Environment Variables (Linux)

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Title: Introduction to Linux in HPC
Provider: HPC.NRW

Contact: tutorials@hpc.nrw
Type: Multi-part video
Topic Area: HPC Platforms
License: CC-BY-SA

1. Background and History
2. The Command Line
3. Linux Directory Structure
4. Files
5. Text display and search
6. Users and permissions
7. Processes
8. The vim text editor
9. Shell scripting
10. Environment variables
11. System configuration
12. SSH Connections
13. SSH: Graphics and File Transfer
14. Various tips

This part of the Linux tutorials introduces environment variables and explains the difference to shell variables that have been introduced in Shell Scripting. A few important use cases for environment variables are discussed such as the OATH variable that determines where the shell searches for executable programs. Environment variables are also used by the so-called environment modules that are the main way to access software installed on an HPC cluster. Environment modules are explained shortly in this tutorial.


( Slides as pdf)


How do you define an environment variable VARTEST and assign the value 42 to it?

export VARTEST=42
env VARTEST=42

What is the naming convention for environment variables?

Use uppercase letters, i.e., VARTEST2
Use lowercase letters, i.e., vartest2
There is no naming convention, i.e., VarTest2

Which statement is correct for environment variables?

Environment variables are stored in a central database on a computer.
An environment variable that was defined is valid and accessible in every shell session on this computer.
An environment variable is valid in the shell session in which it was defined and is inherited to all programs or shell sessions that are started from this session.

What is the expected output of the following commands:
VARTEST="bla";export VARTEST="BLA";VARTEST="blub";env | grep VARTEST


Assume that the environment variable PATH has the following content /usr/bin:/usr/local/bin. There is a program in each directory, i.e., /usr/bin/program and /usr/local/bin/program. Which will be executed if you run program in the shell?

The shell will ask you which one to execute.

How do you add the directory /opt/bin/ to the PATH environment variable and make sure that it is searched last?

export PATH=/opt/bin/:$PATH
export PATH=$PATH:/opt/bin/
export PATH=/opt/bin/

Exercises in Terminal

Run the following steps in a shell:
1. Define an environment variable named TEST_VAR1="test1".
2. Define a shell variable names TEST_VAR2="test2".
3. Make sure that TEST_VAR1 is in the list of environment variables.
4. Start a new shell session within the current session.
5. Output the content of the two variables TEST_VAR1 and TEST_VAR2.
6. Change content of the environment variable to TEST_VAR1="test_new".
7. Exit the shell session and output the content of TEST_VAR1.

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