How to Set Environment Variables on Linux

Set Environment Variables on Linux

Linux, an open-source operating system, empowers users with flexibility and customization. One of its most powerful features is the ability to manage environment variables, which are key-value pairs that influence the behavior of processes and applications. Understanding and configuring environment variables can significantly enhance your Linux experience, leading to improved performance and seamless interactions with various software.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deep into the world of environment variables in Linux. We will explore different shell environments, demonstrate how to view and set environment variables temporarily and permanently, discuss best practices for naming variables, and explore advanced techniques. By the end of this article, you will be equipped with the knowledge to harness the potential of environment variables, optimizing your Linux system for your specific needs.

Understanding Linux Shell:

Linux supports various shell environments, and the default shell is the renowned “bash” (Bourne Again SHell). The command-line interface (CLI) serves as the gateway to interact with Linux. When you open a terminal, you are entering the CLI, allowing you to execute commands and manipulate environment variables.

Viewing Existing Environment Variables

To begin our journey, let’s first understand how to view existing environment variables. We can achieve this using the printenv command. Simply open your terminal and type:


This command will display all the current environment variables along with their values. To display a specific variable, use:

echo $VAR_NAME

Replace “VAR_NAME” with the desired variable’s name.

Setting Temporary Environment Variables

Temporary environment variables are valid only for the current session. They offer a quick way to test changes without permanently affecting the system. To set a temporary environment variable, use the export command:

export VAR_NAME=value

Substitute “VAR_NAME” with the name of the variable and “value” with the desired value.

Creating Permanent Environment Variables

For environment variables that should persist across sessions, we need to define them in shell configuration files. These files, such as “.bashrc” and “.bash_profile,” are executed each time a new shell session begins.

To add a permanent environment variable, open the desired configuration file with a text editor:

nano ~/.bashrc

Then, add the following line at the end of the file:

export VAR_NAME=value

Save and exit the editor. To apply the changes without logging out, use the source command:

source ~/.bashrc

Best Practices for Naming Environment Variables

When creating environment variables, adhering to best practices ensures clarity and organization. Employ descriptive names that reflect the variable’s purpose. Avoid reserved names and potential conflicts with system variables, as this could lead to unexpected behavior.

Assigning Values to Environment Variables

Environment variables can hold simple values or the output of commands. For instance:

VAR_NAME="Hello, Linux!"

Ensure that special characters and spaces in variable values are properly escaped or enclosed in quotes.

Modifying and Removing Environment Variables

To modify an existing environment variable, simply reassign its value:


To remove a variable, use the unset command:

unset VAR_NAME

Scope and Visibility of Environment Variables

Environment variables can have global or local scope, affecting processes and child processes differently. Understanding the scope and visibility is crucial when working with complex scripts or applications.

Environment Variables in Shell Scripting

Shell scripting allows you to automate tasks and create powerful applications. Use variables in your scripts to store data and pass information between commands.

Advanced Environment Variable Features

Mastering advanced features, like variable expansion and substitution, enables more efficient scripting and advanced configurations. Use conditional statements and default values for flexible and dynamic behavior.

XI. Troubleshooting Environment Variables

When working with environment variables, encountering issues is not uncommon. Learn to debug and troubleshoot problems effectively to maintain system stability.

Security Considerations

Certain environment variables may hold sensitive information, such as passwords or API keys. Secure access to critical variables and avoid exposing sensitive data inadvertently.

Case Studies: Practical Examples

Explore real-world case studies to grasp the practical application of environment variables, including customizing the shell prompt or configuring development environments.


Harnessing the power of environment variables elevates your Linux experience, enabling you to tailor your system according to your needs. By following the step-by-step instructions, best practices, and troubleshooting tips in this comprehensive guide, you can optimize your Linux environment efficiently. Embrace the versatility of environment variables and unlock new possibilities in your Linux journey.

Remember, the key to mastering environment variables lies in practice and experimentation. Continuously explore their potential, and with time, you will become a proficient Linux user, wielding the power of environment variables to customize your system like a pro. Happy Linux adventures!


Marshall Anthony is a professional Linux DevOps writer with a passion for technology and innovation. With over 8 years of experience in the industry, he has become a go-to expert for anyone looking to learn more about Linux.

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