What does etc stand for?

What does the “etc” folder in the root directory stand for? I think knowing this will help me remember where certain files are located.

Update: Might be useful for others, the folder is used for “Host specific configuration files” – reference.

Asked By: David Tang


I thought it just meant “et cetera” as in “etc…” on a list.

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Answered By: sova

I always assumed it was to suggest a miscellaneous directory, like “etc = all the rest we do not bother to categorize further”; I personally use such a folder too on my home directory as well (not called etc but “oars” = “(something) else”).

Answered By: Henno Brandsma

Define – /etc? has some good history.

You can find references to “et cetera” in old Bell Labs UNIX manuals and so on – nowadays it’s used only for system configuration, but it used to be where all the stuff that didn’t fit into other directories went.

Answered By: ephemient

It means "et cetera". In Latin literally "and the rest". And I have proof.

Edit: The original link above, dated March 3, 2007 has been archived. In it Peter H. Salus quotes an email he "just received" from Dennis Richie, co-creator of Unix, making very clear what "etc" initially stood for:

I assure you that the original contents of /etc
were the "et cetera" that didn’t seem to fit elsewhere.
Other variants might do their own etymologies differently.


Answered By: bahamat

At the beginning of UNIX it was both necessary and practical to give short names to stuff. So, all system directories were kept to 3 letters and they are abbreviations. These names are still present on modern Linux systems. (ie. usr-user, var-variable, lib-library). etc comes from ‘et cetera’ but I’ve seen on several sites that a backronym is mentioned which would represent etc‘s present function: “editable text configuration”, but again, this is just a modern adaptation to better represent what’s in there.

Answered By: Patkos Csaba

Wikipedia’s Filesystem Hierarchy Standard Article offers an explanation on this.

Host-specific system-wide configuration files There has been
controversy over the meaning of the name itself. In early versions of
the UNIX Implementation Document from Bell labs, /etc is referred to
as the etcetera directory, as this directory historically held
everything that did not belong elsewhere
(however, the FHS restricts
/etc to static configuration files and may not contain binaries).
Since the publication of early documentation, the directory name has
been re-designated in various ways. Recent interpretations include
backronyms such as “Editable Text Configuration” or “Extended Tool

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki//etc#Directory_structure

Answered By: jordanm

Originally, there was /bin for programs (essentially, executable binaries), and very soon /dev for device files and /lib for extra executable code loaded by programs (libraries). /usr also came in very early, first for user data, then as an extra OS area with its own bin and lib and then man containing the manual in electronic form. The source code was also often provided somewhere under /usr.

And there were a few files in the operating system that didn’t fit in any of the existing categories. This included a passwd file containing users’ passwords, and an mtab file written by mount, and the init and later rc programs executed at boot time, and over time more and more programs that were intended to be executed only for administration purpose and not as part of normal usage.

(You can browse some old Unix source code on the Unix Tree. Versions earlier than V6 are very fragmentary. You can also see V1 and V6 manuals at the Manual Page Library.)

At first, there was no connotation that files in /etc were configuration files. In these very early days, if you wanted to customize something, you’d be recompiling that part of the system. As Unix got more powerful, there were more and more things you could do without recompiling. As Unix got used more widely, there were more and more things people wanted to do, and they found ways of doing them without going through the trouble of recompiling. So /etc filled up with more and more text files that people could and did customize, hence it gradually became the configuration directory.

With the creation of /sbin to contain programs intended only for the system administrator, /etc ended up containing only text files, many of which can be customized by the system administrator. A few files (e.g. /etc/mtab, sometimes /etc/resolv.conf) are automatically maintained by system programs; there is a slow trend to move these files to /run in the Linux world.

On modern unix systems, almost all system-wide configuration files are under /etc, but not all files in /etc are configuration files. Typical Linux distributions and other unix variants don’t cope very well with modifying many of the files that come from packages; at a minimum, you may end up having to merge local modifications manually when the system is upgraded.

I study electronics and I have a course about the RaspberryPi. Our notes say that /etc stands for “Editable Text Configuration”. I always assumed that “the et cetera directory” was nothing more than a nickname. It kind off makes more sense than the other way around, but who am I…

Answered By: Vinzetron

It was originally meant to be “et cetera” but now it stands for “editable text configurations”.

Answered By: ishandutta2007
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