The right way to migrate your bash_profile to zsh

The right way to migrate your bash_profile to zsh

It's not only about zshrc

I’ve upgraded my Mac from macOS Mojave to macOS Catalina and the first thing I noticed is that zsh is the new default shell, leaving Bash behind. I decided to switch but I found a few inconveniences with the setup, mainly with porting over my existing bash_profile to zsh.

zsh startup files

bash_profile is bash specific, whereas zsh has its own set of startup files. I’ve seen people generally accept the suggestion of moving everything from .bash_profile to .zshrc. It definitely works, but it’s not the strict appropriate way to do it.

Enter .zshenv

zsh introduces 5 startup files, each one sourced depending on the type of shell invocation. The two most important are .zshrc and .zshenv which, according to the man page and some other resources , works like this:

  • .zshenv: Sourced on all invocations of the shell. It often contains exported variables that should be available to other programs. For example, $PATH.
  • .zshrc: Sourced in interactive shells only. It should contain commands to set up aliases, functions, options, key bindings, etc.

According to this, if you rely solely on .zshrc, your non-interactive shell scripts won’t work if they depend on the $PATH.

Your $PATH and any other important ENV variable should be set in .zshenv. The rest can go into .zshrc.

Splitting instead of migrating

To put it in layman’s terms:

  1. Copy your $PATH statements from ~/.bash_profile and copy them to ~/.zshenv (create the file if you don’t have it).
  2. Copy your alias, functions, key bindings and more from ~/.bash_profile to ~/.zshrc.
  3. Restart your terminal


Custom alias and functions

I keep my alias and functions in a separate file so that it doesn’t clutter zshrc. You can try to do the same:

  1. Copy your custom alias and functions from ~/.zshrc
  2. Paste these commands in a file called ~/.custom-alias
  3. Put this line at the end of your .zshrcsource ~/.custom-alias

VSCode migration

VSCode will not catch up zsh as the default shell automatically. Adjust this with the following steps:

  1. Open VSCode settings. Mac users can do CMD + Shift + P and type “settings”.
  2. Open the JSON view (top right button)
  3. Type this at the end of the file:

    "": "/bin/zsh"
  4. Restart VSCode.