Why .Env Files are A Productivity Nightmare and Security Risk

Why .Env Files are A Productivity Nightmare and Security Risk

What is an .Env File?

An .env file extension is for the most part utilized by Adobe products, particularly for applicable Dictionary records. Files that have something to do with spell checking and other word reference related functionalities generally coordinated into content editing highlights installed into some Adobe programs.   

.env files extension

Files with this extension can only be accessed by specific applications. It’s conceivable that .env files are information records instead of archives or media, which means they’re not intended to be seen by the end-user.

What is .Env File Format? 

An .env file, often known as a dotenv file, is a basic text configuration file used to control the environment constants of your Applications. This is something that not everyone is familiar with, some people do not even have any idea of what this is all about. Some people may know what they are but they don’t really know the functionality. In general, some configuration will need to be changed from one environment to the next. 

The following are examples of common setup modifications between environments:

API keys and URLs

Domain names 

Keys for public and private authentication

Names of service accounts

An environment constant is a variable whose value is set outside of the program, usually using operating system capabilities. A name or value pair constitutes an environment variable and any number of them can be generated and referenced at any time.

Every language and framework was able to adopt the best practice of using environment variables for application config and secrets thanks to the use of.env files. It appeared to be the ideal option. 

However, .env files made another arrangement of security risks and developer concerns, which have just lately gained widespread attention.

Here are Some of The Issues That Teams Face While Using .Env Files:

1. When new secrets are added or altered, sharing unencrypted secrets in .env files over Slack violates the principle of least privilege by exposing secrets to users who are not permitted to see them.

2. When required adjustments to an .env file aren’t mentioned ahead of time, such as a new secret required after merging a pull request, local development environments frequently break.

3. The human aspect in manually managing .env files across environments and cloud providers can easily result in typos and misconfiguration issues, putting productivity in the workplace at risk.

4. Different languages and platforms have different syntax for environment variables; for example, Docker and GitHub require unquoted values, whereas Python and Node.js dotenv packages permit quoted or unquoted values. Because the problem is so common, many teams have been obliged to utilize an .env file linter to combat these syntactical problems.

5. Since .env files are stored in plain text rather than as environment variables in memory, they are vulnerable to emerging security risks like being read by unauthorized users with no audit trace of who has accessed them or made modifications.

Not to mention the bots that are constantly scouring the internet for mistakenly exposed env files in public web root directories and S3 buckets. It’s obvious that  .env files have major security issues, what about their impact on development speed?

The repeated papercuts that come with manually managing .env files have become so routine  for most teams that it’s no longer considered an issue. Just a set of costs related to current application development approaches. Teams who fail to figure out the expenses of managing .env files waste time and money that could be saved if a centralized secrets manager were utilized to automate secret syncing between environments.

Interruptions caused by .env file difficulties also have the enormous and difficult to measure cost of breaking a developer’s focus in a flow or deep work state. If the research predicting a loss of 23 minutes per significant interruption is right, the time and momentum lost as a result of .env file-related interruptions is greater than previously anticipated.

High-performing teams are starting to see the full cost of relying on .env files to manage their environments. They’re considering a new type of secret management platform, which is designed to automate the maintenance of environment variables across all cloud, platform, and hosting environments.

For Environment Variables, We Require a Secret Manager 

We appreciate the existence of .env files for popularizing the usage of environment variables for application configuration and secrets. It was a clean and simple solution that answered the immediate problem of how to get hard-coded secrets out of source code and into a universal format that works in any language.

While .env files may have served us well in the past, it’s time to recognize their flaws in order to accept the next evolutionary step of adopting a secrets manager to further avoid issues with .env files and to enable centralized and safe secret storage. It is feasible to eliminate the requirement for .env files by offering a dashboard for managing environment variables that is compatible with any cloud provider and platform.

Kat Sarmiento

Kat writes articles with the hopes of reaching out to more people. Her writing is focused on lifestyle, science, and smart hacks, that will definitely (well, hopefully) be useful to her readers.

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