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Linux: Set Environment Variable

Bash shell is used for various purposes under Linux. How do I customize the shell environment variable under Linux operating systems?

You can use shell variables to store data, set configuration options and customize the shell environment under Linux. The default shell is Bash under Linux and can be used for the following purposes:

  1. Configure look and feel of shell.
  2. Setup terminal settings depending on which terminal you’re using.
  3. Set the search path such as JAVA_HOME, and ORACLE_HOME.
  4. Set environment variables as needed by programs.
  5. Run commands that you want to run whenever you log in or log out.
  6. Setup aliases and/or shell function to automate tasks to save typing and time.
  7. Changing bash prompt.
  8. Setting shell options.

You can use the following commands to view and configure the environment.

Display Current Environment

Type the following command:
$ set
Sample outputs:

BASH_VERSINFO=([0]="3" [1]="2" [2]="25" [3]="1" [4]="release" [5]="x86_64-redhat-linux-gnu")
IFS=$' \t\n'
LESSOPEN='|/usr/bin/lesspipe.sh %s'
PROMPT_COMMAND='echo -ne "\033]0;${USER}@${HOSTNAME%%.*}:${PWD/#$HOME/~}"; echo -ne "\007"'
PS1='[\u@\h \W]\$ '
PS2='> '
PS4='+ '
SSH_CLIENT=' 44212 22'
SSH_CONNECTION=' 44212 22'
genpasswd () 
    local l=$1;
    [ "$l" == "" ] && l=16;
    tr -dc A-Za-z0-9_ < /dev/urandom | head -c ${l} | xargs
xrpm () 
    [ "$1" != "" ] && ( rpm2cpio "$1" | cpio -idmv )

The $PATH defined the search path for commands. It is a colon-separated list of directories in which the shell looks for commands. The $PS1 defines your prompt settings. See the list of all commonly used shell variables for more information. You can display the value of a variable using printf or echo command:
$ echo "$HOME"
$ printf "%s\n" $HOME
Sample outputs:

Task: Set Environment Variables on Linux

You can modify each environmental or system variable using the export command. Set the PATH environment variable to include the directory where you installed the bin directory with perl and shell scripts:

export PATH=${PATH}:/home/vivek/bin


export PATH=${PATH}:${HOME}/bin

To set the JAVA_HOME environment variable to the directory where you installed the J2SE SDK application, enter:

export PATH=${PATH}:/usr/java/jdk1.5.0_07/bin

You can set multiple paths as follows:

export ANT_HOME=/path/to/ant/dir
export PATH=${PATH}:${ANT_HOME}/bin:${JAVA_HOME}/bin

How Do I Make All Settings permanent?

The ~/.bash_profile ($HOME/.bash_profile) or ~/.prfile file is executed when you login using console or remotely using ssh. Type the following command to edit ~/.bash_profile file, enter:
$ vi ~/.bash_proflle
Append the $PATH settings, enter:
export PATH=${PATH}:${HOME}/bin
Save and close the file.

Set IBM DB2 Instance Name

Type the following command:

export DB2INSTANCE=prod_sales

A Note About /etc/profile File

/etc/profile contains Linux system wide environment and startup programs. It is used by all users with bash, ksh, sh shell. Usually used to set PATH variable, user limits, and other settings for user. It only runs for login shell. If you wanted to make large changes or application specific changes use /etc/profile.d/ directory as explained here and here.

See also:

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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • ./Amit.sh April 15, 2011, 9:55 am

    Setting en variable
    1) If u want to set the environment variables which will be global to all the users on the Linux box:
    then u can modify the /etc/profile file
    To bring the change u made to it in effect: do either of these –
    a) source /etc/profile
    b) su – root
    c) Relogin to the machine

    2) If you want the environment variables to be set only for your user:
    then modify the ~/.bash_profile file and set the env. variables there.

    To bring the change u made to it in effect: do either of these –
    a) source ~/.bash_profile
    b) su – username
    c) Relogin to the machine

    • Colin Richardson October 13, 2016, 7:26 am

      Thank you, I forgot about the source part to kick them into working immediately.

  • ne0 April 19, 2011, 12:30 pm

    In Ubuntu, the bash_profile called bashrc:
    $ vim ~/.bashrc

  • Pawankumar Jajara August 16, 2011, 7:34 pm

    Nice Website !!

    I always find decent solutions for Linux commands/script problems and they are handy and ready to copy paste. I would recommend anyone using the content on this website to directly execute on their machines.


  • Noor Kaloon November 26, 2011, 1:06 am

    useful blog..lots of good info

    I need to set 2 different java versions in my Linux environment..as one app requires jdk1.4.2_19 & another app. needs jdk1.5.0_06 (both must run at the same time on the same Linux machine Amazon AMI machine)

    Any pointers on how to do this?

    Thanks in advance

    • Anonymous February 4, 2014, 8:20 pm

      I assume you have both vms installed. I would create a launcher script for each program, using an absolute file path to the appropriate java executable.

      Alternatively, I suppose you could leave java out of your path statement and create a launch script that appends the correct java’s bin directory to the path with the export command discussed above before launching.

      Note that I have not tested either option but I see no reason why they wouldn’t work.

  • SaliproIT March 27, 2012, 3:21 pm

    thanks so much! It help me solving many problem.

  • Juan August 2, 2012, 6:04 pm

    Thanks for the post.

    There’s a typo though, where it says:
    vi ~/.bash_proflle

    it should be:
    vi ~/.bash_profile

    • lion March 20, 2013, 3:47 am


    • Uyen December 26, 2016, 9:51 am

      Great. It works.

  • raghavendra K September 19, 2012, 7:10 pm

    thanks ! it helped me to know some things about linux.

  • Pradeep Kumar September 20, 2012, 1:47 pm

    Hello Vivek,

    For a beginner on linux like me, it is very helpful. Thanks for the post.


  • lalio October 2, 2012, 12:12 am

    Hello, I was confused a bit for the command export: in some site and document, sometime the commands for setting the path are:
    export PATH=$PATH:/blabla
    export PATH=”$PATH”:/blabla
    and export PATH=${PATH}:/blabla (as you wrote above)
    So I wonder which one is the correct command and if they are right in some situation, which one should I use for which case? Please specify them for me. I’m learning more about Linux. Thank you in advance

  • Hitesh Prajapti December 20, 2012, 12:50 pm

    Thanks, Providing good information.

  • raju sahani March 13, 2013, 8:07 am

    thanks 2 providing good knowledge

  • lion March 20, 2013, 3:42 am

    hi ./Amit.sh

    maybe “init q” is useful; ah…must redhat os;

  • laike9m September 8, 2013, 1:35 am

    This really helps!

  • Steven February 6, 2014, 11:57 pm

    convert was exiting with the message “Killed” or just outright segfaulting on me.

    I set CONVERT_ARGS to “-limit memory 1 -limit map 1” as suggested here: http://www.imagemagick.org/discourse-server/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=12623

    That solved the problem. It probably slowed things down a bit, but that wasn’t a big deal for me.

  • Steven February 7, 2014, 12:00 am

    I posted this to the wrong tab.. oops.

  • Santak Dalai May 10, 2014, 2:25 pm


    I am facing a situation where I have to link a library at run time. I don’t have LD_RUN_PATH defined in my system. When I try to set this variable using: setenv $LD_RUN_PATH=usr/lib . But I get this error message: LD_RUN_PATH: Undefined variable.
    Is there a way to create an environment variable in linux?

  • Mahendra Thapa June 27, 2014, 2:23 am

    Very good documentation !!! I am able to fix my problem(s) just following steps.

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