Linux Environment Variables

Global variables

The global variables will be inherited by child processes.

You can create a Global variable for your current session doing:

export MYGLOBAL="hello world"
echo $MYGLOBAL #Prints: hello world

This variable will be accessible by your current sessions and its child processes.

You can remove a variable doing:


Local variables

The local variables can only be accessed by the current shell/script.

LOCAL="my local"
echo $LOCAL
unset LOCAL

List current variables

cat /proc/$$/environ
cat /proc/`python -c "import os; print(os.getppid())"`/environ

Persistent Environment variables

Files that affect behavior of every user:

  • /etc/bash.bashrc **: This file is read whenever an interactive shell is started (normal terminal) and all the commands specified in here are executed.

  • /etc/profile and /etc/profile.d/*: This file is read every time a user logs in. Thus all the commands executed in here will execute only once at the time of user logging in.

    • Example:


      TEST=$(cat /var/somefile)
      export $TEST

Files that affect behavior for only a specific user:

  • ~/.bashrc : This file behaves the same way /etc/bash.bashrc file works but it is executed only for a specific user. If you want to create an environment for yourself go ahead and modify or create this file in your home directory.

  • ~/.profile, ~/.bash_profile, ~/.bash_login: These files are same as /etc/profile. The difference comes in the way it is executed. This file is executed only when a user in whose home directory this file exists, logs in.

Extracted from: here and here****

Common variables


  • DISPLAY – the display used by X. This variable is usually set to :0.0, which means the first display on the current computer.

  • EDITOR – the user’s preferred text editor.

  • HISTFILESIZE – the maximum number of lines contained in the history file.

  • HISTSIZE - Number of lines added to the history file when the user finish his session

  • HOME – your home directory.

  • HOSTNAME – the hostname of the computer.

  • LANG – your current language.

  • MAIL – the location of the user’s mail spool. Usually /var/spool/mail/USER.

  • MANPATH – the list of directories to search for manual pages.

  • OSTYPE – the type of operating system.

  • PS1 – the default prompt in bash.

  • PATH - stores the path of all the directories which holds binary files you want to execute just by specifying the name of the file and not by relative or absolute path.

  • PWD – the current working directory.

  • SHELL – the path to the current command shell (for example, /bin/bash).

  • TERM – the current terminal type (for example, xterm).

  • TZ – your time zone.

  • USER – your current username.

Interesting variables for hacking


Change the value of this variable to 0, so when you end your session the history file (~/.bash_history) will be deleted.



Change the value of this variable to 0, so when you end your session any command will be added to the history file (~/.bash_history).

export HISTSIZE=0


The processes will use the proxy declared here to connect to internet through http.

export http_proxy=""


The processes will use the proxy declared here to connect to internet through https.

export https_proxy=""


Change how your prompt looks.

I have created this one (based on another, read the code).


Regular user:

One, two and three backgrounded jobs:

One background job, one stopped and last command dind't finish correctly:

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