I run the following script:

sh -c 'echo "Hello $VAR"'

But I get :

# ./test.sh

How can I send the variable VAR of my script to the shell created with sh -c '...'?


Either use export to turn it into an environment variable, or pass it directly to the command.

VAR="Test" sh -c 'echo "Hello $VAR"'

export VAR
sh -c 'echo "Hello $VAR"'

Avoid using double quotes around the shell code to allow interpolation as that introduces command injection vulnerabilities like in:

sh -c " echo 'Hello $VAR' "

causing a reboot if called when $VAR contains something like ';reboot #

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  • Not really practical (I have several variables, and I don't want them to be environment variables), but it works, thanks! – Matthieu Napoli Oct 24 '11 at 8:41
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    @Matthieu: They are only set as environment variables for the children of your process, if that's what worries you. – Piskvor left the building Oct 24 '11 at 12:47
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    Just FYI, You can also do export var="Test" in one line. – user606723 Oct 24 '11 at 14:16
  • @Piskvor well thank you for the precision, that's perfect then. – Matthieu Napoli Oct 25 '11 at 7:50

Here's yet another way to pass variables to sh -c (as positional arguments):

sh -c 'echo "Hello ${0}${1}"' "$VAR" "$VAR2"
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  • 1
    (+1) To keep it more in line with the normal $1 $2 expectation for script variables, it can have a dummy value for $0. This will allow $@ to work as expected, eg. sh -c 'echo "Hello $@"' _ "$VAR" "$VAR2" ` – Peter.O Oct 24 '11 at 16:09
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    @Peter.O Rather than using "_", I would use "sh" or a sensible name to give to that command, since that $0 is displayed in the error/warning messages by the shell. – Stéphane Chazelas Jan 26 '13 at 21:45

If you don't want to export them as environment variables, here's a trick you could do. Save your variabe definition to a file .var_init.sh and source it in your sub-shell like this:



from the command line:

sh -c ". .var_init.sh && echo \$VAR" # Make sure to properly escape the '$'

This way, you only set your variables at the execution of your subshell.

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  • ... or ENV=.var_ini.sh sh -c '...' – Kusalananda May 7 '18 at 9:47
  • Note that if that .var_init.sh is expected to be looked for in the current directory (as opposed to $PATH), it should be written . ./var_init.sh – Stéphane Chazelas Aug 31 '19 at 12:58

If you're using sudo sh -c, the environment variables are not passed along, but you can get around it by using the --preserve-env argument:

export VAR="test for exporting"
sudo --preserve-env=VAR sh -c 'echo "This is a $VAR"'

This passes along just the variables you need rather than using sudo -E which passes along your entire set of environment variables. From Sudo Manual:

--preserve-env=list Indicates to the security policy that the user wishes to add the comma-separated list of environment variables to those preserved from the user's environment. The security policy may return an error if the user does not have permission to preserve the environment.

Or, you could assign it directly as:

export VAR="test for exporting"
sudo VAR1="VAR" sh -c 'echo "This is a $VAR1"'
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