Display, set, or remove CMD environment variables. Changes made with SET will remain only for the duration of the current CMD session.

      SET variable
      SET variable=string
      SET /A "variable=expression"
      SET "variable="
      SET /P variable=[promptString]
      SET "

   variable    : A new or existing environment variable name e.g. _num
   string      : A text string to assign to the variable.

   expression  : Arithmetic expression
   /A          : see full details of Arithmetic expressions below.

Variable names are not case sensitive but the contents can be.

It is good practice to avoid using any delimiter characters (spaces, commas etc) in the variable name.
Any extra spaces around either the variable name or the string, will not be ignored, SET is not forgiving of extra spaces like many other scripting languages.

The first character of the name must not be numeric. It is a common practice to prefix variable names with either an undescore or a dollar sign _variable or $variable, these prefixes are not required but help to prevent any confusion with the standard built-in Windows Environment variables or any other other command strings.

Display a variable:

In most contexts, surround the variable name with %'s and the variable's value will be used
e.g. To display the value of the _department variable with the ECHO command:
ECHO %_department%

If the variable name is not found in the current environment then SET will set %ERRORLEVEL% to 1 .
This can be detected using IF ERRORLEVEL ...

Including extra characters can be useful to show any white space:
ECHO [%_department%]
ECHO "%_department%"

Type SET without parameters to display all the current environment variables.

Type SET with a variable name to display that variable
SET _department

The SET command invoked with a string (and no equal sign) will display a wildcard list of all matching variables

Display variables that begin with 'P':

Display variables that begin with an underscore

Set a variable:

Example of storing a text string:

C:\> SET _dept=Sales and Marketing
C:\> set _
_dept=Sales and Marketing

Set a variable that contains a redirection character, note the position of the quotes which are not saved:

SET "_dept=Sales & Marketing"

One variable can be based on another, but this is not dynamic

C:\> set xx=fish
C:\> set msg=%xx% chips
C:\> set msg
msg=fish chips

C:\> set xx=sausage
C:\> set msg
msg=fish chips

C:\> set msg=%xx% chips
C:\> set msg
msg=sausage chips

Avoid starting variable names with a number, this will avoid the variable being mis-interpreted as a parameter
%123_myvar% < > %1 23_myvar

To display undocumented system variables:

   SET "

Values with Spaces - using Double Quotes

There is no need to add quotation marks when assigning a value that includes spaces

SET _variable=one two three

For special characters like & you can surround the entire expression with quotation marks.
The variable contents will not include the surrounding quotes:

SET "_variable=one & two"

If you place quotation marks around the value, then those quotes will be stored:

SET _variable="one & two"

Variable names with spaces

A variable can contain spaces and also the variable name itself can contain spaces, therefore the following assignment:
SET _var =MyText
will create a variable called "_var " - note the trailing space

Prompt for user input

The /P switch allows you to set a variable equal to a line of input entered by the user.
The Prompt string is displayed before the user input is read.

@echo off
Set /P _dept=Please enter Department || Set _dept=NothingChosen
If "%_dept%"=="NothingChosen" goto :sub_error
If /i "%_dept%"=="finance" goto sub_finance
If /i "%_dept%"=="hr" goto sub_hr goto:eof :sub_finance echo You chose the finance dept goto:eof :sub_hr echo You chose the hr dept :sub_error echo Nothing was chosen

The Prompt string can be empty. If the user does not enter anything (just presses return) then the variable will be unchanged and an errorlevel will be set.

To place the first line of a file into a variable:

Set /P _MyVar=<MyFilename.txt

The CHOICE command is an alternative to SET /P (but accepts only one character/keypress.)

Delete a variable

Type SET with just the variable name and an equals sign:

SET _department=

Better still, to be sure there is no trailing space after the = place the expression in parentheses or quotes:
(SET _department=)
SET "_department="

Arithmetic expressions (SET /a)

Placing expressions in "quotes" is optional for simple arithmetic but required for any expression using logical operators.

Any SET /A calculation that returns a fractional result will be rounded down to the nearest whole integer.

The expression to be evaluated can include the following operators:

   +   Add                set /a "_num=_num+5"
   +=  Add variable       set /a "_num+=5"
   -   Subtract           set /a "_num=_num-5"
   -=  Subtract variable  set /a "_num-=5"
   *   Multiply           set /a "_num=_num*5"
   *=  Multiply variable  set /a "_num*=5"
   /   Divide             set /a "_num=_num/5"
   /=  Divide variable    set /a "_num/=5"
   %%  Modulus            set /a "_num=17%%5"
   %%= Modulus            set /a "_num%%=5"
   !   Logical negation  0 (FALSE) ⇨ 1 (TRUE) and any non-zero value (TRUE) ⇨ 0 (FALSE)
   ~   Bitwise invert
   &   AND                set /a "_num=5&3"    0101 AND 0011 = 0001 (decimal 1)
   &=  AND variable       set /a "_num&=3"
   |   OR                 set /a "_num=5|3"    0101 OR 0011 = 0111 (decimal 7)
   |=  OR variable        set /a "_num|=3"
   ^   XOR                set /a "_num=5^3"    0101 XOR 0011 = 0110 (decimal 6)
   ^=  XOR variable       set /a "_num=^3"
   <<  Left Shift.    (sign bit ⇨ 0) An arithmetic shift.
   >>  Right Shift.   (Fills in the sign bit such that a negative number always remains negative.)
                       Neither ShiftRight nor ShiftLeft will detect overflow.
   <<= Left Shift variable     set /a "_num<<=2"
   >>= Right Shift variable    set /a "_num>>=2"

  ( )  Parenthesis group expressions  set /a "_num=(2+3)*5"
   ,   Commas separate expressions    set /a "_num=2,_result=_num*5"

If a variable name is specified as part of the expression, but is not defined in the current environment, then SET /a will use a value of 0.

In a batch script, the Modulus operator (%) must always be doubled up to (%%).

SET /A arithmetic shift operators do not detect overflow which can cause problems for any non-trivial math, e.g. the bitwise invert often incorrectly reverses the + / - sign of the result.

See SET /a examples below and this forum thread for more.
also see SetX, VarSearch and VarSubstring for more on variable manipulation.


   SET /A "_result=2+4"

   SET /A "_result=5"
   SET /A "_result+=5"

   SET /A "_result=2<<3"
   (=16)   { 2 Lsh 3 = binary 10 Lsh 3 = binary 10000 = decimal 16 }
   SET /A "_result=5%%2"
   (=1)    { 5/2 = 2 + 2 remainder 1 = 1 }

   SET /A "_var1=_var2=_var3=10"
   (sets 3 variables to the same value - undocumented syntax.)

SET /A will treat any character string in the expression as an environment variable name. This allows you to do arithmetic with environment variables without having to type any % signs to get the values. SET /A _result=5 + _MyVar

Multiple calculations can be performed in one line, by separating each calculation with commas, for example:

Set /a _century=_year/100, _next=_century+1

The numbers must all be within the range of 32 bit signed integer numbers (-2,147,483,648 through 2,147,483,647) to handle larger numbers use PowerShell or VBScript.

Leading Zero will specify Octal

Numeric values are decimal numbers, unless prefixed by
0x for hexadecimal numbers,
0 for octal numbers.

So 0x10 = 020 = 16 decimal

The octal notation can be confusing - all numeric values that start with zeros are treated as octal but 08 and 09 are not valid octal digits.
For example SET /a _month=07 will return the value 7, but SET /a _month=09 will return an error.

Permanent changes

Changes made using the SET command are NOT permanent, they apply to the current CMD prompt only and remain only until the CMD window is closed.
To permanently change a variable at the command line use SetX
or with the GUI - Control Panel | System | Environment | System/User Variables

Changing a variable permanently with SetX will not affect any CMD prompt that is already open.
Only new CMD prompts will get the new setting.

You can of course use SetX in conjunction with SET to change both at the same time:

Set _Library=T:\Library\
SetX _Library T:\Library\ /m

Change the environment for other sessions

Neither SET nor SetX will affect other CMD sessions that are already running on the machine . This as a good thing, particularly on multi-user machines, your scripts won't have to contend with a dynamically changing environment while they are running.

It is possible to add permanent environment variables to the registry (HKCU\Environment), but this is an undocumented (and likely unsupported) technique and still it will not take effect until the users next login.

System environment variables can be found in the registry here:
HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Environment


The CALL SET syntax allows a variable substring to be evaluated, the CALL page has more detail on this technique, in most cases a better approach is to use Setlocal EnableDelayedExpansion


Any SET statement in c:\autoexec.bat will be parsed at boot time
Variables set in this way are not available to 32 bit gui programs - they won't appear in the control panel.
They will appear at the CMD prompt.

If autoexec.bat CALLS any secondary batch files, the additional batch files will NOT be parsed at boot.
This behaviour can be useful on a dual boot PC.


When CMD Command Extensions are enabled (the default)

If the variable was successfully changed %ERRORLEVEL% = 0
No variable found/invalid name = 1
SET /A Unbalanced parentheses = 1073750988
SET /A Missing operand = 1073750989
SET /A Syntax error = 1073750990
SET /A Invalid number = 1073750991
SET /A Number larger than 32-bits = 1073750992
SET /A Division by zero = 1073750993

SET is an internal command. If Command Extensions are disabled all SET commands are disabled other than simple assignments like: _variable=MyText

The CMD shell will fail to read an environment variable if it contains more than 8,191 characters.

# I got my mind set on you
# I got my mind set on you... - Rudy Clark (James Ray/George Harrison)


Syntax - VarSubstring Extract part of a variable (substring)
Syntax - VarSearch Search & replace part of a variable.
Syntax - Environment Variables - List of default variables
CALL - Evaluate environment variables
SETX - Set an environment variable permanently.
SETLOCAL - Begin localisation of environment variable changes
ENDLOCAL - End localisation of environment changes, use to return values
EXIT - Set a specific ERRORLEVEL
Parameters - get a full or partial pathname from a command line variable.
PATH - Change the %PATH% environment variable.
PATHMAN - Resource Kit utility for modification of both the system and user paths. Pathman can resolve many problems and can improve performance by removing duplicate paths. For details see Pathman.wri
REG - Read or Set Registry values
REGEDIT - Import or export registry settings
WMIC ENVIRONMENT - Set environment vars through WMI
StackOverflow - Storing a Newline in a variable
Powershell: Set-Variable - Set a variable and a value (set/sv)
Powershell: Read-Host - Prompt for user input
Equivalent bash command (Linux): env - Display, set, or remove environment variables

Copyright © 1999-2018
Some rights reserved