distributions should ensure this directory shows up in the UNIX $PATH environment variable, at an appropriate place.

If your distro is following the specification you should therefore not have to “explicitly include the path.” This previous question tries to ascertain which distributions do this.

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