Using local environment (ENV) variables.

Often enough you’ll need to reference sensitive credentials in your project, or give an easy way for people using your project to change environment relative information in your project. Normally it’s not ideal to commit sensitive information to a public repository. Neither is it ideal to commit code which only works for your setup. Enter ‘Environment Variables’.

Setting Environment variables

In terminal you can easily set environment (or ENV) variables by running this command: export VAR_NAME=foo. For multi word variables be sure to wrap the variable in quotes: export VAR_NAME="foo bar". But when you reboot your shell you’ll lose these variables. So lets look at how to set variables that persist.

Open up .bash_profile or .bashrc in your home folder using your text editor, if you don’t have a bash file create it like so:

  1. Start up Terminal
  2. Type cd ~ or just cd to go to your home folder.
  3. Type touch .bash_profile to create your new file.
  4. Edit .bash_profile with your favorite editor (or you can just type open -e .bash_profile to open it in the default editor.

Once you have your .bash_profile open you can add export VAR_NAME=VALUE to set an environment variable. Once you’re done save, exit and type . .bash_profile in your terminal to reload .bash_profile. That’s it.

Update: A note about case-sensitivity. Depending on what system/software you’re using variables are or are not case-sensitive. Always be sure not to accidentally overwrite other variables in your environment. In some systems Var_Name will be the same as VAR_NAME.

Using ENV variables in code

ENV Variables are accessible by basically any server-side programming language. Here are a few examples:

Say I set this in my .bash_profile:

export WIBBLE=woo


wibble = ENV['WIBBLE']
print wibble
# => 'woo'


var wibble = process.env.WIBBLE;
// => 'woo'


import os
wibble = os.environ['WIBBLE']
print wibble
# => 'woo'

Looking up ENV variables

Finally here are a couple quick commands for looking up what ENV variables have already been set.

If you have any questions or corrections just comment or email me.

Typos? Mistakes? Please submit an issue.