Environment variables

Environment variables are placeholders for data that can change. Each user has its own environment variables with different values that define his working environment. For example, each user typically has its own home directory, so the content of the HOME environment variable is different for each user on the system. A program that needs to know the user’s home directory can refer to the HOME variable to obtain this information.

To see the environment variables on your system, type env:

linux env command

To set an environment variable manually, use the equal-sign assignment operator (=). If you want your variable to be available to programs you launch from your shell, use the export command:

exporting environment variables

In the example above we have assigned the value example to the variable VAR1. For brevity, you can comibne these two commands in one: export VAR1=example.

To refer to an environment variable, use the dollar sign ($) in front of the variable name:

linux referring environment variables

In the example above we have used the echo command to display the content of the variable VAR1.

Setting an environment variable as described above sets it permanently only for the current shell. For example, if you open another terminal window, the variable VAR1 will not be set:

linux environment variable in the new shell

To make environment variables permanent you need to set them in a global or local bash startup script.

Environment variables can be deleted using the unset command, which takes the name of an environment variable (without the leading $ symbol) as a parameter. In our case, unset VAR1 deletes the VAR1 environment variable.
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