Managing Environment Variables and Secrets in Software Development

Kushagra Kesav
2 min readFeb 15, 2023
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Environment variables are key-value pairs that have predetermined values commonly utilized to enable the configuration of a code value from outside the application or software.

The most common use case for Environment variables is to set up different configuration options for different environments, for example, development environment, production environment, etc. and it’s a crucial aspect of modern software development and deployment. They are being used to store important configuration information that is needed to run applications in various environments.

The lifecycle of an environment variable can be divided into three main stages: creation, usage, and deletion. During the creation stage, the variable is created and defined, and its value is set. During the usage stage, the variable is used by the application or software, and its value is accessed to perform a specific task. Finally, during the deletion stage, the variable is removed or deleted.

But when we think about the owner of the environment variable it can be confusing, especially who owns them and who should be responsible for managing and updating them whenever required.

In general, the owner of an environment variable depends on its purpose. Software Developers are typically responsible for creating and managing them which are specific to the codebase or application they are building. On the other hand, the DevOps team manages the environment variables that are used in configuring infrastructure and deployments pipeline.

It is important for developers and DevOps teams to work together to ensure environment variables are used properly and securely, even though their responsibilities differ. In order to do this, it is important for teams to establish clear guidelines for creating, managing, and deleting environment variables. This can help to minimize the risk of errors or security breaches.

One way to ensure the secure use of environment variables is by using secret managers. These are tools that are specifically designed to store and manage sensitive information such as passwords, API keys, and other credentials. Secret managers can help to minimize the risk of data breaches by ensuring that sensitive information is encrypted and only accessible to authorized users.

However, along with the importance of secret managers in ensuring the secure use of sensitive information, it is essential to integrate it with our application for creating secure and reliable software applications. By prioritizing the integration of secret managers into the development and deployment processes, we can prevent critical production failures and increase application reliability and quality.