A long-awaited feature amongst NodeJS developers. Finally, starting from Node.js v20.6.0, Node.js supports .env files for configuring environment variables.

We used to plug in third-party dependencies for that same need, the most notable one is dotenv.

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Built-in Env Files Support

Let’s do a very simple test by installing the latest NodeJS version as of today (05th of September 2023) and playing with a basic .env file.

Feel free to get NodeJS v20.6.0 from the official download page or by using NVM as we’ll in the following lines.

Let’s confirm our current NodeJS version by using the command node -v or nvm current:

current nodejs version

Now, we install NodeJS v20.6.0 using the command nvm install 20.6.0:

install NodeJS 20.6.0

In case you had it installed already, a simple nvm use 20.6.0 will do.
At the end, we can confirm the installed version is present by using the first command as illustrated above.

We have created a basic .env file with a single line as content:


Along with a minimalist index.js JS file runnable by NodeJS, here’s its content:

console.log(`The access key is: ${process.env.ACCESS_KEY}`)

Both files are very basic and are used for illustration purposes only, so we aren’t dealing with a full-fledged NodeJS project but the concept is the same since to access environment variables in NodeJS you’ll follow the pattern: process.env.THE_ENVIRONMENT_VAR_KEY.

Finally, let’s run the project now, node --env-file=.env index.js:

test NodeJS .env files support

As you can see, it simply prints the content of the ACCESS_KEY environment variable, without any dependency installed.

If you are using a version lower than 20.6.0, you’ll get the following message since it wasn’t included in NodeJS yet:
node: bad option: --env-file=.env

Here’s the complete source code of this experimentation and the release notes.

If you are interested in related content, take a look at the following which explains how to Quickly Dockerizing NodeJS Application using Docker init command effortlessly:


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In this article, we have seen how NodeJS +v20.6.0 supports .env files out of the box without any third-party dependency.

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About Orleando Dassi

I'm a Solutions Architect with 10 years of experience who is constantly learning while impacting the community by producing technical articles/videos, building projects, and conducting tech mentoring/coaching sessions. What describes me the most is my flexibility. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.