env - macOS


The env command on macOS is used to run a program in a modified environment. It can set or unset environment variables and execute a command with a custom environment. This tool is particularly useful for scripting and programming, where you may need to control the environmental conditions under which programs run, ensuring consistency across different executions.


The basic syntax of the env command is:

env [options] [name=value ...] [command [args...]]
  • name=value specifies an environment variable in the format of a key-value pair.
  • command is the command you want to run in the specified environment.
  • args are the arguments passed to the command.


  • -i, --ignore-environment: Start with an empty environment, ignoring the existing environment.
  • -u, --unset=name: Remove variable name from the environment.
  • --version: Display the version information and exit.
  • --help: Show usage information and exit.

Each option modifies how env constructs the environment in which a command will run. For instance, -i can be used when you want to run a command with no inherited environment variables.


  1. Run a command with a clean environment:

    env -i /usr/bin/perl -e 'print "Hello, World\n"'

    This runs the Perl script with no environment variables set.

  2. Set multiple variables and run a command:

    env LANG=en_US.UTF-8 LANGUAGE=en /bin/bash

    Here, env sets both LANG and LANGUAGE for Bash, ensuring the script runs with English settings.

  3. Unset a variable and execute a command:

    env -u PATH /usr/bin/python script.py

    Runs script.py with the PATH variable unset, preventing the script from executing programs in the PATH.

Common Issues

Problem: Conflicts in variable settings leading to unpredictable command behaviors.
Solution: Use the -i flag to ignore the user’s environment entirely, providing a controlled and predictable environment.

Problem: Scripts behave differently in interactive and script environments.
Solution: Explicitly set or unset environment variables using env to ensure consistent behavior.


The env command can be combined effectively with other Unix utilities in scripts to manage the environment for complex workflows. For example:

env -i PATH=$HOME/bin:$PATH /bin/bash -c "python3 myscript.py"

This runs myscript.py in a controlled bash shell where only user’s local bin directory is in the PATH.

  • set: Display or set shell environment variables.
  • printenv: Print out the values of the specified environment variables.
  • export: Set environment variables and export them to the environment of subsequently executed commands.

For more detailed information, consider reviewing the official macOS man pages or visiting GNU coreutils online documentation.