macOS: How to Set Environment Variable

Environment variables are important settings that provide information and configuration options to applications and command-line tools on your macOS system. They define variables that affect the behavior and functionality of software. In this article, we will explore how to set environment variables in macOS, allowing you to customize your system environment to suit your needs.


Before we begin, ensure that you have administrative access to your macOS system. This guide assumes basic familiarity with the Terminal application, which is used to execute commands and interact with the operating system.

Setting Environment Variables in macOS

macOS provides a few different methods to set environment variables. We’ll cover two commonly used approaches: setting them temporarily for the current session and setting them permanently for all sessions.

Temporarily Setting Environment Variables

To set an environment variable temporarily, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Terminal application on your macOS system. You can find it in the Applications > Utilities folder or use Spotlight search to locate it quickly.
  2. In the Terminal, type the following command: export VARIABLE_NAME=variable_value. Replace VARIABLE_NAME with the name of the environment variable you want to set and variable_value with the desired value. For example, to set a variable named MY_VAR with a value of example, the command would be: export MY_VAR=example.
  3. Press Enter to execute the command. The environment variable is now set for the current Terminal session.

You can verify that the variable is set correctly by running the echo $VARIABLE_NAME command. Replace VARIABLE_NAME with the name of your variable. For our example, the command would be: echo $MY_VAR. The Terminal will display the value assigned to the variable.

Please note that this method only sets the environment variable for the current session. Once you close the Terminal window or restart your system, the variable will no longer be set.

Permanently Setting Environment Variables

To set environment variables permanently, you can modify certain files in your macOS system. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Terminal application on your macOS system.
  2. Type the following command to open the .bash_profile file in your default text editor: open -e .bash_profile. If the file does not exist, it will be created.
  3. In the text editor, add a new line for each environment variable you want to set. Use the export keyword followed by the variable name and its value. For example:
export VARIABLE1=value1
export VARIABLE2=value2

Replace VARIABLE1, value1, VARIABLE2, and value2 with your specific variable names and values. 4. Save the changes and close the text editor.

  1. To make the changes take effect, either restart your system or run the following command in the Terminal: source ~/.bash_profile. This command reloads the modified file and applies the changes to the current session.

From this point forward, the environment variables you set in the .bash_profile file will be available in every Terminal session.

Using a GUI Tool

Alternatively, if you prefer a graphical user interface (GUI) approach, you can use third-party applications like EnvPane or BashEnvironment to manage environment variables in macOS. These tools provide an intuitive interface to add, edit, and remove variables, simplifying the process for users who are not comfortable with the command line.


Setting environment variables in macOS allows you to configure your system environment to suit your specific requirements. Whether you need to define variables temporarily for a single session or permanently for all sessions, macOS provides multiple methods to accomplish this task. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can easily set environment variables and customize your macOS experience to optimize your workflow and enhance productivity.

Leave a Comment