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1. Introduction

An operating system uses environment variables, which are string variables storing data, to manage services and applications.

In this tutorial, we’ll learn about the two main categories of environmental variables.

2. Variables and Constants

Variables and constants are two key building blocks of any computer programming language. These adopt values that alter the program’s results, much like independent variables in a mathematical equation. Both constants and variables denote distinct memory regions carrying the data that the software utilizes to do calculations.

The distinction between the two is that, whereas constant values cannot be changed during execution, variable values can. A variable is a place to store data that has a value and a symbolic name (an identifier) to go with it. In other words, a variable is a place where data is kept. String names are given to identify different variables. Some programming languages demand that we give variables a data type in addition to their name:

Variables and Constants

 

3. Environment Variables

A variable’s value can be changed outside the program using functionality that is often provided by the operating system or a microservice. Any number of values may be created and made available for reference at a given time as an environment variable, which consists of a name and value pair (NVP).

An operating system uses environment variables, which are string variables storing data, to manage services and applications. A dynamically named value known as an environment variable can impact how active processes behave on a computer. They are a component of the setting in which a process operates.

Applications use environment variables to determine where to install files, store temporary files, and locate user profile data. They control the operating system’s and applications’ operational environments.

Environmental variables come in two different categories. System and user environment variables (configured for each user) (set for everyone). All users can access system environment variables worldwide. User environment variables only apply to the user that is logged in at the moment:

Environment Variables

4. System Environment Variables

As the name implies, environment variables have to do with the settings of our computer or, in more technical terms, the operating system. More specifically, they are the settings the operating system gives the user to carry out various tasks. The variables or values stored in the variables that are needed by the system for other applications to function are provided by system environment variables.

We can access these system-provided variables to gain important knowledge about the system that may be useful for carrying out tasks or running programs on the system. Environment variables are variables with values that are required to configure a shell environment.

Environment variables, as opposed to shell variables, are carried over into the shell’s child processes, and these variables are typically not something end users should tinker with because they are system-wide and accessible to subshells and child processes. In some cases, we can change them to suit our needs. For the JAVA program, for instance, we set up a system-wide path, and for binaries, we set up PATH. We almost always define or alter environment variables using the export command.

5. User Environment Variables

User environment variables apply to the current shell session and, as their name implies, are user-defined. As a result, a variable’s value when logged in as one user on a computer may differ from the value of the same variable when logged in as a different user.

Any user that is logged in has the ability to manually set these kinds of environment variables. Environment variables define folders for temporary files, application-specific settings, file search paths, and other information of a similar nature. Each user’s environment block and the computer’s environment block are both maintained by the system. Environment-specific settings for each user on that particular computer are represented by the system environment block.

Environment variables are represented by the system environment block for each user of the particular machine. The user’s environment variables, including the collection of system environment variables, are represented by a user’s environment block.

6. Precedence

Even if the variables have the same names, user variables take precedence over system variables. If a user creates a variable with the same name as a system variable, the user-created local variable created by that user is used instead of the system variable when that user calls the variable. However, this only applies to the person who declared it.

If any other user accesses these variables, the system variable will be called by default. The user PATH does not let us change the system PATH, which is a sharp contrast to other environment variables.

7. Conclusion

In this article, we explored two different categories of environmental variables. System and user environment variables (configured for each user, set for everyone). All users can access system environment variables worldwide. User environment variables only apply to the user that is logged in at the moment. User variables take precedence over system variables, except in the case of special system variables like PATH.

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