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System Administration Guide: Basic Administration
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Customizing a User's Work Environment

Part of setting up a user's home directory is providing user initialization files for the user's login shell. A user initialization file is a shell script that sets up a work environment for a user after the user logs in to a system. Basically, you can perform any task in a user initialization file that you can do in a shell script. However, a user initialization file's primary job is to define the characteristics of a user's work environment, such as a user's search path, environment variables, and windowing environment. Each login shell has its own user initialization file or files, which are listed in the following table.

Table 4-14 User Initialization Files for Bourne, C, and Korn Shells


User Initialization File




Defines the user's environment at login



Defines the user's environment for all C shells and is invoked after login shell


Defines the user's environment at login



Defines the user's environment at login


Defines user's environment at login in the file and is specified by the Korn shell's ENV environment variable

The Solaris environment provides default user initialization files for each shell in the /etc/skel directory on each system, as shown in the following table.

Table 4-15 Default User Initialization Files


Default File




Bourne or Korn


You can use these files as a starting point and modify them to create a standard set of files that provide the work environment common to all users. Or, you can modify these files to provide the working environment for different types of users. Although you cannot create customized user initialization files with the Users tool, you can populate a user's home directory with user initialization files located in a specified “skeleton” directory. You can do this by creating a user template with the User Templates tool and specifying a skeleton directory from which to copy user initialization files.

For step-by-step instructions on how to create sets of user initialization files for different types of users, see How to Customize User Initialization Files.

When you use the Users tool to create a new user account and select the create home directory option, the following files are created, depending on which login shell is selected.

Table 4-16 Files Created by Users Tool When Adding a User


Files Created


The /etc/skel/local.cshrc and the /etc/skel/local.login files are copied into the user's home directory and are renamed .cshrc and .login, respectively.

Bourne and Korn

The /etc/skel/local.profile file is copied into the user's home directory and renamed .profile.

If you use the useradd command to add a new user account and specify the /etc/skel directory by using the -k and -m options, all three /etc/skel/local* files and the /etc/skel/.profile file are copied into the user's home directory. At this point, you need to rename them to whatever is appropriate for the user's login shell.

Using Site Initialization Files

The user initialization files can be customized by both the administrator and the user. This important feature can be accomplished with centrally located and globally distributed user initialization files, called site initialization files. Site initialization files enable you to continually introduce new functionality to the user's work environment, while enabling the user to customize the user's initialization file.

When you reference a site initialization file in a user initialization file, all updates to the site initialization file are automatically reflected when the user logs in to the system or when a user starts a new shell. Site initialization files are designed for you to distribute site-wide changes to users' work environments that you did not anticipate when you added the users.

You can customize a site initialization file the same way that you customize a user initialization file. These files typically reside on a server, or set of servers, and appear as the first statement in a user initialization file. Also, each site initialization file must be the same type of shell script as the user initialization file that references it.

To reference a site initialization file in a C-shell user initialization file, place a line similar to the following at the beginning of the user initialization file:

source /net/machine-name/export/site-files/site-init-file

To reference a site initialization file in a Bourne-shell or Korn-shell user initialization file, place a line similar to the following at the beginning of the user initialization file:

. /net/machine-name/export/site-files/site-init-file

Avoiding Local System References

You should not add specific references to the local system in the user initialization file. You want the instructions in a user initialization file to be valid regardless of which system the user logs into.

For example:

  • To make a user's home directory available anywhere on the network, always refer to the home directory with the variable $HOME. For example, use $HOME/bin instead of /export/home/username/bin. The $HOME variable works when the user logs in to another system and the home directories are automounted.

  • To access files on a local disk, use global path names, such as /net/system-name/directory-name. Any directory referenced by /net/system-name can be mounted automatically on any system on which the user logs in, assuming the system is running AutoFS.

Shell Features

The following table lists basic shell features that each shell provides, which can help you determine what you can and can't do when creating user initialization files for each shell.

Table 4-17 Basic Features of Bourne, C, and Korn Shells





Known as the standard shell in UNIX




Compatible syntax with Bourne shell




Job control




History list




Command-line editing








Single-character abbreviation for login directory




Protection from overwriting (noclobber)




Setting to ignore Control-D (ignoreeof)




Enhanced cd command




Initialization file separate from .profile




Logout file




Shell Environment

A shell maintains an environment that includes a set of variables defined by the login program, the system initialization file, and the user initialization files. In addition, some variables are defined by default.

A shell can have two types of variables:

  • Environment variables – Variables that are exported to all processes spawned by the shell. Their settings can be seen with the env command. A subset of environment variables, such as PATH, affects the behavior of the shell itself.

  • Shell (local) variables – Variables that affect only the current shell. In the C shell, a set of these shell variables have a special relationship to a corresponding set of environment variables. These shell variables are user, term, home, and path. The value of the environment variable counterpart is initially used to set the shell variable.

In the C shell, you use the lowercase names with the set command to set shell variables. You use uppercase names with the setenv command to set environment variables. If you set a shell variable, the shell sets the corresponding environment variable. Likewise, if you set an environment variable, the corresponding shell variable is also updated. For example, if you update the path shell variable with a new path, the shell also updates the PATH environment variable with the new path.

In the Bourne and Korn shells, you can use the uppercase variable name equal to some value to set both shell and environment variables. You also have to use the export command to activate the variables for any subsequently executed commands.

For all shells, you generally refer to shell and environment variables by their uppercase names.

In a user initialization file, you can customize a user's shell environment by changing the values of the predefined variables or by specifying additional variables. The following table shows how to set environment variables in a user initialization file.

Table 4-18 Setting Environment Variables in a User Initialization File

Shell Type

Line to Add to the User Initialization File

C shell

setenv VARIABLE value


setenv MAIL /var/mail/ripley

Bourne or Korn shell



MAIL=/var/mail/ripley;export MAIL

The following table describes environment variables and shell variables that you might want to customize in a user initialization file. For more information about variables that are used by the different shells, see the sh(1), ksh(1), or csh(1) man pages.

Table 4-19 Shell and Environment Variable Descriptions



CDPATH, or cdpath in the C shell

Sets a variable used by the cd command. If the target directory of the cd command is specified as a relative path name, the cd command first looks for the target directory in the current directory (“.”). If the target is not found, the path names listed in the CDPATH variable are searched consecutively until the target directory is found and the directory change is completed. If the target directory is not found, the current working directory is left unmodified. For example, the CDPATH variable is set to /home/jean, and two directories exist under /home/jean, bin, and rje. If you are in the /home/jean/bin directory and type cd rje, you change directories to /home/jean/rje, even though you do not specify a full path.


Sets the history for the C shell.

HOME, or home in the C shell

Sets the path to the user's home directory.


Sets the locale.


Defines the name of the user currently logged in. The default value of LOGNAME is set automatically by the login program to the user name specified in the passwd file. You should only need to refer to, not reset, this variable.


Sets the user's default printer.


Sets the path to the user's mailbox.


Sets the hierarchies of man pages that are available.

PATH, or path in the C shell

Specifies, in order, the directories that the shell searches to find the program to run when the user types a command. If the directory is not in the search path, users must type the complete path name of a command.

As part of the login process, the default PATH is automatically defined and set as specified in .profile (Bourne or Korn shell) or .cshrc (C shell).

The order of the search path is important. When identical commands exist in different locations, the first command found with that name is used. For example, suppose that PATH is defined in Bourne and Korn shell syntax as PATH=/bin:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin:$HOME/bin and a file named sample resides in both /usr/bin and /home/jean/bin. If the user types the command sample without specifying its full path name, the version found in /usr/bin is used.


Defines the shell prompt for the C shell.


Defines the shell prompt for the Bourne or Korn shell.

SHELL, or shell in the C shell

Sets the default shell used by make, vi, and other tools.


Specifies the path name for an unsupported terminal that has been added to the terminfo file. Use the TERMINFO variable in either the /etc/profile or /etc/.login file.

When the TERMINFO environment variable is set, the system first checks the TERMINFO path defined by the user. If the system does not find a definition for a terminal in the TERMINFO directory defined by the user, it searches the default directory, /usr/share/lib/terminfo, for a definition. If the system does not find a definition in either location, the terminal is identified as “dumb.”

TERM, or term in the C shell

Defines the terminal. This variable should be reset in either the /etc/profile or /etc/.login file. When the user invokes an editor, the system looks for a file with the same name that is defined in this environment variable. The system searches the directory referenced by TERMINFO to determine the terminal characteristics.


Sets the time zone. The time zone is used to display dates, for example, in the ls -l command. If TZ is not set in the user's environment, the system setting is used. Otherwise, Greenwich Mean Time is used.

The PATH Variable

When the user executes a command by using the full path, the shell uses that path to find the command. However, when users specify only a command name, the shell searches the directories for the command in the order specified by the PATH variable. If the command is found in one of the directories, the shell executes the command.

A default path is set by the system. However, most users modify it to add other command directories. Many user problems related to setting up the environment and accessing the correct version of a command or a tool can be traced to incorrectly defined paths.

Setting Path Guidelines

Here are some guidelines for setting up efficient PATH variables:

  • If security is not a concern, put the current working directory (.) first in the path. However, including the current working directory in the path poses a security risk that you might want to avoid, especially for superuser.

  • Keep the search path as short as possible. The shell searches each directory in the path. If a command is not found, long searches can slow down system performance.

  • The search path is read from left to right, so you should put directories for commonly used commands at the beginning of the path.

  • Make sure that directories are not duplicated in the path.

  • Avoid searching large directories, if possible. Put large directories at the end of the path.

  • Put local directories before NFS mounted directories to lessen the chance of “hanging” when the NFS server does not respond. This strategy also reduces unnecessary network traffic.

Setting a User's Default Path

This is an example of how to set a user's default path.

The following examples show how to set a user's default path to include the home directory and other NFS mounted directories. The current working directory is specified first in the path. In a C-shell user initialization file, you would add the following:

set path=(. /usr/bin $HOME/bin /net/glrr/files1/bin)

In a Bourne-shell or Korn-shell user initialization file, you would add the following:

export PATH

Locale Variables

The LANG and LC environment variables specify the locale-specific conversions and conventions for the shell. These conversions and conventions include time zones, collation orders, and formats of dates, time, currency, and numbers. In addition, you can use the stty command in a user initialization file to indicate whether the terminal session will support multibyte characters.

The LANG variable sets all possible conversions and conventions for the given locale. You can set various aspects of localization separately through these LC variables: LC_COLLATE, LC_CTYPE, LC_MESSAGES, LC_NUMERIC, LC_MONETARY, and LC_TIME.

The following table describes some of the values for the LANG and LC environment variables.

Table 4-20 Values for LANG and LC Variables






American English (UTF-8)








Japanese (EUC)


Korean (EUC)




Simplified Chinese (EUC)


Traditional Chinese (EUC)

For more information on supported locales, see the International Language Environments Guide.

Example 4-1 Setting the Locale Using the LANG Variables

The following examples show how to set the locale by using the LANG environment variables. In a C-shell user initialization file, you would add the following:

setenv LANG de_DE.ISO8859-1

In a Bourne-shell or Korn-shell user initialization file, you would add the following:

LANG=de_DE.ISO8859-1; export LANG

Default File Permissions (umask)

When you create a file or directory, the default file permissions assigned to the file or directory are controlled by the user mask. The user mask is set by the umask command in a user initialization file. You can display the current value of the user mask by typing umask and pressing Return.

The user mask contains the following octal values:

  • The first digit sets permissions for the user

  • The second digit sets permissions for group

  • The third digit sets permissions for other, also referred to as world

Note that if the first digit is zero, it is not displayed. For example, if the user mask is set to 022, 22 is displayed.

To determine the umask value you want to set, subtract the value of the permissions you want from 666 (for a file) or 777 (for a directory). The remainder is the value to use with the umask command. For example, suppose you want to change the default mode for files to 644 (rw-r--r--). The difference between 666 and 644 is 022, which is the value you would use as an argument to the umask command.

You can also determine the umask value you want to set by using the following table. This table shows the file and directory permissions that are created for each of the octal values of umask.

Table 4-21 Permissions for umask Values

umask Octal Value

File Permissions

Directory Permissions























--- (none)

--- (none)

The following line in a user initialization file sets the default file permissions to rw-rw-rw-.

umask 000

User and Site Initialization Files Examples

The following sections provide examples of user and site initialization files that you can use to start customizing your own initialization files. These examples use system names and paths that you need to change for your particular site.

Example 4-2 The .profile File
(Line 1) PATH=$PATH:$HOME/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/ccs/bin:. 
(Line 2) MAIL=/var/mail/$LOGNAME 
(Line 3) NNTPSERVER=server1 
(Line 4) MANPATH=/usr/share/man:/usr/local/man 
(Line 5) PRINTER=printer1 
(Line 6) umask 022 
  1. Defines the user's shell search path

  2. Defines the path to the user's mail file

  3. Defines the user's Usenet news server

  4. Defines the user's search path for man pages

  5. Defines the user's default printer

  6. Sets the user's default file creation permissions

  7. Sets the listed environment variables

Example 4-3 The .cshrc File
(Line 1) set path=($PATH $HOME/bin /usr/local/bin /usr/ccs/bin)
(Line 2) setenv MAIL /var/mail/$LOGNAME 
(Line 3) setenv NNTPSERVER server1 
(Line 4) setenv PRINTER printer1 
(Line 5) alias h history 
(Line 6) umask 022 
(Line 7) source /net/server2/site-init-files/site.login 
  1. Defines the user's shell search path.

  2. Defines the path to the user's mail file.

  3. Defines the user's Usenet news server.

  4. Defines the user's default printer.

  5. Creates an alias for the history command. The user needs to type only h to run the history command.

  6. Sets the user's default file creation permissions.

  7. Sources the site initialization file.

Example 4-4 Site Initialization File

The following shows an example site initialization file in which a user can choose a particular version of an application.

# @(#)site.login
echo "Application Environment Selection"
echo ""
echo "1. Application, Version 1"
echo "2. Application, Version 2"
echo "" 
echo -n "Type 1 or 2 and press Return to set your 
application environment: " 

set choice = $<    

if ( $choice !~ [1-2] ) then 
goto main 

switch ($choice) 

case "1": 
setenv APPHOME /opt/app-v.1 

case "2": 
setenv APPHOME /opt/app-v.2 

This site initialization file could be referenced in a user's .cshrc file (C shell users only) with the following line:

source /net/server2/site-init-files/site.login

In this line, the site initialization file is named site.login and is located on a server named server2. This line also assumes that the automounter is running on the user's system.

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