The Linux Export Command

Export is a super handy command that’s really helpful. This article will demystify it for you so you can leverage it on your Linux system with ease.

Author: Jeremy Morgan
Published: December 19, 2023

Today, we’re diving into a nifty little command known as export. If you’ve tinkered with Linux, you know it’s full of commands that can seem like magic spells at times. export is one of these spells, and it’s all about environment variables. Let’s demystify it together!

A Quick Example of export

Let’s consider an example that will illustrate how this command functions within a Unix-based shell like Bash or Zsh. Suppose you’re working on a project with multiple developers and need to maintain consistent settings across different environments.

You could create an alias in your home directory using the following command:

export HOME_DIR="/Users/YourUsername"
export PROJECT_ROOT="$HOME_DIR/Projects"

In this example, we’re setting three important variables that hold values related to your user’s home directory, the project root directory path, and the current working directory. By using ‘export’, these variables are loaded into any shell instance you open for future executions, ensuring consistency across different environments.

What’s an Environment Variable Anyway?

Before we jump into the export command, let’s chat about environment variables. These are the secret sauce in the Linux recipe, helping the system know where to find files, how to behave, and more. You’ve probably encountered some famous ones like PATH (which tells Linux where to look for executable files) or HOME (your home directory).

Common Use Cases

You’ll find export being a hero in scenarios like:

  • Prepping your environment for software development.
  • Setting up server configurations where specific environment variables are a must.

The Magic of export

So, what does export do? It’s like giving a hall pass to your variables, allowing them to be accessible in child sessions of your shell. Without export, these variables would be like homebodies, staying within the confines of their shell session.

Syntax and Options

The syntax of export is pretty straightforward:

export VARIABLE_NAME=value

As for options, export is a simple soul – it doesn’t parade around with a bunch of flags.

Real-World Spells: Practical Examples

Let’s conjure up some practical magic:

  1. Setting a New Variable:

    export MY_VAR="Hello Linux!"

    This creates a new variable MY_VAR and makes it available globally in your session.

  2. Modifying PATH:

    export PATH=$PATH:/my/custom/path

    Here, you’re adding a new directory to your PATH variable, making the system look for executables there too.

  3. Unsetting a Variable:

    export -n MY_VAR

    This removes MY_VAR from the list of exported variables.

Troubleshooting Tips

Mistakes happen! If you’re finding that things aren’t behaving as expected:

  • Check if the variable is correctly exported: echo $VARIABLE_NAME.
  • Ensure there are no typos or syntax errors.

Advanced Magic

For the brave souls, export can also handle functions. It’s a more complex use case, but imagine exporting a function you’ve defined in your shell so it can be used elsewhere. Pretty neat, right?

Sourcing Variables from an Existing Script

In scripts, export behaves like a charm. It ensures that any variables you set are available to any subprocesses or scripts called from your script.

export VAR1="Hello"
export VAR2=World

Suppose you have a bash script that sets some variables and prints their values using echo. You can create a new shell instance by sourcing the existing script to load those variables automatically:

$(source # This will execute `` in another shell
echo $VAR1 $VAR2

And here’s the output:

“What is the export command in Linux?

By sourcing the script, any exported variables set earlier in your script are loaded into this new shell instance. This can be a great way to load a bunch of variables into your environment so you can work with them.

Use Cases for Linux Export Command

Now that we’ve covered some basic examples, let’s explore additional use cases and scenarios where employing the ‘export’ command can be beneficial:

1. Managing Environment Variables Across Multiple Systems

Exporting environment variables using the ‘export’ command allows you to maintain a consistent configuration on multiple systems when accessing shared services or working with other developers on a team.

2. Sharing Application Configuration Files

The export command can be used in conjunction with shell scripts or makefiles to create and manage application-specific settings files, such as .bashrc or .zshrc, that are automatically loaded whenever you open a new terminal window or console.

3. Maintaining Consistency Across Different Shell Instances

When working on projects or executing commands across different shell instances (e.g., running scripts within Bash and then using zsh later), the ‘export’ command ensures that variables set in one instance are preserved, avoiding potential confusion when switching between shells.

Best Practices

As you navigate through your Linux environments, it’s essential to understand the role of the ‘export’ command and its impact on shell configuration.

  1. Be mindful of security. Don’t expose sensitive info via environment variables.
  2. Keep your variable names clear and descriptive.
  3. Always use export when defining variables or setting application-specific settings.
  4. Be mindful of how exported variables persist across different shell instances and consider using a dedicated shell startup script, such as .bashrc or .zshrc, to manage shared environment variables consistently.
  5. Ensure you understand the scope of each variable before exporting it for wider use in your project or team.
  6. Test your exported variables on various systems to confirm their persistence and consistency.
  7. Carefully examine any unintended side effects that may arise from using the ‘export’ command, particularly when working with sensitive data or system settings.

Wrapping Up

And that, dear friends, is a wrap on export. Remember, it’s your go-to for making environment variables known across sessions. Use it wisely, experiment with it, and have fun!

Linux is an adventure, and commands like export make it a fascinating one. Keep exploring, keep learning, and most importantly, keep enjoying the journey!

Questions or Comments? Yell at me!

- Jeremy