extern char **environ;
By convention the strings in environ have the form "name=value". Common examples are:
Further names may be placed in the environment by the export command and "name=value" in sh(1), or by the setenv command if you use csh(1). Arguments may also be placed in the environment at the point of an exec(3). A C program can manipulate its environment using the functions getenv(3), putenv(3), setenv(3), and unsetenv(3).
Note that the behavior of many programs and library routines is influenced by the presence or value of certain environment variables. A random collection:
The variables LANG, LANGUAGE, NLSPATH, LOCPATH, LC_ALL, LC_MESSAGES, and so on influence locale handling; see catopen(3), gettext(3), and locale(7).
TMPDIR influences the path prefix of names created by tmpnam(3) and other routines, and the temporary directory used by sort(1) and other programs.
LD_LIBRARY_PATH, LD_PRELOAD and other LD_* variables influence the behavior of the dynamic loader/linker.
POSIXLY_CORRECT makes certain programs and library routines follow the prescriptions of POSIX.
The behavior of malloc(3) is influenced by MALLOC_* variables.
The variable HOSTALIASES gives the name of a file containing aliases to be used with gethostbyname(3).
TZ and TZDIR give timezone information used by tzset(3) and through that by functions like ctime(3), localtime(3), mktime(3), strftime(3). See also tzselect(8).
TERMCAP gives information on how to address a given terminal (or gives the name of a file containing such information).
COLUMNS and LINES tell applications about the window size, possibly overriding the actual size.
PRINTER or LPDEST may specify the desired printer to use. See lpr(1).
There is also the risk of name space pollution. Programs like make and autoconf allow overriding of default utility names from the environment with similarly named variables in all caps. Thus one uses CC to select the desired C compiler (and similarly MAKE, AR, AS, FC, LD, LEX, RM, YACC, etc.). However, in some traditional uses such an environment variable gives options for the program instead of a pathname. Thus, one has MORE, LESS, and GZIP. Such usage is considered mistaken, and to be avoided in new programs. The authors of gzip should consider renaming their option to GZIP_OPT.