How can I set variables to be used in scripts as well? They don't have to be global / system-wide, just the current session is sufficient. But for some reason they seem gone even if I run a script right from my current terminal.


echo "$foo"

output: bar

However if test.sh contains echo "$foo" and I do:


The output is empty. How do I set a scope for temporary variables with a terminal session that remains valid when executing scripts from that same session?

  • You need to export them Apr 22 '16 at 14:20
  • One could also set a variable that is already a variable in a shell script. For example: export TASKDDATA=$TASKDDATA. Where the $TASKDDATA for example has been set earlier with TASKDDATA=/var/taskd
    – a.t.
    Nov 13 '20 at 15:11

export foo=bar will set the global variable $foo to bar. You can also use foo=bar ./test.sh as a single command to set foo to bar for test.sh.

  • 1
    export foo=bar needs to be entered without spaces… or you'll get "-bash: export: `=': not a valid identifier"
    – Guido
    Apr 22 '16 at 14:47

When you run your shell script, it executes in a new shell instance, and does not inherit any variables instantiated in the interactive shell instance.

Specific variables can be inherited this way, called environment variables. You make a variable assignment an environment variable by using export, such as export foo=bar. This is the bash syntax, other shells may use env or some other method.

You can also cause the shell script to execute in the same shell instance by 'sourcing' it. You can do this with . test.sh (note the period) or using source test.sh. You can do this in your interactive session, or you can do this from within a shell script. This is really handy for creating shell "libraries", where you source in a set of shell functions or variable definitions from an external file. Super handy.

For instance:

. /path/lib.sh
echo $foo # foo is instantiated in lib.sh
do_something # this is a shell function from lib.sh

where lib.sh is:

do_something() {
echo "I am do_something"
  • It's worth mentioning that sourcing arbitrary scripts is not a good idea—you should fully understand what they may do to your environment first—but I agree that setting up a function "library" is a very handy use for sourceing. Nicely explained.
    – Wildcard
    Apr 22 '16 at 21:40
  • Is there a way to export variables from the script session to the outside terminal session?
    – Royi
    Dec 27 '20 at 1:58
  • @Royi that's exactly what source'ing does, as explained in this answer.
    – mad.meesh
    Feb 1 at 2:03

Another option could be to pass the variable to your script as an argument.

./test.sh $foo

The issue then becomes the contents of ./test.sh

It would have to echo $1 instead of echo $foo - the $1 indicating the first argument passed to the script.


You can run the assignment and echo test script in the same shell.

root@ijaz-HP-EliteBook-8560p:~# export foo=bar
root@ijaz-HP-EliteBook-8560p:~# cat test.sh 
   echo "$foo"
root@ijaz-HP-EliteBook-8560p:~# ./test.sh 

this is just one way of doing it.

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