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The Little Things Comments

I made a silly mistake installing rvm on my new Linux laptop. I should mention that I don’t really know Linux yet, so that makes me susceptible to making this kind of silly mistake. I accidentally installed rvm as a multi-user/system-wide tool, rather than in single-user mode. Since I like the use the narrowest scope possible, I wanted to fix this. Of course I also had the problem that rvm wouldn’t work without sudo and that seemed really weird to me. I figured that I should uninstall rvm completely and then start again. No problem, right?


I wanted to remove an accidental multi-user/system-wide installation of rvm on Ubuntu 18.04. I removed all the files in my home directory as well as all the system directories. I removed the initialization commands from my login scripts. I still had some left over in my shell, even though I couldn’t find any script setting them. I had to reboot in order for those environment variables to disappear.


Most of the articles I read about how to completely uninstall rvm assumed that I had a single-user installation, so they mostly didn’t help. I finally managed to figure out that I needed to delete all the following files/directories:


I also had to remove all trace of rvm from my login shell scripts .bashrc and .zshrc. I did all this and then tried to reinstall rvm.

Nope! When I reinstalled rvm it seemed to have the same file permissions problems that led me to unknowingly install it with sudo in the first place. After much too much fiddling around, I gradually understood that I probably had some extraneous environment variables somewhere, so I checked.

$ env | grep rvm

Sure enough, I had a handful of rvm-related environment variables that affected how rvm would install itself. I could simply unset these environment variables, but I wanted to ensure that nothing would reset them, so I started to search for which script was setting these environment variables.

None. Nothing. Nothing in my login shell scripts, nothing in /etc/profile.d, nothing anywhere. Nothing. I spent an hour trying to find some magic trick to determine where these environment variable values came from. Nothing helped. Since I don’t know Linux/unix that well, I assumed that I didn’t know something important, so it took far too long before I fell back on some fundamental tricks of desperation.

I logged out and logged back in. The environment variables were still there, even though nobody seemed to be setting them. This made no sense to me at all.

Finally, in the greatest desperation, I rebooted. This is Linux. I’m not supposed to need to do this. But it worked! I rebooted, I opened a fresh shell, I typed env | grep rvm and got nothing!

From here, I could follow the instructions to install rvm for a single user the way I wanted it to work. And now it works. So far, nobody in my social media network has adequately explained why I needed to reboot in order to stop setting those environment variables in my shells.

If you can explain why I needed to reboot in order for a fresh login shell session to stop setting these environment variables, then I would appreciate understanding how this could possibly happen. I don’t want to know, but I also don’t want to be flummoxed by it in the future. Leave a comment.