I am trying to write a function that will interpolate the enviroment variables stored in process-environment in a string. For example, if I have the string "This is $Foo and ${Bar}_none and '$skip'" and process-environment containing '("Foo=off" "Bar=rab" "skip=piks") I would expect the resulting string to be "This is off and rab_none and 'piks'". However none of the options I have tried seem to respect the caller environment. I have tried

(shell-command-to-string (concat "echo -n " string))


(let ((env process-environment))
    (with-current-buffer standard-output
      (let ((process-environment env))
        (call-process-shell-command (concat "echo -n " string) nil t)))))

but neither of those work (they interpolate, but they don't use process-enviroment). Is there a way to accomplish this?

1 Answer 1


I think you're looking for the function substitute-env-vars:

substitute-env-vars is a compiled Lisp function in ‘env.el’.

(substitute-env-vars STRING &optional WHEN-UNDEFINED)

Substitute environment variables referred to in STRING.
‘$FOO’ where FOO is an environment variable name means to substitute
the value of that variable.  The variable name should be terminated
with a character not a letter, digit or underscore; otherwise, enclose
the entire variable name in braces.  For instance, in ‘ab$cd-x’,
‘$cd’ is treated as an environment variable.

If WHEN-DEFINED is nil, references to undefined environment variables
are replaced by the empty string; if it is a function, the function is called
with the variable name as argument and should return the text with which
to replace it or nil to leave it unchanged.
If it is non-nil and not a function, references to undefined variables are
left unchanged.

Use ‘$$’ to insert a single dollar sign.

Here it is in action:

(let ((process-environment '("Foo=off" "Bar=rab" "skip=piks")))
  (substitute-env-vars "This is $Foo and ${Bar}_none and '$skip'"))

which gives

"This is off and rab_none and 'piks'"

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