Remove a path in the elegant way

On POSIX and Unix-like operating systems, the $PATH is specified as a list of directories separated by :. It’s easy to change the $PATH by hardcoding. However, sometimes it is needed to modify the $PATH programmatically and the most difficult part is removing a path from the $PATH elegantly. The definition of elegant here is using a single line command that is human readable, portable, short and fast. The common idea is using the $IFS, but the $IFS is ugly. Instead of that, I am going to use sed.

The Idea

I got this idea from jQuery’s .removeClass(). Thank you, jQuery.

Assuming we need to remove /usr/local/bin from the original $PATH shown as below.


First, prepend and append : to the $PATH.


Then, replace :/usr/local/bin: with :.


Now, remove the prepended and appended :.



The Code

PATH=`echo ":${PATH}:" | sed -e "s:\:/usr/local/bin\::\::g" -e "s/^://" -e "s/:$//"`

/usr/local/bin can be replaced with any path or variable containing path.

How it works

  1. The echo command prepends and appends : to the $PATH.
  2. The | pipes the output of echo to sed.
  3. The first sed command removes the path. In this command, : is used as a delimiter, because : is the only character reserved in the $PATH. As a result, the actual : in the patterns are escaped as \:. Although it has some impact on readability, the path to remove will never need to be escaped any more, which means you can use command like sed -e "s:\:${path_to_remove}\::\::g" without worrying about escaping.
  4. The second and the third sed command removes the prepended and appended :.

The bottom line

If you are using Homebrew, you may like to add this to your shell startup files.

test -x /usr/local/bin/brew && export PATH=/usr/local/bin:`echo ":${PATH}:" | sed -e "s:\:/usr/local/bin\::\::g" -e "s/^://" -e "s/:$//"`