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How to manage your Linux environment

The configuration of your user account on a Linux system simplifies your use of the system in a multitude of ways. You can run commands without knowing where they’re located. You can reuse previously run commands without worrying how the system is keeping track of them. You can look at your email, view man pages, and get back to your home directory easily no matter where you might have wandered off to in the file system. And, when needed, you can tweak your account settings so that it works even more to your liking.

Linux environment settings come from a series of files — some are system-wide (meaning they affect all user accounts) and some are configured in files that are sitting in your home directory. The system-wide settings take effect when you log in and local ones take effect right afterwards, so the changes that you make in your account will override system-wide settings. For bash users, these files include these system files:

/etc/environment
/etc/bash.bashrc
/etc/profile

And some of these local files:

~/.bashrc
~/.profile -- not read if ~/.bash_profile or ~/.bash_login
~/.bash_profile
~/.bash_login

You can modify any of the local four that exist, since they sit in your home directory and belong to you.

Viewing your Linux environment settings

To view your environment settings, use the env command. Your output will likely look similar to this:

$ env
LS_COLORS=rs=0:di=01;34:ln=01;36:mh=00:pi=40;33:so=01;35:do=01;35:bd=40;33;01:cd=40;33;
01:or=40;31;01:mi=00:su=37;41:sg=30;43:ca=30;41:tw=30;42:ow=34;42:st=37;44:ex=01;32:
*.tar=01;31:*.tgz=01;31:*.arc=01;31:*.arj=01;31:*.taz=01;31:*.lha=01;31:*.lz4=01;31:
*.lzh=01;31:*.lzma=01;31:*.tlz=01;31:*.txz=01;31:*.tzo=01;31:*.t7z=01;31:*.zip=01;31:
*.z=01;31:*.Z=01;31:*.dz=01;31:*.gz=01;31:*.lrz=01;31:*.lz=01;31:*.lzo=01;31:*.xz=01;
31:*.zst=01;31:*.tzst=01;31:*.bz2=01;31:*.bz=01;31:*.tbz=01;31:*.tbz2=01;31:*.tz=01;31:
*.deb=01;31:*.rpm=01;31:*.jar=01;31:*.war=01;31:*.ear=01;31:*.sar=01;31:*.rar=01;31:
*.alz=01;31:*.ace=01;31:*.zoo=01;31:*.cpio=01;31:*.7z=01;31:*.rz=01;31:*.cab=01;31:
*.wim=01;31:*.swm=01;31:*.dwm=01;31:*.esd=01;31:*.jpg=01;35:*.jpeg=01;35:*.mjpg=01;35:
*.mjpeg=01;35:*.gif=01;35:*.bmp=01;35:*.pbm=01;35:*.pgm=01;35:*.ppm=01;35:*.tga=01;35:
*.xbm=01;35:*.xpm=01;35:*.tif=01;35:*.tiff=01;35:*.png=01;35:*.svg=01;35:*.svgz=01;35:
*.mng=01;35:*.pcx=01;35:*.mov=01;35:*.mpg=01;35:*.mpeg=01;35:*.m2v=01;35:*.mkv=01;35:
*.webm=01;35:*.ogm=01;35:*.mp4=01;35:*.m4v=01;35:*.mp4v=01;35:*.vob=01;35:*.qt=01;35:
*.nuv=01;35:*.wmv=01;35:*.asf=01;35:*.rm=01;35:*.rmvb=01;35:*.flc=01;35:*.avi=01;35:
*.fli=01;35:*.flv=01;35:*.gl=01;35:*.dl=01;35:*.xcf=01;35:*.xwd=01;35:*.yuv=01;35:
*.cgm=01;35:*.emf=01;35:*.ogv=01;35:*.ogx=01;35:*.aac=00;36:*.au=00;36:*.flac=00;36:
*.m4a=00;36:*.mid=00;36:*.midi=00;36:*.mka=00;36:*.mp3=00;36:*.mpc=00;36:*.ogg=00;36:
*.ra=00;36:*.wav=00;36:*.oga=00;36:*.opus=00;36:*.spx=00;36:*.spf=00;36: SSH_CONNECTION=192.168.0.21 34975 192.168.0.11 22 LESSCLOSE=/usr/bin/lesspipe %s %s LANG=en_US.UTF-8 OLDPWD=/home/shs XDG_SESSION_ID=2253 USER=shs PWD=/home/shs HOME=/home/shs SSH_CLIENT=192.168.0.21 34975 22 XDG_DATA_DIRS=/usr/local/share:/usr/share:/var/lib/snapd/desktop SSH_TTY=/dev/pts/0 MAIL=/var/mail/shs TERM=xterm SHELL=/bin/bash SHLVL=1 LOGNAME=shs DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS=unix:path=/run/user/1000/bus XDG_RUNTIME_DIR=/run/user/1000 PATH=/home/shs/bin:/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/usr/games:/usr/local/games:/snap/bin LESSOPEN=| /usr/bin/lesspipe %s _=/usr/bin/env

While you’re likely to get a lot of output, the first big section shown above deals with the colors that are used on the command line to identify various file types. When you see something like *.tar=01;31:, this tells you that tar files will be displayed in a file listing in red, while *.jpg=01;35: tells you that jpg files will show up in purple. These colors are meant to make it easy to pick out certain files from a file listing. You can learn more about these colors are defined and how to customize them at Customizing your colors on the Linux command line.

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