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What are the proper procedures for the setting and use of the environment variable PATH in Windows 7?

I have a Dell Desktop that defines 19 entries in the Path variable. These include 5 entries for Roxio, which I guess is because I have a DVD drive and Roxio software installed from Dell; 3 entries for MS Sql Server, which I installed; 1 entry for MySQL; 2 entries for Embarcadero Rad Studio; 4 entries to Syste32, which look like Windows paths and a couple of others.

This certainly doesn't cover all the software installed on this machine. At times I have seen many more entries recorded. This seems like the base list it starts with. Are some programs setting the path at runtime? Or are programs getting their information from the Registry rather than the path? It seems like not everybody is on the same page. How is this supposed to work?

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The process of adding Path variables with an software installer is well documented. What exactly is your question? –  Ramhound May 11 '13 at 14:31
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The PATH variable is not supposed to contain the paths to all installed applications. Its purpose is to be able to call executable files (on the command line, in scripts or in application code) by specifying only the file name rather than the full path.

To achieve this, whenever a file name is specified without a path, the operating system looks not only in the current folder, but in all directories specified in the PATH variable.

As a regular user, you shouldn't care about the contents of the PATH variable at all - unless some software complains it cannot find this or that file, in which case you might want to search for the file and add its path to the PATH variable.

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So, why are paths being set as I listed above? These are set by organizations that should know why they are setting 5 or 3 or more paths. There used to be a small size to the path variable, I'm not sure what it is now, but these companies, along with longer paths, really limit the possibilities. I'm just wondering how it is designed to work. –  Patrick Moloney Mar 14 at 0:09
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