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Definition: environment variable

An item of memory-resident data that provides a mechanism for users, applications and the operating system to interact with each other. Set up in memory by the operating system each time it is booted, the variables hold the current environment configuration, such as computer and login name, CPU type and the names of the system, application, home and temporary folders.

Command Line Assistance
A common environment variable is the Path, which holds any number of folder hierarchies that the OS can search when a program is run at the command line so that the full path to the executable does not have to be explicitly entered each time. See path environment variable and path.