What is the correct location for PS1 shell variable?

I am following Cross-Compiled Linux From Scratch – Embedded.

In section 3.3 "Setting Up the Environment", PS1 is declared in .bash_profile.

When I log in as su - clfs, both .bash_profile and .bashrc get executed. When I log in as su clfs, only .bashrc gets executed.

In both cases, PS1 never updates the terminal.

When I put PS1 in .bashrc, it does update the terminal.

The CLFS book has put it in .bash_profile:

cat > ~/.bash_profile << "EOF"
exec env -i HOME=${HOME} TERM=${TERM} PS1='u:w$ ' /bin/bash

What is the suitable location for PS1?

Asked By: Israr


To quote from the bash man page:

When bash is invoked as an interactive login shell, or as a non-interactive shell with the --login option, it first reads and executes commands from the file /etc/profile, if that file exists. After reading that file, it looks for ~/.bash_profile, ~/.bash_login, and ~/.profile, in that order, and reads and executes commands from the first one that exists and is readable. The --noprofile option may be used when the shell is started to inhibit this behavior.

When a login shell exits, bash reads and executes commands from the file ~/.bash_logout, if it exists.

When an interactive shell that is not a login shell is started, bash reads and executes commands from /etc/bash.bashrc and ~/.bashrc, if these files exist. This may be inhibited by using the --norc option. The --rcfile file option will force bash to read and execute commands from file instead of /etc/bash.bashrc and ~/.bashrc.

So it very much depends on how you start the shell.

  • If you want to have your PS1 active in all login shells (e.g. via su - <user> or when logging in remote via ssh), put it in profile.
  • If you want to have your PS1 active in all non-login shells (e.g. simply opening another terminal in your desktop environment), put in in bashrc.
  • If you want to have it active in both cases, you will need to put it in both files, or (which some Linux flavours do at least in the case of the system-wide /etc/profile and /etc/bash.bashrc), source the .bashrc in the .profile.
Answered By: AdminBee

PS1 should be in .bashrc. You could also set it in .profile.

Debian sources .bashrc from there:

# if running bash
if [ -n "$BASH_VERSION" ]; then
    # include .bashrc if it exists
    if [ -f "$HOME/.bashrc" ]; then
    . "$HOME/.bashrc"
Answered By: markgraf

The PS1 shell variable should be set in ~/.bashrc for the bash shell as that is the initialisation file that is read for interactive shell sessions.

Note that this variable is a shell variable, not an environment variable (it does not make sense to let child processes inherit its value, and it’s only the current shell that uses it). It therefore does not need to be exported with export.


You shouldn’t need to start bash from any of the shell’s startup files. Starting a particular shell from ~/.profile (or the corresponding file related to your login shell) may possibly be warranted if the system that you’re running on does not allow you to change your login shell. Care should be taken to not start the other shell if that is the shell already executing the file though, or you may end up in an infinite loop of sorts.

The exec code that you add to your ~/.bash_profile should never be needed. I suppose it’s a way of getting ~/.bashrc to be parsed (it starts an interactive shell, and interactive bash shells read ~/.bashrc). A better way of doing that would be to have one of the files source the other, for example using this in ~/.bash_profile:

if [[ -f $HOME/.bashrc ]]; then
    source "$HOME/.bashrc"

Then set PS1 in ~/.bashrc (there should be no need to touch HOME or TERM).

The other thing that the command does is to clean out all other environment variables using env -i. Unless you have very specific reasons to do this, you should not do that from your ordinary shell startup files.

Answered By: Kusalananda
Categories: Answers Tags: , ,
Answers are sorted by their score. The answer accepted by the question owner as the best is marked with
at the top-right corner.