ENVIRON(7) Linux Programmer's Manual ENVIRON(7)
environ - user environment
extern char **environ;
The variable environ points to an array of pointers to strings called the "environment".
The last pointer in this array has the value NULL. (This variable must be declared in the
user program, but is declared in the header file <unistd.h> in case the header files came
from libc4 or libc5, and in case they came from glibc and _GNU_SOURCE was defined.) This
array of strings is made available to the process by the exec(3) call that started the
By convention the strings in environ have the form "name=value". Common examples are:
USER The name of the logged-in user (used by some BSD-derived programs).
The name of the logged-in user (used by some System-V derived programs).
HOME A user's login directory, set by login(1) from the password file passwd(5).
LANG The name of a locale to use for locale categories when not overridden by LC_ALL or
more specific environment variables like LC_COLLATE, LC_CTYPE, LC_MESSAGES, LC_MON-
ETARY, LC_NUMERIC, LC_TIME, cf. locale(5).
PATH The sequence of directory prefixes that sh(1) and many other programs apply in
searching for a file known by an incomplete pathname. The prefixes are separated
by ':'. (Similarly one has CDPATH used by some shells to find the target of a
change directory command, MANPATH used by man(1) to find manual pages, and so on)
PWD The current working directory. Set by some shells.
SHELL The pathname of the user's login shell.
TERM The terminal type for which output is to be prepared.
PAGER The user's preferred utility to display text files.
The user's preferred utility to edit text files.
Further names may be placed in the environment by the export command and "name=value" in
sh(1), or by the setenv command if you use csh(1). Arguments may also be placed in the
environment at the point of an exec(3). A C program can manipulate its environment using
the functions getenv(3), putenv(3), setenv(3), and unsetenv(3).
Note that the behavior of many programs and library routines is influenced by the presence
or value of certain environment variables. A random collection:
The variables LANG, LANGUAGE, NLSPATH, LOCPATH, LC_ALL, LC_MESSAGES, etc. influence locale
handling, cf. locale(5).
TMPDIR influences the path prefix of names created by tmpnam(3) and other routines, the
temporary directory used by sort(1) and other programs, etc.
LD_LIBRARY_PATH, LD_PRELOAD and other LD_* variables influence the behavior of the dynamic
POSIXLY_CORRECT makes certain programs and library routines follow the prescriptions of
The behavior of malloc(3) is influenced by MALLOC_* variables.
The variable HOSTALIASES gives the name of a file containing aliases to be used with geth-
TZ and TZDIR give timezone information used by tzset(3) and through that by functions like
ctime(3), localtime(3), mktime(3), strftime(3). See also tzselect(8).
TERMCAP gives information on how to address a given terminal (or gives the name of a file
containing such information).
COLUMNS and LINES tell applications about the window size, possibly overriding the actual
PRINTER or LPDEST may specify the desired printer to use. See lpr(1).
Clearly there is a security risk here. Many a system command has been tricked into mis-
chief by a user who specified unusual values for IFS or LD_LIBRARY_PATH.
There is also the risk of name space pollution. Programs like make and autoconf allow
overriding of default utility names from the environment with similarly named variables in
all caps. Thus one uses CC to select the desired C compiler (and similarly MAKE, AR, AS,
FC, LD, LEX, RM, YACC, etc.). However, in some traditional uses such an environment vari-
able gives options for the program instead of a pathname. Thus, one has MORE, LESS, and
GZIP. Such usage is considered mistaken, and to be avoided in new programs. The authors
of gzip should consider renaming their option to GZIP_OPT.
bash(1), csh(1), login(1), sh(1), tcsh(1), execve(2), clearenv(3), exec(3), getenv(3),
putenv(3), setenv(3), unsetenv(3), locale(5)
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Linux 2009-07-25 ENVIRON(7)