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  Esa Turtiainen
  v0.4, 15 November 1997

  Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

  2. Copyright

  3. General

  4. Init

  5. Login

  6. Shells

     6.1 bash
     6.2 tcsh

  7. Changing user ID

     7.1 su
     7.2 sudo

  8. Network servers

     8.1 inetd
     8.2 rsh
     8.3 rlogin
     8.4 telnet
     8.5 ssh

  9. XFree86

     9.1 XDM
     9.2 xterm -ls
     9.3 Window manager menus and buttons

  10. Delayed commands cron and at

     10.1 cron
     10.2 at

  11. Some examples

     11.1 magicfilter
     11.2 Printing from X applications

  12. Security concerns

  13. How to debug problems?

  14. Some strategies to get the same path for all the users

  15. Acknowledgements


  1.  Introduction

  This document describes common tricks and problems with Unix / Linux
  environment variables, especially with PATH variable. PATH is a list
  of directories where commands are looked for. The details apply for
  Debian Linux 1.3 distribution.

  Note! This document is in beta release status.  Please send comments
  and corrections.

  2.  Copyright

  This documentation is free documentation; you can redistribute it
  and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as
  published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the
  License, or (at your option) any later version.

  This documentation is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
  but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
  General Public License for more details.

  You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
  along with this documentation; if not, write to the Free Software
  Foundation, Inc., 675 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.

  3.  General

  All the Unix processes contain an "environment".  This is a list of
  variables that contain name and value, both just strings that can
  contain most characters.  All Unix processes have a parent process -
  the process that created this process as child.  Child processes
  inherit environment from parent process.  They can make some
  modifications to the environment before passing it in turn to their
  child processes.

  One important environment variable is PATH, a list of directories
  separated by colons (':').  These directories are searched through to
  find commands.  If you try to invoke command 'foo', all the
  directories in PATH (in that order) are searched for an executable
  file 'foo' (one with x-bit on).  If a file is found, it is executed.

  In this howto, I use term 'command' to refer executable program that
  is meant to be called with short names, using the path mechanism.

  In Linux, even the low level operating system calls to start processes
  (the exec family of calls) searches through directories in the PATH
  variable: you can use the path mechanism anywhere where you try to
  execute a command.  If exec operating system call gets a file name
  that does not contain '/', it evaluates the PATH environment variable.
  Even if there is no variable PATH in the environment, at least
  directories /bin and /usr/bin are looked for suitable commands.

  In sh you use export command to set environment, in csh you use setenv
  command.  For example:




       setenv PATH /usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/bin/X11:/usr/games:.

  C-programs can use setenv() library call to change environment.  Perl
  has environment in an associative array %ENV, you can set PATH as

  env command is the basic way of asking the current environment
  variables.  It can be used to modify it as well.

  More information of the basic environment mechanism can be found from
  manual pages 'environ', 'execl', 'setenv', info file 'env' and
  documentation of shells.

  When Linux boots up, the first normal process that starts is the init
  process.  It is a special process because it does not have parent.
  However, it is the ancestor of all the other processes.  Init
  environment will remain as environment of all the processes if they do
  not touch it explicitly.  Most processes do touch.

  Init starts a group of processes.  File /etc/inittab tells what
  processes the system starts.  These processes work in the environment
  that is directly inherited from init - typically they are processes
  like 'getty', the program that writes 'login:' to console.  If you
  start PPP connections here, you must remember that you are working in
  the init environment.  The system initialization is often a script
  that is started here.  In Debian 1.3 initialization script
  /etc/init.d/rc and it calls other initialization scripts in turn.

  The system contains many running servers (daemons) that may or may not
  use the default environment.  Most servers are started from the
  initialization scripts and thus they have the init environment.

  When user logs in to the system, the environment is affected by the
  settings that are compiled into the programs, system wide
  initialization scripts and user initialization scripts.  This is
  pretty complicated and the current situation is not completely
  satisfactory.  It is totally different if user logs in from text
  console, XDM or from network.

  4.  Init

  Init is a parent process for all the other processes of the system.
  Other processes inherit environment of the init process and the path
  is the init path in the rare case that no other path is set.

  The 'init path' is fixed in the source of the init program and it is:


  Note that init path does not contain /usr/local/bin.

  All the programs that are started from /etc/inittab work in init
  environment, especially system initialization scripts in /etc/init.d
  (Debian 1.3).

  Everything that is started from system initialization scripts has init
  environment as default environment.  For example, syslogd, kerneld,
  pppd (when started from startup), gpm and most importantly lpd and
  inetd have init environment and they do not change it.

  A group of programs are started from startup scripts but the PATH
  environment variable is explicitly set in the startup script.
  Examples are: atd, sendmail, apache and squid.

  There are other programs that are started from boot scripts but they
  change the path completely.  One such example is cron.

  5.  Login

  In text console there is a getty program waiting for user login.  It
  writes 'login:' and other messages.  It is working in init
  environment.  When getty gets user to log in to the system, it invokes
  the 'login' program.  This program sets the user environment and
  invokes the shell.

  Login program sets path as defined in /usr/include/paths.h. This

  for common users (_PATH_DEFPATH):


  for root (_PATH_DEFPATH_ROOT):


  Common user's path does not contain any sbin directories. However, it
  contains the current directory, '.', which is considered dangerous for
  the root user. Not even /usr/local/bin is available for the root user.

  Login path is often overwritten by shell initialization.  However, it
  is possible to use other programs in /etc/passwd as user shells.  For
  example, I have used the following line to start PPP when I log in
  using special user name.  In this case, the pppd has exactly login

       etu-ppp:viYabVlxPwzDl:1000:1000:Esa Turtiainen, PPP:/:/usr/sbin/pppd

  6.  Shells

  Often user processes are children processes of the shell mentioned in
  /etc/passwd for this user. Initialization files of shells often modify

  In login, the name of the shell is preceded with '-', for example bash
  is called as '-bash'. This signals to the shell that it is a 'login'
  shell. In this case, the shell executes the 'login' initialization
  files. Otherwise some lighter initialization is performed.
  Additionally, the shell checks if it is interactive - are the commands
  coming from file or interactive tty. This modifies the shell
  initialization so that a non-interactive non-login shell is
  initialized very lightly - bash do not execute any initialization file
  in this case!

  6.1.  bash

  As a normal login shell, bash 'sources' system-wide file /etc/profile,
  where the system environment and path can be set for bash users.
  However, it is not run when the system interprets the shell as non-
  interactive. The most important case is in rsh, where remote command
  is executed in the neighboring machine. The /etc/profile is not run
  and the path is inherited from rsh daemon.

  bash receives command line arguments -login and -i that can be used to
  set the shell as a login shell or interactive shell respectively.

  The user can overwrite values set in /etc/profile by creating a file
  ~/.bash_profile, ~/.bash_login or ~/.profile. Note that just the first
  one of these is executed thus differing of the logic of csh
  initialization. ~/.bash_login is not executed specially for login
  shells and if .bash_profile exists, it is not executed at all!

  If bash is used with name sh instead of the name bash, it emulates
  original Bourne shell initialization: it sources just files
  /etc/profile and ~/.profile and just for login shells.

  6.2.  tcsh

  As a login shell tcsh executes the following files in this order:

  �  /etc/csh.cshrc

  �  /etc/csh.login

  �  ~/.tcshrc

  �  ~/.cshrc (if .tcshrc is not found)

  �  ~/.history

  �  ~/.login

  �  ~/.cshdirs

  tcsh can be compiled to execute login scripts before cshrc scripts.
  Non-interactive shells execute just the *cshrc scripts. *login scripts
  can be used to set the path just once in the login.

  7.  Changing user ID

  7.1.  su

  Command su sets a new user id to use. If no user id is given, root is

  Normally su invokes a subshell with a different user id.  With
  argument '-' (more recent synonyms -l or --login) su invokes shell
  like login shell.  However, it does not use login program to do this
  but uses a yet another built-in path for login 'simulation' (term used
  in the source code). It is:

  for normal users


  for root user


  su makes many quite subtle environment changes as well.

  7.2.  sudo

  There is a group of commands that make use of super user commands
  safer.  They allow better logging, user-based restrictions and usage
  of individual passwords.  Most widely used is sudo.

       $ sudo env

  executes command env as super user (if it is configured to allow it).

  sudo command has again a different approach to path handling.  It
  modifies the search path so that the current directory is always the
  last one.  However, it does not modify PATH environment variable.
  just couple of environment variables like SUDO_USER.

  8.  Network servers

  Most network servers should not invoke subprocesses of any kind.  For
  security reasons, their path should be minimal.

  An important exception is all the services that allow logging in to
  the system from network.  This section describes what is the
  environment in these cases.  If the command is executed in the remote
  machine with rsh it gets different path than if it is executed with
  ssh.  Similarly, logging in with rlogin, Telnet or ssh is different.

  8.1.  inetd

  Most network servers do not have process of their own waiting for
  requests all the time.  This work is delegated to an Internet super
  server called inetd.  Inetd listens for all the defined network ports
  and starts the appropriate server when there is an incoming request.
  This behaviour is defined in /etc/inetd.conf.

  inetd is started from system startup scripts.  It inherits just path
  of init process.  It does not modify it and all the servers started
  from inetd has init path.  An example of such a server is imapd, the
  server of IMAP post office protocol.

  Other examples of inetd processes are telnetd, rlogind, talkd, ftp,
  popd, many http servers and so on.

  Often usage of inetd is still complicated by using a separate tcpd
  program to start the real server.  It is a program that makes
  additional security checks before starting the real application.  It
  does not affect the path (not verified).

  8.2.  rsh

  rsh daemon sets the path from _PATH_DEFPATH (/usr/include/paths.h)
  that is the same path that login program uses for normal users. Root
  will get the same path than the normal user.

  Actually, rshd executes the command it gets with the command line:

       shell -c command-line

  and shell is not a login shell. It is desirable that all the shells
  mentioned in /etc/passwd support -c option to give on the command

  8.3.  rlogin

  Rlogin is invokes login to make the real login procedure. If you login
  with rlogin, you get the same path than in login. Most other ways to
  log in to a Linux computer do not use login. Note the difference with

  The login command actually used is

       login -p -h host-name user-name

  -p preserves the environment except the variables HOME, PATH, SHELL,
  TERM, MAIL and LOGNAME. -h tells the remote host name for logging.

  8.4.  telnet

  Telnet is similar than rlogin. It uses the login program and the
  command line to invoke it in a similar way.

  8.5.  ssh

  ssh has a path setting of it's own. It has a fixed path where it adds
  the directory where ssh is. Often this means that /usr/bin is in the
  path twice:


  The path does not contain /usr/X11/bin and shell invoked by ssh
  command is not a login shell. Thus

       ssh remotehost xterm

  never works and anything in /etc/profile or /etc/csh.cshrc can change
  this.  You must always use explicit path /usr/bin/X11/xterm.

  ssh searches environment variables of form VAR=VALUE from file
  /etc/environment. Unfortunately this causes some problems with

  9.  XFree86

  9.1.  XDM

  XDM is the most common way to log in to a graphical terminal. It a bit
  looks like login but it is internally totally different.

  In directory /etc/X11/xdm there are configuration files that are
  executed on different login phases. Xstartup (and Xstartup_0 specially
  for screen 0) contains commands to be run after the user has logged in
  (commands are run as user root).

  The path that is set for users is in /etc/X11/xdm/xdm-config. There
  are lines:

       DisplayManager*userPath: /usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/bin/X11:/usr/games
       DisplayManager*systemPath: /usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/usr/bin/X11

  That will be a default path for normal and root users respectively. It
  is very important that /usr/bin/X11 is available for X users. If X
  user logs in to another machine to start and X client application, he
  should get /usr/bin/X11 to his path even he don't seem to come
  directly from X terminal.

  After running Xstartup the XDM runs /etc/X11/Xsession that is run as
  the final user. Local configuration is meant to be done in
  /etc/environment that is sourced (included) from Xsession if available
  (Xsession is run with /bin/sh and thus /etc/environment must be a sh
  file). This clashes with ssh that supposes that /etc/environment is a
  file that contains just lines of form VAR=VALUE.

  9.2.  xterm -ls

  By default the path for all the commands invoked from X window manager
  menus is the path inherited from XDM. To use something different it
  must be set explicitly. To start a terminal emulator with a path that
  is "normal" some special option must be used. In xterm the option -ls
  (login shell) must be used to get a login shell with path specified in
  shell login initialization files.

  9.3.  Window manager menus and buttons

  Window manager inherits environment of XDM.  All the programs started
  by the window manager inherit the environment of the window manager.

  User shell environment does not affect the programs that are started
  from window manager buttons and menus.  For example, if program is
  started from 'xterm -ls', it has the default environment of login
  shell but if it is started from menu, it has just environment of the
  window manager.

  10.  Delayed commands cron and at

  10.1.  cron

  Cron is a command that executes commands periodically as specified in
  /etc/crontab and user-defined crontabs.  In Debian 1.3 there is a
  standard mechanism to execute commands in /etc/cron.daily,
  /etc/cron.weekly and /etc/cron.monthly.

  Cron is started from boot scripts but it seems to change it's PATH to
  a pretty strange one:


  THIS IS LIKELY A BUG IN CRON.  This is the init path where there is
  /usr/bin:/bin written over the beginning without terminating 0!  This
  bug does not exist in all the systems.

  In crontab there can be PATH definition.  In Debian 1.3 there is the
  following default line in the beginning of /etc/crontab:


  Because of this, the PATH of crond program is never used in user
  programs.  All the scripts in /etc/cron.* directories get this path by
  default.  This path is used even if a program is executed as non-root.

  10.2.  at

  at is a command that can be used to run a one-time program at specific

  atd is run using init path.  However, the user programs are always run
  in the user environment using sh command.  Therefore the usual shell
  overwrites apply.  Look the chapter on bash.

  11.  Some examples

  11.1.  magicfilter

  magicfilter is a common tool to manipulate files for printer.  It
  analyzes the type of the file to be printed and invokes a filter
  script to make appropriate pretty-printing.  These scripts are invoked
  from lpd that is started from /etc/init.d/lpd that is started from
  init. Thus, the path is that of init. That does not contain

  You might want to insert printing of PDF files to magicfilter.  It is
  possible to do this by using /usr/bin/X11/xpdf.  Now you must remember
  to insert full directory path to the file name because magicfilter
  would not find it otherwise.  Most programs used in magicfilter do not
  need full path, because they are on /bin or /usr/bin.

  11.2.  Printing from X applications

  You may use PRINTER environment variable to show what is the printer
  that you are using.  However, you may notice that in some cases in X
  applications it is sometimes lost.

  You must remember that if the X session is started from XDM, the
  window manager has never evaluated your shell login scripts.  All the
  X applications that you have started from xterm have your PRINTER
  variable.  However, if the same application is started from menu or
  window manager button, it does not contain your PRINTER variable.

  In some cases this can be inherited to an even lower layer: for
  example a Netscape helper application can have or have not your
  PRINTER definition.

  12.  Security concerns

  The path is sometimes a big security problem.  It is a very common way
  to hack into a system using some mistakes in path settings.  It is
  easy to make Trojan horse attacks if hacker gets root or other users
  to execute his versions of commands.

  A common mistake in the past (?) was to keep '.' in the root's path.
  Malicious hacker makes program 'ls' in his home directory.  If root

       # cd ~hacker
       # ls

  he executes ls command of hacker's.

  Indirectly, this same applies to all the programs that are executed as
  root.  Any of the important daemon processes should never execute
  anything that some other user can write into.  In some systems,
  /usr/local/bin is allowed to contain programs with less strict
  security screening - it is just removed from the path of the root
  user.  However, if it is known that some daemon executes 'foo' using
  path '/usr/local/bin/:...', it may be possible to cheat daemon to
  execute '/usr/local/bin/foo' instead of '/bin/foo'.  Likely anybody
  who can write to '/usr/local/bin' is able to break into the system.

  It is very important to consider in what order the directories are in
  the path.  If /usr/local/bin is before /bin, it is a security risk -
  if it is after, it is not possible to overwrite command /bin/foo with
  some localized modification in /usr/local/bin/foo.

  In Linux it should be remembered that the path evaluation is done in
  the operating system call level.  Everywhere where an executable file
  path is given you can give a short name that is searched at least from
  /bin and /usr/bin - likely from many other places as well.

  13.  How to debug problems?

  The basic command to read environment is /usr/bin/env.

  It is possible to use /proc directory to find out path of any program.
  First you must know the process number - use ps command to get that.
  For example, if xterm is process number 1088, you can find it's
  environment with command

       # more /proc/1088/environ

  This does not work with daemon processes like xdm. To access
  environment of system processes or other user processes, root access
  is required.

  To debug Netscape, you can create a script /tmp/test:

       $ cat > /tmp/test
       /usr/bin/env > /tmp/env
       $ chmod +x /tmp/test

  Then set some helper application, for example RealAudio, audio/x-pn-
  realaudio to call program "/tmp/test".  When you try to browse some
  RealAudio link (something from,
  Netscape calls the dummy program that stores environment to /tmp/env.

  14.  Some strategies to get the same path for all the users

  The most important settings is possible to set in the global shell
  initialization files for login shells: /etc/csh.login for tcsh and
  /etc/profile for bash.

  Exceptions that do not get the right path from these files are rsh
  commands, ssh commands, menu items from X window manager that do not
  explicitly start login shell, commands invoked from inittab, cron
  jobs, daemons jobs like magic filters started from lprd, WWW CGI
  scripts, and so on.

  If the path is set in /etc/csh.cshrc, the path is right even when rsh
  or ssh execute command in remote machine with account using tcsh/csh.
  However, it is not possible to set path if account uses bash/sh.

  It is possible to combine path setting to one file, for example to a
  file /etc/environment-common. There we write:


  This can be used from /etc/csh.login (for tcsh and csh)

       set EQ=" " set EXPORT="setenv " source /etc/environment-common

  And from /etc/profile (for bash, doesn't work for ordinary sh)

       EQ='=' EXPORT="export " . /etc/environment-common

  And from /etc/environment (for XDM)

       EQ="=" EXPORT="export " . /etc/environment-common

  This strategy works mostly but ssh will complain of the lines in
  /etc/environment (and defined environment variables EQ and EXPORT).
  And still, rsh commands executed with bash won't get this path.

  15.  Acknowledgements

  One reason to start writing this document was the big frustration of
  Ari Mujunen.  Juha Takala gave some valuable comments.

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