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We already mentioned a couple of environment variables, such as PATH and HOME. Until now, we only saw examples in which they serve a certain purpose to the shell. But there are many other Linux utilities that need information about you in order to do a good job.

What other information do programs need apart from paths and home directories?

A lot of programs want to know about the kind of terminal you are using; this information is stored in the TERM variable. In text mode, this will be the linux terminal emulation, in graphical mode you are likely to use xterm. Lots of programs want to know what your favorite editor is, in case they have to start an editor in a subprocess. The shell you are using is stored in the SHELL variable, the operating system type in OS and so on. A list of all variables currently defined for your session can be viewed entering the printenv command.

The environment variables are managed by the shell. As opposed to regular shell variables, environment variables are inherited by any program you start, including another shell. New processes are assigned a copy of these variables, which they can read, modify and pass on in turn to their own child processes.

There is nothing special about variable names, except that the common ones are in upper case characters by convention. You may come up with any name you want, although there are standard variables that are important enough to be the same on every Linux system, such as PATH and HOME.

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