Linux Advanced - Environment Variables in Linux
4 min read
Anyone having a little bit of programming knowledge will have an idea about what a variable is!
A variable is a symbolic name for a value it contains. In more technical terms we can say it's a storage location (identified by a memory address) and mostly denoted by English/Greek letters or symbols (can be a filename, text, number or any other data).
In this tutorial we are going to learn about Environment variables in Linux.
What are Environment Variables?
When you login to a Linux system a shell environment gets setup for the user logging in. Bash environment variables defines the environment it creates when it launches. The information they carries and applies is your username, locale, history file size, your default editor, and a lot of other things. They too are defined by a
key:value pair as shell variables.
For example: HOSTNAME=lco-worker2.example.com
A variable can have more than one value and will be separated by a colon:
Quotation marks will be used if the variable has values with spaces in between:
Environment variables are available system-wide and they will be subsequently inherited by all spawned child processes and shells whereas the
shell variables only applies to the current shell instance.
List all environment variables
You can list all environment variables in the shell by running following command:
[root@lco-worker2 ~]# env
There is another command
printenv. It prints the values of the specified environment VARIABLE(s). If no VARIABLE is specified, it prints name and value pairs for them all.
Accessing the environment variables
Environment variables can be accessed by running any of the following commands.
If you know the variable name then just run the following command.
Do not forget to add
$sign before variable name while accessing any variable's value.
[root@lco-worker2 ~]# echo $HOSTNAME lco-worker2.example.com
You can either grep the variable and its value by running following command.
set | grep variable_name
[root@lco-worker2 ~]# set | grep HOSTNAME HOSTNAME=lco-worker2.example.com
setcommand is used to confirm variable creation.
How to Set an Environment Variable in Linux
There are two methods to set an environment variable.
Setting non-persistent environment variables
export command to set environment variable which will be set for the current shell session only aka non persistent.
[root@lco-worker2 ~]# export tutorial_name=env_variables
Here variable name is
tutorial_name and it carries value
Setting persistent environment variables
If you want to set an environment variable which should be persistent even after you close the shell session you need to create/modify few files.
Set it permanently for a single user ->
To set it for a single user, you need to edit the .bashrc file and add lines for each variable you wish to add in following format:
[root@lco-worker2 ~]# echo "export tutorial_name=env_variables" >> ~/.bashrc [root@lco-worker2 ~]# echo $tutorial_name [root@lco-worker2 ~]# logout [root@lco-worker2 ~]# echo $tutorial_name env_variables
Once you set the variable in
.bashrc file in order to verify it's functioning you can logout and login back and try accessing the variable value.
Set it permanently for all the users ->
tutorial_name environment variable is only set for
root user and not for others.
If you want to set it for all the users create an
.sh file in the
/etc/profile.d directory. Add your content, save and exit the file. The changes will be applied at the next logging in.
[root@lco-worker2 profile.d]# touch my_env_var.sh [root@lco-worker2 profile.d]# echo "export tutorial_name=env_variables" >> my_env_var.sh [root@lco-worker2 profile.d]# logout [root@lco-worker2 ~]# echo $tutorial_name env_variables [root@lco-worker2 ~]# sudo su - vagrant Last login: Thu May 6 16:11:58 UTC 2021 on pts/0 [vagrant@lco-worker2 ~]$ [vagrant@lco-worker2 ~]$ echo $tutorial_name env_variables
If you want to apply or make the environment active without logging out from the session run the following command.
[root@lco-worker2 ~]# source /etc/profile.d/my_env_var.sh [root@lco-worker2 ~]# echo $tutorial_name env_variables
Unset an Environment Variable
If you want to unset an environment variable there is a command called
unset to do this.
This will permanently remove the variables exported or set via a terminal command.
The variables which are stored in configuration files (
.bashrc or individual
.sh files in
etc/profiles.d directory) will also be removed from the current shell session. However, they will be set again once you login back next.
[vagrant@lco-worker2 ~]$ echo $tutorial_name env_variables [vagrant@lco-worker2 ~]$ unset tutorial_name [vagrant@lco-worker2 ~]$ echo $tutorial_name [vagrant@lco-worker2 ~]$ logout [root@lco-worker2 ~]# sudo su - vagrant Last login: Thu May 6 16:25:38 UTC 2021 on pts/0 [vagrant@lco-worker2 ~]$ echo $tutorial_name env_variables
Some important environment variable
Below are few environment variables which one should be aware of.
That's all for this tutorial. I hope by now you will be comfortable dealing with environment variables on a Linux system
Hope you like the article. Stay Tuned for more.
Thank you. Happy learning!
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