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Jan 17, 2021
Oct 27, 2019
Jan 17, 2021


direnv plugin for asdf version manager

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Motivation (or shims de-motivation)

asdf is a great tool for managing multiple versions of command-line tools. 99% of the time these managed tools work just as expected.

Shims are just tiny wrappers created by asdf that just forward execution to the real versioned executables installed by asdf. This way, asdf has a single shims directory added to your PATH and has no need of mangling the PATH for every installed version.

When you run an asdf-managed command, like node, it will actually execute an asdf-shim, which will determine the node version to activate according to your .tool-versions file.

A downside of this is that every single time you run node asdf will have to determine again which version to use. Even if you haven't changed your .tool-versions file to upgrade the node version to use. And this happens for every shim execution, which could lead to some users experiencing certain slowness while asdf is looking up versions, since it has to traverse directories looking up for a .tool-versions file and probably also legacy version files.

Another inconvenience is that commands installed by these tools can have some problems by the way asdf shims work. For example, if a command tries to find itself by name in PATH (e.g. using which my-command) it will find the asdf shim executable and not the actual executable delegated-to by asdf. This might cause problems if the command tries to use this location as an installation root to find auxiliary files, since shims will mask the real executable.

Also, people frequently ask why is reshim needed. Suppose you used asdf to install a package manager like npm, hex, gem, cargo, etc. Any new binaries installed by these tools won't be available on PATH unless you run asdf reshim. This is because asdf has no way of knowing what the npm install command does, and it's until asdf reshim that it will figure out new executables are available and will create shims for them accordingly.

And finally, some packages come not only with language-specific commands, but with tons of system tools that will shadow those already installed on your system. While this may be desirable while the language is in use, having it installed and not activated leaves dead shims all over the place.


All these previously mentioned issues can be solved by using asdf along with the direnv tool.

Just like asdf is a tools manager, direnv is an environment-variables manager. It can update your shell env upon directory change and clean it up when you leave that directory.

This asdf-direnv plugin lets you install direnv and also provides a tiny script to integrate both. Allowing direnv to manage any variables exposed by asdf tools, primarily the PATH environment, but also any other variable exposed by your plugin (e.g. MIX_HOME exposed by the asdf-elixir plugin).

This way, running node will not invoke the asdf-shim but the real asdf-managed executable in PATH. Which will improve speed since version resolution is out of the way and made only once by direnv upon entering your project directory. Commands trying to find themselves in PATH will find their expected location. Also, no more reshim needed upon npm install.


  • Make sure you have the required dependencies installed:
    • curl
    • git



First, make sure you install this plugin, then install and globally activate the most recent direnv version:

asdf plugin-add direnv
asdf install direnv latest
asdf global direnv latest

Then edit your .bashrc or equivalent shell profile:

# File: ~/.bashrc

# Hook direnv into your shell.
eval "$(asdf exec direnv hook bash)"

# A shortcut for asdf managed direnv.
direnv() { asdf exec direnv "$@"; }

If you are not using bash, adapt the previous snippet by following the instructions to hook direnv into various other SHELLS

Global asdf-direnv integration.

The ~/.config/direnv/direnvrc file is a good place to add common functionality for all .envrc file.

The following snippet makes the use asdf feature available:

# File: ~/.config/direnv/direnvrc
source "$(asdf direnv hook asdf)"

# Uncomment the following line to make direnv silent by default.
The .envrc file in your project root.

Once hooked into your shell, direnv will expect to find a .envrc file whenever you need to change tool versions.

On your project directory, create an .envrc file like this:

# File: /your/project/.envrc
use asdf

Finally, run direnv allow to trust your new file.

Cached environment

To speed up things a lot, this plugin creates direnv envrc files that contain your plugins environment. They are created whenever your .envrc or your .tool-versions files change, and are cached under the current direnv installation directory inside env/*.

If you ever need to regenerate a cached environment file, just touch .envrc.

Now when you leave your project directory and come back to it, direnv will manage the environment variables for you really fast. For example:

direnv: loading .envrc
direnv: using asdf
direnv: Creating env file ~/.asdf/installs/direnv/2.20.0/env/909519368-2773408541-1591703797-361987458
direnv: loading ~/.asdf/installs/direnv/2.20.0/env/909519368-2773408541-1591703797-361987458
direnv: using asdf elixir 1.8.1-otp-21
direnv: using asdf nodejs 12.6.0



node --version

with asdf-direnv:

Mean [ms] Min [ms] Max [ms] Relative
4.3 ± 0.4 3.6 6.0 1.00

without asdf-direnv:

Mean [ms] Min [ms] Max [ms] Relative
189.7 ± 2.7 185.6 194.0 1.00
hyperfine 'node --version'

npm install -g yarn

with asdf-direnv:

Mean [ms] Min [ms] Max [ms] Relative
683.3 ± 17.3 667.9 725.1 1.00

without asdf-direnv:

Mean [ms] Min [ms] Max [ms] Relative
870.0 ± 12.9 848.4 894.6 1.00
hyperfine --cleanup 'npm uninstall -g yarn' 'npm install -g yarn'


  • Take a look at direnv help true.

  • Getting $ASDF_DIR/shims out of the PATH.

    Some users might want to bypass asdf shims altogether. To do so, include only $ASDF_DIR/bin in your PATH but exclude the shims directory.

    All shims are still available via asdf exec <shim>

# ~/.bashrc or equivalent

# Dont source `~/.asdf/`
source "~/.asdf/lib/" # just load the asdf wrapper function
  • If you want to silence the console output of direnv, you can do that by setting an empty environment variable: export DIRENV_LOG_FORMAT="".

  • Some times you might need to configure IDEs or other tools to find executables like package managers/code linters/compilers being used on a project of yours. For example, to execute npm outside your project directory you can do:

direnv exec /some/project npm
  • Remember that activation order is important.

    If a local .tool-versions file is present, the order of listed plugins will be preserved, so that toolA will be present before toolB in PATH.

# .tool-versions
toolA 1.0
toolB 2.0
  • You can use asdf even if current directory has no .tool-versions file.

    In this case the the activated versions will be the same than those returned by asdf current command.

  • You can override any tool version via environment variables.

    See the asdf documentation regarding versions from environment variables.

# .envrc
use asdf
  • You can omit direnv on your global ~/.tool-versions file.

    You just need to provide the version via an environment variable.

# File: ~/.bashrc

# Hook direnv into your shell.
eval "$(env ASDF_DIRENV_VERSION=2.20.0 asdf direnv hook bash)"

# A shortcut for asdf managed direnv.
direnv() { env ASDF_DIRENV_VERSION=2.20.0 asdf direnv "$@"; }
  • Remember direnv can reload the environment whenever a file changes. By default this plugin will watch any .tool-versions file or legacy version file that explicitly selects a tool.

But you can easily watch more files when needed.

# .envrc
watch_file "package.json"
  • Using direnv status can be helpful to inspect current state. Also, you might want to take a look to direnv --help.

Useful links

Read direnv documentation for more on .envrc


Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0.