Linux – Location of ini/config files in linux/unix


Two questions, really:

  1. Is there a standard/convention regarding the placement on configuration files?

    For system or quasi-system programs they seem to usually be somewhere in /etc. It seems less clear for plain application programs or programs with insufficient privileges for /etc.

  2. In processing program options is there a standard hierarchy of what takes precedence? E.g. does a command line option override an initialization file and/or an environment variable? Vice versa? Or is this entirely up to the developer?

Best Solution

You should adhere your application to the XDG Base Directory Specification. Most answers here are either obsolete or wrong.

Your application should store and load data and configuration files to/from the directories pointed by the following environment variables:

  • $XDG_DATA_HOME (default: "$HOME/.local/share"): user-specific data files.
  • $XDG_CONFIG_HOME (default: "$HOME/.config"): user-specific configuration files.
  • $XDG_DATA_DIRS (default: "/usr/local/share/:/usr/share/"): precedence-ordered set of system data directories.
  • $XDG_CONFIG_DIRS (default: "/etc/xdg"): precedence-ordered set of system configuration directories.
  • $XDG_CACHE_HOME (default: "$HOME/.cache"): user-specific non-essential data files.

You should first determine if the file in question is:

  1. A configuration file ($XDG_CONFIG_HOME:$XDG_CONFIG_DIRS);
  2. A data file ($XDG_DATA_HOME:$XDG_DATA_DIRS); or
  3. A non-essential (cache) file ($XDG_CACHE_HOME).

It is recommended that your application put its files in a subdirectory of the above directories. Usually, something like $XDG_DATA_DIRS/<application>/filename or $XDG_DATA_DIRS/<vendor>/<application>/filename.

When loading, you first try to load the file from the user-specific directories ($XDG_*_HOME) and, if failed, from system directories ($XDG_*_DIRS). When saving, save to user-specific directories only (since the user probably won't have write access to system directories).

For other, more user-oriented directories, refer to the XDG User Directories Specification. It defines directories for the Desktop, downloads, documents, videos, etc.