Understanding and Managing the $PATH Variable with Homebrew on macOS

When using Homebrew, or any package manager on macOS, understanding the $PATH variable is crucial. This environment variable, known as $PATH, controls the order in which the system searches for programs to run. This article will delve into the details of the $PATH variable, and how it interacts with Homebrew.

What is the $PATH Variable?

In macOS, the $PATH variable is a list of directories where the system looks for executable files in response to commands typed in the Terminal. The directories are separated by colons (:), and the system checks them in order from left to right.

For instance, when you type a command like git, the system will search the directories in your $PATH for a program named git. It will execute the first git program it finds, and won’t check the remaining directories.

How Homebrew Uses the $PATH Variable

When you install a package with Homebrew, the actual programs are stored in a directory within the Homebrew installation. For Homebrew, the default location on Apple Silicon (M1, M2, etc) is /opt/homebrew. The default location on an Intel Mac is /usr/local/Cellar.

Homebrew also creates symbolic links (shortcuts) to these programs in the /opt/homebrew/bin or /usr/local/bin directory. This is the directory that should be included in your $PATH.

By placing /opt/homebrew/bin and /usr/local/bin before other directories in your $PATH, you ensure that the system will find the Homebrew version of a program before it finds any other versions that may be installed elsewhere on your system.

Checking and Modifying Your $PATH

You can check the current value of your $PATH variable in the Terminal by typing:

echo $PATH

Checking Your $PATH for Apple Silicon

If /usr/local/bin is not at the start of the list, you’ll need to modify your $PATH. The process for this can vary depending on which shell you’re using. For the common Bash and Zsh shells, you can modify the $PATH by adding the following line to the .bash_profile or .zshrc file in your home directory:

export PATH="/usr/local/bin:$PATH"

This line prepends /usr/local/bin to the existing $PATH, ensuring the system will check this directory first.

After modifying your .bash_profile or .zshrc, you’ll need to restart your Terminal or source the profile file for the changes to take effect:

source ~/.bash_profile
# or
source ~/.zshrc


The $PATH variable is a fundamental part of how your macOS system interacts with Homebrew, controlling which versions of software the system uses. By understanding and properly managing your $PATH, you can take full advantage of the power and flexibility that Homebrew offers for managing software on your Mac.


Whilst building web applications, Daniel also sets up web servers from scratch because he has yet to find the perfect hosting solution. His philosophy is “Why settle, when you can build it better yourself?”

Recent Posts