Manpage of ENVIRON


Section: Linux Programmer's Manual (7)
Updated: 2016-10-08


environ - user environment  


extern char **environ;


The variable environpoints 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>if the _GNU_SOURCEfeature test macro is defined.) This array of strings is made available to the process by the exec(3) call that started the process. When a child process is created via fork(2), it inherits a copyof its parent's environment.

By convention the strings in environhave the form "name=value". Common examples are:

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).
A user's login directory, set by login(1) from the password file passwd(5).
The name of a locale to use for locale categories when not overridden by LC_ALLor more specific environment variables such as LC_COLLATE, LC_CTYPE, LC_MESSAGES, LC_MONETARY, LC_NUMERIC, and LC_TIME(see locale(7) for further details of the LC_*environment variables).
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 aq:aq. (Similarly one has CDPATHused by some shells to find the target of a change directory command, MANPATHused by man(1) to find manual pages, and so on)
The current working directory. Set by some shells.
The pathname of the user's login shell.
The terminal type for which output is to be prepared.
The user's preferred utility to display text files.
The user's preferred utility to edit text files.

Names may be placed in the shell's environment by the exportcommand in sh(1), or by the setenvcommand if you use csh(1).

The initial environment of the shell is populated in various ways, such as definitions from /etc/environmentthat are processed by pam_env(8) for all users at login time (on systems that employ pam(8)). In addition, various shell initialization scripts, such as the system-wide /etc/profilescript and per-user initializations script may include commands that add variables to the shell's environment; see the manual page of your preferred shell for details.

Bourne-style shells support the syntax

    NAME=value command

to create an environment variable definition only in the scope of the process that executes command. Multiple variable definitions, separated by white space, may precede command.

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, and so on influence locale handling; see catopen(3), gettext(3), and locale(7).

TMPDIRinfluences the path prefix of names created by tmpnam(3) and other routines, and the temporary directory used by sort(1) and other programs.

LD_LIBRARY_PATH, LD_PRELOADand other LD_* variables influence the behavior of the dynamic loader/linker.

POSIXLY_CORRECTmakes certain programs and library routines follow the prescriptions of POSIX.

The behavior of malloc(3) is influenced by MALLOC_*variables.

The variable HOSTALIASESgives the name of a file containing aliases to be used with gethostbyname(3).

TZ and TZDIRgive timezone information used by tzset(3) and through that by functions like ctime(3), localtime(3), mktime(3), strftime(3). See also tzselect(8).

TERMCAPgives information on how to address a given terminal (or gives the name of a file containing such information).

COLUMNS and LINEStell applications about the window size, possibly overriding the actual size.

PRINTER or LPDESTmay specify the desired printer to use. See lpr(1).  


Clearly there is a security risk here. Many a system command has been tricked into mischief by a user who specified unusual values for IFS or LD_LIBRARY_PATH.

There is also the risk of name space pollution. Programs like makeand autoconfallow overriding of default utility names from the environment with similarly named variables in all caps. Thus one uses CCto select the desired C compiler (and similarly MAKE, AR, AS, FC, LD, LEX, RM, YACC, etc.). However, in some traditional uses such an environment variable 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 gzipshould consider renaming their option to GZIP_OPT.  


bash(1), csh(1), env(1), login(1), printenv(1), sh(1), tcsh(1), execve(2), clearenv(3), exec(3), getenv(3), pam_env(3), putenv(3), setenv(3), unsetenv(3), locale(7),




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