set - display and change shell variables


set (-f | --function) (-l | local) (-g | --global) (-U | --universal)
set [-Uflg] NAME [VALUE ...]
set [-Uflg] NAME[[INDEX ...]] [VALUE ...]
set (-a | --append) [-flgU] NAME VALUE ...
set (-q | --query) (-e | --erase) [-flgU] [NAME][[INDEX]] ...]
set (-S | --show) [NAME ...]


set manipulates shell variables.

If both NAME and VALUE are provided, set assigns any values to variable NAME. Variables in fish are lists, multiple values are allowed. One or more variable INDEX can be specified including ranges (not for all options.)

If no VALUE is given, the variable will be set to the empty list i.e. ''.

If set is ran without arguments, it prints the names and values of all shell variables in sorted order. Passing scope or export flags allows filtering this to only matching variables, so set --local would only show local variables.

With --erase and optionally a scope flag set will erase the matching variable (or the variable of that name in the smallest possible scope).

With --show, set will describe the given variable names, explaining how they have been defined - in which scope with which values and options.

The following scope control variable scope:

-U or --universal

Sets a universal variable. The variable will be immediately available to all the user’s fish instances on the machine, and will be persist across restarts of the shell.

-f or --function

Sets a variable scoped to the executing function. It is erased when the function ends.

-l or --local

Sets a locally-scoped variable in this block. It is erased when the block ends. Outside of a block, this is the same as --function.

-g or --global

Sets a globally-scoped variable. Global variables are available to all functions running in the same shell. They can be modified or erased.

These options modify how variables operate:

--export or -x

Causes the specified shell variable to be exported to child processes (making it an “environment variable”).

--unexport or -u

Causes the specified shell variable to NOT be exported to child processes.


Treat specified variable as a path variable; variable will be split on colons (:) and will be displayed joined by colons colons when quoted (echo "$PATH") or exported.


Causes variable to no longer be tred as a path variable. Note: variables ending in “PATH” are automatically path variables.

Further options:

-a or --append NAME VALUE

Appends VALUES to the current set of values for variable NAME. Can be used with --prepend to both append and prepend at the same time. This cannot be used when assigning to a variable slice.

-p or --prepend NAME VALUE

Prepends VALUES to the current set of values for variable NAME. This can be used with --append to both append and prepend at the same time. This cannot be used when assigning to a variable slice.

-e or --erase NAME*[*INDEX]

Causes the specified shell variables to be erased. Supports erasing from multiple scopes at once. Individual items in a variable at INDEX in brackets can be specified.

-q or --query NAME*[*INDEX]

Test if the specified variable names are defined. If an INDEX is provided, check for items at that slot. Does not output anything, but the shell status is set to the number of variables specified that were not defined, up to a maximum of 255. If no variable was given, it also returns 255.

-n or --names

List only the names of all defined variables, not their value. The names are guaranteed to be sorted.

-S or --show

Shows information about the given variables. If no variable names are given then all variables are shown in sorted order. It shows the scopes the given variables are set in, along with the values in each and whether or not it is exported. No other flags can be used with this option.

-L or --long

Do not abbreviate long values when printing set variables.

-h or --help

Displays help about using this command.

If a variable is set to more than one value, the variable will be a list with the specified elements. If a variable is set to zero elements, it will become a list with zero elements.

If the variable name is one or more list elements, such as PATH[1 3 7], only those list elements specified will be changed. If you specify a negative index when expanding or assigning to a list variable, the index will be calculated from the end of the list. For example, the index -1 means the last index of a list.

The scoping rules when creating or updating a variable are:

  • Variables may be explicitly set as universal, global, function, or local. Variables with the same name but in a different scope will not be changed.

  • If the scope of a variable is not explicitly set but a variable by that name has been previously defined, the scope of the existing variable is used. If the variable is already defined in multiple scopes, the variable with the narrowest scope will be updated.

  • If a variable’s scope is not explicitly set and there is no existing variable by that name, the variable will be local to the currently executing function. Note that this is different from using the -l or --local flag, in which case the variable will be local to the most-inner currently executing block, while without them the variable will be local to the function as a whole. If no function is executing, the variable will be set in the global scope.

The exporting rules when creating or updating a variable are identical to the scoping rules for variables:

  • Variables may be explicitly set to either exported or not exported. When an exported variable goes out of scope, it is unexported.

  • If a variable is not explicitly set to be exported or not exported, but has been previously defined, the previous exporting rule for the variable is kept.

  • If a variable is not explicitly set to be either exported or unexported and has never before been defined, the variable will not be exported.

In query mode, the scope to be examined can be specified. Whether the variable has to be a path variable or exported can also be specified.

In erase mode, if variable indices are specified, only the specified slices of the list variable will be erased.

set requires all options to come before any other arguments. For example, set flags -l will have the effect of setting the value of the variable flags to ‘-l’, not making the variable local.

Exit status

In assignment mode, set does not modify the exit status, but passes along whatever status was set, including by command substitutions. This allows capturing the output and exit status of a subcommand, like in if set output (command).

In query mode, the exit status is the number of variables that were not found.

In erase mode, set exits with a zero exit status in case of success, with a non-zero exit status if the commandline was invalid, if any of the variables did not exist or was a special read-only variable.


Print all global, exported variables:

> set -gx

Set the value of the variable _$foo_ to be ‘hi’.:

> set foo hi

Append the value “there” to the variable $foo:

> set -a foo there

Remove _$smurf_ from the scope:

> set -e smurf

Remove _$smurf_ from the global and universal scopes:

> set -e -Ug smurf

Change the fourth element of the $PATH list to ~/bin:

> set PATH[4] ~/bin

Outputs the path to Python if type -p returns true:

if set python_path (type -p python)
    echo "Python is at $python_path"

Setting a variable doesn’t modify $status; a command substitution still will, though:

> echo $status
> false
> set foo bar
> echo $status
> true
> set foo banana (false)
> echo $status

VAR=VALUE command sets a variable for just one command, like other shells. This runs fish with a temporary home directory:

> HOME=(mktemp -d) fish

(which is essentially the same as):

> begin; set -lx HOME (mktemp -d); fish; end


  • Fish versions prior to 3.0 supported the syntax set PATH[1] PATH[4] /bin /sbin, which worked like set PATH[1 4] /bin /sbin.