Environment variables can make your programs more secure and easy to configure. Read on to know more about their advantages and how to use them. Environment variables are variables or dynamic values that affect the running and configuration process of a computer.

These variables are used to organize, configure and make the system more secure. Using environment variables can also help to find certain storage locations. For instance, on Windows, you can use the environment variable %Temp% to locate the temporary file storage. You can also use them on OS and Linux for different operations.

The value of the environment variable is set outside the program through a microservice built in the operating system. The variable is made of a value and name pair. Numbers might also be added to it to create a reference point.

1. Benefits of Using Environment Variables

There are many useful ways to use environment variables. Developers work with these variables all the time to make their programs secure, easy to configure, and user-friendly.

In this section, we will talk about the benefits of environmental variables and how to use them.

a. Upgrades Your Security

Some people use version control systems to store passwords, API keys, credentials, and sensitive information. But these systems are not always safe for sharing and tracking important information.

To make it more stable, you should use an environment variable as a reference instead of directly inputting your password in the database. It is advisable to avoid platforms like emails or slack when sharing your environment variables. Instead, use CloudEnv services for easy tracking and management of important variables.

Environment variables also make your work easy. Suppose all your third-party keys and passwords are stored in a folder with an environment variable. In that event, you do not need to input the codes manually to make the change, you can update your variable, and the change will occur automatically.

b. Reduces Production Error

It is not uncommon to execute mistakes while working in a production environment. If you work with mail servers, check if the server has plugin supports configured with environment variables. This stops any outgoing mails used for test orders created in the testing environment.

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c. Allows Easy Configuration

You only have to work with environment variables when you set up, integrate, and configure them onto your program or application. This makes development workflows more efficient.

When working on a development environment, you will have to disable caching to show debug logging. You have to disable the debug logging; otherwise, the performance will decrease.

To solve this issue, you can try two methods. The first option is to create two separate configuration files for both development and production environments. This option is not scalable and is time-consuming.

Or you can use the second option, where you have to create one configuration file and integrate it with environment variables to tweak it based on your required values.

2. How to Set Up Environment Variables

You can create, modify, and remove environment variables on all the latest versions of your favorite operating systems.

a. Windows 10

On Windows, you can use the environment variable dialogue box to change, create or locate your variables. To create a path for an environment variable with multiple values, use a semicolon to separate the values.

You can use the research bar at the left bottom of your screen to open the environment variable dialogue box. You will have to click on the user variable section and open the dialogue box to create variables. Now, you can enter the name and value of your variable. Click “Ok,” and your variable will be added to the user variable section.

You can also modify your variable from this section. Click on “Edit,” and an edit user variable box will open where you can change the value or name. After modifying, click “Ok” to save the revised version.

b. Linux

On Linux, depending on the shell you’re using, you’ll need to use one of the following commands to set an environment variable.

bash/ksh: export variable=value

csh/tcsh: setenv variable value

The name of your environment variable must be entered in the “variable” area, and the value must be entered in the “value” part. This is something you can utilize. To see which variables have already been allocated, use this .env command. You can even remove them using the following command-

bash/ksh: export -n variable

csh/tcsh: unsetenv variable

c. macOS

You have to use the terminal window to set environment variables on a macOS. You can use the command export variable=value to use variables from the command line.

Like Linux, assign the variable’s name on the “variable” section and give its value to the “value” section. To check which variables are already assigned and set, use the .env command.

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3. Environment Variables Are Not The Solution to Everything

Environment variables are great for setting up parameters for applications and programs you do not have direct access to. But it is not effective when you want to configure your applications. Since environment variables are considered global variables, it is best to avoid their uses in design paradigms and programming languages.

You also have to be cautious in setting up the tokens for your environment variable since all the sub-processes launched will have access to those variables and pose a security risk. For such cases, it is best to use a shared data source.

4. Final Thoughts

Environment variables can be used to store important information and streamline commands with ease. You can use and modify them on all the latest versions of Windows, Linux, and macOS. However, since environment variables are external and global, they also have a few shortcomings. Therefore, developers should use more configurations other than environment variables to keep sensitive information safe for security purposes.