How To Use Environment Variables

Kory Hutchison - 17 May 2019

Within a normal Django project, you’re bound to use some information that you need to be kept secret. Common examples of this are API keys and the Django SECRET_KEY. You wouldn’t want these to be in your git repo because most likely your repo is being stored on the internet at a place like github. Sure, you might have a private repo, but even then your secret keys are still at risk. So what I want to show you is how you can easily set up environment variables so that you can also use them during local development. Let’s get started!

Configuring in .bash_profile

If you don’t know what .bash_profile is, it’s simply a file that your bash terminal will run every time it gets launched. I like to use .bash_profile because that’s the one I learned, but there are other files that bash uses as well.

Open up your terminal and make sure you are in your home directory like so:

cd ~

If you are a windows user, You’ll probably need to get some sort of terminal program in order to accomplish what I’m about to show you. I’m a Mac user, so I’m not entirely sure how it’s done on Windows. This page might be of help.

Now that you are at your home directory, open up nano:

nano .bash_profile

If you haven’t yet created a .bash_profile file yet, then Nano will create one for you. What we’re going to do is add one line that will set the Django SECRET_KEY for our project. Put it in like so:

export KEY="p2+$$p_@zc7m=j)6glc*t++vr2ngr^vk$0&wv1#)35z=15%9sg"

I’ve put in an example secret key but you should replace it with yours.

Now to save and close you simply do ^X, and then Y and enter. Right now your terminal still doesn’t know what that variable is though because we haven’t relaunched the program. One way around this is to type:

source .bash_profile

This will reload the file and you can verify that your variable is there like so:

echo $KEY

And you should see your key show up. Now that we have the key in our .bash_profile, all there is left is to load that key in!

Configure Django

This part is the easiest part. You’ll see at the top that Django already imports the Python OS library. So all you need to do is replace your secret key string and make it look like this:

SECRET_KEY = os.environ['KEY']

And that’s it! Pretty simple, huh? What’s really nice about this is that you can use your API test keys on your local, but then on your production server you can use your real keys without changing at all. Hope you find this useful!

Copyright © Kory Hutchison