How I Fixed the direnv allow Error: Troubleshooting .envrc and direnv Issues for Effective Environment Variable Management

How I Fixed the direnv allow Error: Troubleshooting .envrc and direnv Issues for Effective Environment Variable Management

A Step-by-Step Guide to Diagnosing and Resolving Common Problems with direnv and .envrc


4 min read

In software development, .envrc and direnv are tools used to manage environment variables. While working on a project, I faced a problem while getting environment variables from the .envrc file, though I executed direnv allow command successfully.

In this article, I am going to discuss how I have solved this issue and additionally, before that, I will discuss .envrc and direnv


Environment variables and their values can be defined in configuration files called .envrc files which stand for "Environment RC" files. Sensitive data that shouldn't be committed to version control, such as API keys, credentials, and other configuration data, is typically stored in this file. The file, which contains a list of key-value pairs that can be exported as environment variables, is usually stored in the project's root directory.

Similar to .envrc, .env is also a configuration file that sets environment variables but the main difference is that .envrc is specific to direnv, whereas .env is a general-purpose file that may be used by any tool or framework.

Consider that you are working on a project that calls for an API key from a third-party service. In the root directory of your project, run this command in the terminal:

vim .envrc

Then insert this line in the .envrc file:



Environment variables can be managed using the tool known as direnv, which stands for "directory environment," in a flexible and secure way compared to conventional methods. It allows you to define environment variables for specific directories and automatically exports them when any change has been made into those directories. This can be helpful for projects that need various environment variables for various settings, such as production, staging, and development, or for various stages of development.

Steps to Fix the direnv allow Error

Basic Installation

To install direnv in MacOS, run this command in the terminal:

brew install direnv

Hook direnv into the Shell

direnv must be linked to the shell in order to function properly. Each shell has a unique extension system. Now add the following line at the end of the ~/.zshrc file:

eval "$(direnv hook zsh)"

If you are using Bash then add the following line at the end of the ~/.bashrc file:

eval "$(direnv hook bash)"

In these examples:

  • eval function evaluates the string that is passed to it as a shell command.

  • To use direnv in the shell, the direnv hook zsh command generates a string of Zsh shell commands to configure.

  • For Bash, it's doing the same mechanism.

Configuring the hook of direnv, restart your shell to work properly.

After that, the following command needs to be executed in the terminal to make direnv work.

direnv allow

N.B: If you update the .envrc file, you need to execute the direnv allow command again.

Retrieve Environment Variable

Once the direnv allow command will be executed, you can load the environment variables. You can use the API_KEY variable in your code like this:

import os

api_key = os.getenv("API_KEY")

In this example:

  • We need to import os which is a Python built-in module that offers a means to communicate with the underlying operating system. Sometimes, Python interpreter might include this os module by default.

  • In the Python os module, there is a function called os.getenv that returns the value of an environment variable.


In conclusion, .envrc and direnv are essential tools for managing your environment variables and making sure that your development environment is configured correctly. The methods described in this article can help you identify and fix any problems, including the direnv allow error. You may optimize your development process and improve your efficiency by following these best practices.

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