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Environment Variables

Environments and Environment Variables

You can provide environment variables to your site to customise it’s behaviour in different environments.

Note that we need to distinguish in this discussion between variables which have been defined in special places in order to be used in different deployment environments, and true OS-level environment variables that could be used in, for example, command-line calls. We’ll call the former “Project Env Vars” and the latter “OS Env Vars”. In both cases we want to be able to access the relavant value of these variable for the environment we’re in.

By default gatsby supports only 2 environments:

  • If you run gatsby develop, then you will be in the ‘development’ environment.
  • If you run gatsby build + gatsby serve, then you will be in the ‘production’ environment.

If you want to define other environments then you’ll need to do a little more work. See ‘Additional Environments’ below.

Accessing Environment Variables in JavaScript

All of the Project and OS Env Vars are only directly available at build time, or when Node.Js is running. They aren’t immediately available at run time of the client code; they need to be actively captured and embedded into our client-side JavaScript. This is achieved during the build using Webpack’s DefinePlugin.

Once the environment variables have been embedded into the client-side, they are accessible from the global variable process.env. OS Env Vars are accessible in Node.js from the same process.env global variable.

Note that since these variables are embedded at build time, you will need to restart your dev server or rebuild your site after changing them.

Defining Environment Variables

Client-side JavaScript

For Project Env Vars that you want to access in client-side browser JavaScript, you can define an environment config file, .env.development and/or .env.production, in your root folder. Depending on your active environment, the correct one will be found and its values embedded as environment variables in the browser JavaScript.

In addition to these Project Environment Variables defined in .env.* files, you could also define OS Env Vars. OS Env Vars which are prefixed with GATSBY_ will become available in browser JavaScript.

Server-side Node.js

Gatsby runs several Node.js scripts at build time, notably gatsby-config.js and gatsby-node.js. OS Env Vars will already be available when Node is running, so you can add environment variables the normal ways e.g. by adding environment variables through your hosting/build tool, your OS, or when calling Gatsby on the command line.

In Linux terminals this can be done with:

MY_ENV_VAR=foo gatsby develop

In Windows it’s a little more complex. Check out this Stack Overflow article for some options

However, the Project Env Vars that you defined in the .env.* files will NOT be immediately available in your Node.js scripts. To use those variables, use NPM package dotenv to examine the active .env.* file and attached those values, It’s already a dependency of Gatsby, so you can require it in your gatsby-config.js or gatsby-node.js like this:

  path: `.env.${process.env.NODE_ENV}`,

Now the variables are available on process.env as usual.


# Example .env.development file

# Example .env.production file


These variables will be available to your site as process.env.API_URL:

// usage
render() {
  return (
      <img src={`${process.env.API_URL}/logo.png`} alt="Logo" />

Reserved Environment Variables:

You can not override certain environment variables as some are used internally for optimizations during build


Additional Environments (Staging, Test, etc)

As noted above NODE_ENV is a reserved environment variable in Gatsby as it is needed by the build system to make key optimizations when compiling React and other modules. For this reason it is necessary to make use of a secondary environment variable for additional environment support, and manually make the environment variables available to the client-side code.

You can define your own OS Env Var to track the active environment, and then to locate the relevant Project Env Vars to load. Gatsby itself will not do anything with that OS Env Var, but you can use it in gatsby-config.js. Specifically, you can use dotenv and your individual OS Env Var to locate the .env.myCustomEnvironment file, and then use module.exports to store those Project Env Vars somewhere that the client-side Javascript can access the values (via GraphQL queries).

For instance. If you would like to add a staging environment with a custom Google Analytics Tracking ID, and a dedicated apiUrl. You can add .env.staging at the root of your project with the following modification to your gatsby-config.js


# .env.staging
let activeEnv = process.env.ACTIVE_ENV || process.env.NODE_ENV || "development"

console.log(`Using environment config: '${activeEnv}'`)

  path: `.env.${activeEnv}`,

module.exports = {
  siteMetadata: {
    title: "Gatsby Default Starter",
    apiUrl: process.env.API_URL,
  plugins: [
      resolve: `gatsby-plugin-google-analytics`,
      options: {
        trackingId: process.env.GA_TRACKING_ID,
        // Puts tracking script in the head instead of the body
        head: false,
        // Setting this parameter is optional
        anonymize: true,
        // Setting this parameter is also optional
        respectDNT: true,

This will then load the values from the relevant environment’s .env.* file and make them available via GraphQL queries and the analytics plugin respectively.

Note that ACTIVE_ENV could be called anything - it’s not used or known about by anything else in Gatsby (as opposed to NODE_ENV which is, as previously discussed).

Local testing of the staging environment can be done with:

ACTIVE_ENV=staging gatsby develop

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