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Using environment variables

The OpenTestFactory orchestrator sets default environment variables for each orchestrator workflow run. Custom environment variables can also be set in a workflow file.

About environment variables

The OpenTestFactory orchestrator sets default environment variables that are available to every step in a workflow run. Environment variables are case-sensitive. Commands run in functions or steps can create, read, and modify environment variables.

To set custom environment variables, you need to specify the variables in the workflow file. You can define environment variables for a step, job, or entire workflow using the jobs.<job_id>.steps.variables, jobs.<job_id>.variables, and variables keywords. For more information, see “Workflow syntax for OpenTestFactory orchestrator.”

    runs-on: linux
      DAY_OF_WEEK: Mon
      - name: "Hello world when it's Monday"
        if: ${{ variables.DAY_OF_WEEK == 'Mon' }}
        run: echo "Hello $FIRST_NAME $middle_name $Last_Name, today is Monday!"
          FIRST_NAME: Mona
          middle_name: The
          Last_Name: Octocat

Variables specified in the workflow file are subject to the execution environment shell’s expansions and substitution rules. Use the target shell’s escape conventions if you need the literal content.

    runs-on: linux
      MY_WORK_DIR: $HOME/work_dir
      LITERAL_VAL: '''$HOME/work_dir'''
    - run: echo "$MY_WORK_DIR"             # Prints '/home/<user>/work_dir'
    - run: echo "$LITERAL_VAL"             # Prints '$HOME/work_dir'
    runs-on: windows
      MY_WORK_DIR: '%USERPROFILE%\work_dir'
      LITERAL_VAL: '^%USERPROFILE^%\work_dir'
    - run: echo %MY_WORK_DIR%              # Prints 'C:\Users\<user>\work_dir'
    - run: echo %LITERAL_VAL%              # Prints '%USERPROFILE%\work_dir'

To use the value of an environment variable in a workflow file, you should use the variables context. If you want to use the value of an environment variable inside an execution environment, you can use the execution environment operating system’s normal method for reading environment variables.

If you use the workflow file’s run key to read environment variables from within the execution environment operating system (as shown in the example above), the variable is substituted in the execution environment operating system after the job is sent to the execution environment. For other parts of a workflow file, you must use the variables context to read environment variables; this is because workflow keys (such as if) require the variable to be substituted during workflow processing before it is sent to the execution environment.

You can also use the OPENTF_VARIABLES environment file to set an environment variable that the following steps in a workflow can use. The environment file can be used directly by a function or by a shell command in a workflow file using the run keyword. For more information, see “Workflow commands for OpenTestFactory Orchestrator Plugins.”

Default environment variables

We strongly recommend that functions use environment variables to access the file system rather than using hard-coded file paths. The OpenTestFactory orchestrator sets environment variables for functions to use in all execution environments.

Environment variable Description
CI Always set to true if started from a CI pipeline.
HOME The path to the OpenTestFactory home directory used to store user data. For example, /opentf/home.
OPENTF_ACTOR The name of the person or app that initiated the workflow. For example, octocat.
OPENTF_WORKSPACE The OpenTestFactory orchestrator workspace directory path. The workspace directory contains a subdirectory with a copy of your repository if your workflow uses the actions/checkout function. If you don’t use the actions/checkout function, the directory will be empty. For example, /home/runner/work/my-repo-name/my-repo-name.
OPENTF_VARIABLES The path of the environment variables file. Steps can add their own variables definitions in this file, and they will be available for the remaining steps in the current job.

Determining when to use default environment variables or contexts

The OpenTestFactory orchestrator includes a collection of variables called contexts and a similar collection of variables called default environment variables. These variables are intended for use at different points in a workflow:

  • Default environment variables: These variables exist only in the execution environment that is executing your job. For more information, see “Default environment variables.”
  • Contexts: You can use most contexts at any point in your workflow, including when default environment variables would be unavailable. For example, you can use contexts with expressions to perform initial processing before the job is routed to an execution environment for execution; this allows you to use a context with the conditional if keyword to determine whether a step should run. Once a job is running, you can also retrieve context variables from the execution environment that is executing the job, such as runner.os. For details of where you can use various contexts within a workflow, see “Context availability.

Naming conventions for environment variables


The OpenTestFactory orchestrator reserves the OPENTF_ environment variable prefix for internal use by the orchestrator. Setting an environment variable or secret with the OPENTF_ prefix will result in an error.

Any new environment variables you set that point to a location on the file system should have a _PATH suffix. The HOME and OPENTF_WORKSPACE default variables are exceptions to this convention because the words “home” and “workspace” already imply a location.