EnvPane - An OS X preference pane for environment variables
EnvPane is a preference pane for Mac OS X (10.8 or newer) that lets you set
environment variables for all applications, both GUI and terminal. Not only
does it restore support for
Background), it also publishes your changes to the environment
immediately, without the need to log out and back in. This works for changes
made by manually editing
~/.MacOSX/environment.plist as well via the
preference pane UI.
EnvPane was tested on OS X 10.09 “Mavericks”, OS X 10.11 “El Capitan” and macOS Sierra (10.12). It should also work on 10.10 “Yosemite”. Apple reimplemented launchd in 10.10 and in the course of doing so deprecated the APIs used by EnvPane and even broke some of them. EnvPane v0.6 adds support for the new but undocumented APIs, addressing the deprecation and broken APIs.
EnvPane does not work for setting the PATH environment variable. See the FAQ on that topic.
Mac OS X releases prior to Mountain Lion (10.8) included support for
~/.MacOSX/environment.plist, a file that contained session-global, per-user
environment variables. Starting with Mountain Lion, support of this
well-documented and popular mechanism was dropped without an official
announcement or explanation by Apple. It may have been in response to the Flashback trojan which used that file to inject itself into
every process, but this is a wild guess, especially considering that there is a
relatively easy workaround, as demonstrated by the existence of this utility.
EnvPane includes (and automatically installs) a
launchd agent that runs 1)
early after login and 2) whenever the
The agent reads
~/.MacOSX/environment.plist and exports the environment
variables from that file to the current user’s
launchd instance via the same
API that is used by
launchctl setenv and
TODO: Mention /etc/launchd.conf and ~/.launchd.conf
Mac OS X 10.8, Mountain Lion or higher.
- Download the binary package
- Choose Install for this user only
Do not use the Install for all users option. See the FAQ.
When you open the Environment Variables preference pane, you will see a
simple two-column table that lists the environment variables from your
~/.MacOSX/environment.plist. If that file doesn’t exist, the table will be
empty but the file will be created as soon as you you add an entry to the
table. To add an environment variable by clicking the
+ button. Specifying
the name the new variable, hit
TAB and specify the value. Hit Enter. To
modify a variable, double-click its name or value. Make the desired changes and
Enter. To delete an environment variable,
Changes are effective immediately in all subsequently launched applications. There is no need to reboot or log out and back in. Running applications will [not be affected] (#why-arent-running-applications-affected). You need to quit and relaunch the application, in order for your changes to take effect.
Open System Preferences
Right click Environment Variables
Select Remove Environment Variables Preference Pane
The uninstallation should be clean. I went to great lengths in ensuring that
removing the preference pane doesn’t leave orphaned files on the system. The
~/.MacOSX/environment.plist will not be removed.
Support for interpolation of other variables and shell command output
Support for macOS Sierra
Minor UI changes and a few bug fixes
Fix: Projects doesn’t build with XCode 7 on OS X El Capitan (10.11)
Fix: envlib_unsetenv() is invoked unnecessarily with empty string if environment is empty (issue #3)
v0.5 and v0.4
Ignore. They are releases made from a fork of this repository, not by the original author and inauspiciously using the EnvPane name.
Fix: Preference pane fails to load if ~/Library/LaunchAgents is missing (issue #2)
Fix: Preference pane fails to load if ~/.MacOSX or ~/.MacOSX/environment.plist are missing (issue #1).
Building from source
Mac OS X 10.8, Mountain Lion
Xcode 4.5.x (I use 4.5.2)
David Parsons' Discount C library by for processing John Gruber’s Markdown. Install the library as described on the project page. Using the default installation prefix of
/usr/localis recommended. The current version of EnvPane was statically linked against version 2.2.1 of that library. HomeBrew users can use
brew install discountto install it.
Clone the EnvPane repository on Github
Open the Xcode project
At the project level, adjust the
launchd_source_dircustom build setting to point to the copy of the launchd source tree
Build the project
Linker complaints about libmarkdown. e.g.
ld: warning: object file (/usr/local/lib/libmarkdown.a(markdown.o)) was built for newer OSX version (10.11) than being linked (10.9)
are to be expected when linking against a HomeBrew-ed installation of that library on 10.10 or newer.
-load_all linker flag is needed to prevent errors like
exception:-[__NSCFDictionary writeToFile:atomically:createParent:createAncestors:error:]: unrecognized selector sent to instance
Why can’t I install the preference pane for all users?
There are two reasons. The first one is a technicality: the environment
variables configured via the preference pane are actually set by a launchd
agent contained in the bundle. The agent uses launchd’s
in order to be notified when the user’s
Unfortunately, there is no way to specify a
WatchPath that is relative to the
user’s home directory. By installing the EnvPane preference pane for individual
users, each instance can use a separate copy of the agent configuration in
~/Library/LaunchAgents as opposed to globally in
second reason is that cleanly uninstalling the agent would be more complex for
a preference pane that was installed globally for all users. Apple is eagerly
deprecating privilege escalation mechanism left and right, leaving the
SMJobBless and the rudimentary
authopen. I’m not saying it
couldn’t be done, I’m just not convinced it’d be worth the effort.
Why aren’t running applications affected?
Say, you have a shell session running in the Terminal application. You might wonder why changes to the environment made with EnvPane don’t show up in the shell’s environment. The answer to this question lies in Unix' process model. When a process is forked, it inherits a copy of the environment from its parent process. The copy is independent, so changes in the parent aren’t visible in the child and vice versa. Doing anything else would undoubtedly fling open Pandora’s box of concurrency.
Applications launched via Finder are in fact forked by the per-user instance of
launchd, and thus inherit their environment from it. EnvPane uses
API to modify the environment of the user’s
launchd instance which will then
pass a copy of its modified environment to subsequently launched applications.
The environment of running applications has already been copied and will not
For applications other than Terminal the only workaround is to restart the application. In Terminal on OS X 10.09 and older, you can update the shell’s environment by running
eval `launchctl export`
This will update the shell’s environment, not Terminal’s. Terminal’s
environment is still unchanged and will be passed on to each new shell window
or tab. This means you will have to run the above command in each subsequently
opened Terminal tab or window. Ultimately it might be better to just restart
Terminal. Unfortunately, 10.10 removed the
Why can’t I set PATH with EnvPane?
That’s because OS X treats PATH differently to other environment variables, I
suspect for security reasons. The special treatment differs from version to
version of OS X but in a nutshell there are two issues: Firstly, launchd will
forcefully set PATH to a fixed value, overriding a value set using the standard
launchd APIs used by EnvPane. Secondly, a login shell launched in Terminal will
mangle the value by placing entries from
/etc/paths.d at the
beginning of the PATH variable. There are workarounds for both issues but
EnvPane doesn’t currently implement those, mainly because they involve root
privileges, something I’ve shyed away from so far. You will have to perform
them manually. The launchd override for PATH can be configured using
config user path or
launchctl config system path. See the
for details. I think the
user form of that command is broken on El Capitan,
so you’ll have to resort to
system there. Amusingly, there is no documented
way revert to the defaults. You’ll have to delete
/private/var/db/com.apple.xpc.launchd/config/user.plist and reboot. The
/etc/paths issue can be worked around by duplicating the additional entries
launchctl config … path in
man path_helper for
My personal opinion is that the hardcoding of PATH by launchd is misguided. PATH was meant to be a mere convenience for interactive shell use. If a security-sensitive system component needs to ensure that a particular binary is executed, it should specify that binary using an absolute PATH.
Another rant: the fact that
launchtl config user path has system-wide scope
and therefore needs sudo privileges is also amusing. If it’s called “user” then
it should be user-specific, not global.
Copyright 2012, 2016, 2017 Hannes Schmidt Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License"); you may not use this file except in compliance with the License. You may obtain a copy of the License at http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0 Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied. See the License for the specific language governing permissions and limitations under the License.
Green Leaf icon by Bruno Maia
Copyright 2008 IconTexto http://www.icontexto.com Released under CC License Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/
Launchd by Apple Computer, Inc.
Copyright (c) 2005 Apple Computer, Inc. All rights reserved.
Discount by David Loren Parsons
This product includes software developed by David Loren Parsons <http://www.pell.portland.or.us/~orc>