What Does Export Command Does in Shell Scripting?


Angela Bailey

In shell scripting, the export command plays a significant role in defining and managing environment variables. Understanding how this command works is essential for efficiently working with shell scripts. Let’s dive into the details of what the export command does and how it can be utilized effectively.

What are Environment Variables?

Before we delve into the export command, let’s quickly review what environment variables are. Environment variables are dynamic values that can affect the behavior of a running process or program on a computer system. They store information such as system paths, usernames, terminal settings, and more.

Shell scripts make use of environment variables to access critical information required during program execution. These variables are accessible across different processes and can be modified or added as needed.

The Purpose of the Export Command

The export command is used in shell scripting to mark a variable to be available to any child processes spawned by the current shell.

Note: Child processes refer to any new processes created by the current script or session, such as subshells or other scripts executed within it.

In simpler terms, when you export a variable using the export command, you make it accessible not only within the current script but also in any subsequent scripts or commands invoked from that script.

Exporting Variables

To export a variable, you simply need to use the export keyword followed by the variable name. For example:

export MY_VARIABLE="Hello World"

This exports the variable $MY_VARIABLE, making it available for use in any child process created from the current shell.

Viewing Exported Variables

To view the exported variables in your current session, you can make use of the env command or printenv command. These commands display all environment variables currently set, including those exported.


The output will include a list of all environment variables, including those exported using the export command.

Example Usage

Let’s consider an example to illustrate how the export command works:


# Define a variable
MY_VARIABLE="Hello World"

# Export the variable

# Call another script that prints the variable

In this example, we define and export the variable $MY_VARIABLE. The another_script.sh script can now access and utilize this variable, thanks to the export command.

Potential Use Cases

The export command is particularly useful in scenarios where you want to pass information between different scripts or processes. Here are a few potential use cases:

  • Configuration Management: Exporting configuration values allows multiple scripts or processes to access and utilize them without duplication or manual input.
  • Data Sharing: If one script generates data that needs to be used by another script, exporting variables can facilitate seamless data sharing.
  • System Customization: Modifying environment variables through exports can customize system behavior for specific scripts or processes.

By utilizing the export command effectively, you can streamline your shell scripts and foster efficient communication between different components.


The export command in shell scripting serves as a powerful tool for managing environment variables. By exporting variables, you ensure their availability to child processes, enabling seamless data sharing and configuration management. Understanding the purpose and usage of the export command is crucial for writing effective and modular shell scripts.

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