How to Set Environment Variables in Linux: A Comprehensive Tutorial

In the world of Linux, environment variables play a crucial role in configuring and controlling the behavior of various programs and processes.

Whether you’re a developer, a system administrator, or just a Linux enthusiast, understanding how to set environment variables is an essential skill. In this tutorial, we’ll explore what environment variables are, why they’re important, and how you can set them in Linux.

So, let’s dive in and learn how to set environment variables like a pro!

What Are Environment Variables?

Environment variables are named values that are stored in the system’s environment and can be accessed by programs and scripts. They are used to provide configuration information to applications, specify system settings, and define parameters that affect the behavior of processes.

Environment variables are key-value pairs, where the key is the variable name and the value is the data associated with that variable. Variable names are case-sensitive and are typically written in uppercase letters. For example, the environment variable PATH specifies the directories in which the system looks for executable files.

Environment variables can be set for the entire system (system-wide) or for individual user sessions (user-specific). They can also be set temporarily for a single session or permanently across reboots.

Why Are Environment Variables Important?

Environment variables provide a flexible and efficient way to configure and customize the behavior of programs without modifying their source code. By setting environment variables, you can:

  • Control the behavior of applications: Many programs use environment variables to determine their behavior, such as where to store temporary files or how to format output.
  • Manage system settings: Environment variables can define system-level settings, such as the default text editor or the system’s timezone.
  • Simplify development: Developers can use environment variables to specify paths to libraries, configure build options, and manage development and production environments.
  • Automate tasks: Scripts and automation tools can use environment variables to retrieve configuration information and adapt to different environments.

How to Set Environment Variables in Linux

Setting Temporary Environment Variables

To set an environment variable temporarily for the current session, you can use the export command in the terminal. The syntax is as follows:

export VARIABLE_NAME=value

For example, to set an environment variable named GREETING with the value “Hello, Linux!”, you would enter:

export GREETING="Hello, Linux!"

You can then access the value of the environment variable using the $ symbol:


This will output:

Hello, Linux!

Keep in mind that this method sets the environment variable only for the current session. Once you close the terminal or log out, the variable will no longer be set.

Setting Permanent Environment Variables

To set an environment variable permanently, you need to add the export command to a shell startup file, such as ~/.bashrc or ~/.bash_profile. This ensures that the variable is set every time you open a new terminal session or log in.

Open the desired startup file in a text editor:

nano ~/.bashrc

Add the export command at the end of the file:

export GREETING="Hello, Linux!"

Save and close the file. To apply the changes, you can either restart the terminal or use the source command to reload the startup file:

source ~/.bashrc

The environment variable is now set permanently and will be available across sessions.

Mastering Environment Variables in Linux

Congratulations! You now know what environment variables are, why they’re important, and how to set them in Linux. By mastering environment variables, you can effectively configure and customize your Linux system, streamline your development workflow, and automate tasks with ease.

Remember that environment variables are powerful tools that can influence the behavior of programs and scripts. When setting environment variables, be mindful of their impact and use descriptive variable names to avoid conflicts.

We hope you found this tutorial on setting environment variables in Linux helpful and informative. Whether you’re fine-tuning your development environment or configuring system settings, environment variables are an indispensable part of your Linux toolkit.

Thank you for reading, and happy Linux-ing!

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