Although many people have probably never touched them, environment variables contain some rather important information to help maintain the smooth running of the system. A lot of software will rely on the values held within these variables to point it in the right direction for access to various areas of Windows. System paths such as where the ‘Windows’, ‘Application Data’ or ‘Program Files’ folders are located are all held inside these variables and the user or a program can check them to know where to look. Possibly the most common variable that users want to change themselves from the default is the location of the Temp folders which is where all of the temporary data is stored when files are extracted, installers are executed etc.
Because every system is different, these variables are still quite useful as something like ‘Program Files’ or ‘Temp’ might not be in the same location on your machine as it is on mine. But if the environment variable is queried and points to the right place, it won’t matter. These variables are not only useful for programs to access, they are commonly used in scripts and batch files for the same reason. You can also use them from the Command Prompt for quicker access and they will work from the Run/Search boxes in the Start Menu as well. Any variable is easy to identify because it is encased in the percent symbol. For example, type %Temp% or %Appdata% into the Start search box and pressing Enter will take you straight to the relevant folder.
Windows has a built in environment variable editor as some of these variables are not fixed and can be changed, the Temp folder being one of them. The editor does its job but it’s a bit featureless and basic and can be tricky to find for some users. Also, only the editable variables are listed and not the fixed ones even if you wanted to know what they were, which is something you would usually need to use the command prompt and the ‘Set’ command for.
A handy tool called Rapid Environment Editor makes it much easier to view, create and edit environment variables than the Windows tool, and packages it in a much nicer and more functional user interface. If you have administrator privileges, it’s also possible to edit the variable settings for any user. Setup installer and portable versions are available although unless you change variables constantly, the portable version is probably preferable. Rapid Environment Editor needs to be ‘Run as Administrator’ if you want to edit the ‘System’ variables.
The ‘System Variables’ list on the left is system wide and any data or changes to those variables will affect all users, where ‘User Variables’ affect only the current user or another user selected from the dropdown list. The greyed entries are ones that are not allowed to be changed. Invalid paths and filenames are also checked and if any are found, the entry will show in red.
To edit a variable simply double click on it and if you want to edit the value, click the plus button to open the tree and then double click a value. A target folder or file value can be edited by right clicking on it and selecting ‘Insert Directory Path’ or ‘Insert File Path’ to bring up a Windows open dialog. Even this simple thing is missing from the standard Windows variable editor.
New variables can easily be added and a number of Explorer type functions are included like copy, paste, undo and redo, all accessible from the button toolbar or right click context menu. Don’t forget to press the ‘Save’ button to commit any changes. A backup can be created before editing or after repairing any entries which will be saved as a .reg registry file.
If you want to know what the Windows defaults are, have a look at this default environment variables page in case you have any issues with your variable locations.
Compatible with Windows NT, 2000, 2003, XP, Vista, 2008 & Windows 7 32bit and 64bit.