Add essential dotenv support to your wordpress without a plugin

Posted on Oct 16, 2022

You may want to start using Environment variables to configure your WordPress application. I did because I needed to install a development environment to my local and did not want to keep separate wp-config.php files.

So, how did I that?

I am already using direnv to manage environment variables dependent on folders. When I work on X project, it automatically loads the required env variables. You can check out at

First, I created a .envrc file with that content;

dotenv .env

It will use variables inside the .env file to configure my environment. This is an example content of the .env file.


It’s a simple key-value file.

After that, I allowed the direnv to load that environment with the direnv allow command.

Then, I updated my wp-config.php file to fetch variables from the environment. I’ve just added database-related configs. You can add salt keys and other configs like this.

define('DB_NAME', getenv('WORDPRESS_DB_NAME'));
/** MySQL database username */
define('DB_USER', getenv('WORDPRESS_DB_USER'));

/** MySQL database password */

/** MySQL hostname */
define('DB_HOST', getenv('WORDPRESS_DB_HOST'));

You see, easy-peasy. Not much. I expected it to work like a charm, but it didn’t because I was using PHP-FPM and Nginx together.

There are different ways to allow php-fpm to fetch system environment files, but I loved dotenv too much. There are tons of different scenarios in which you cannot access PHP or server configs (like using hosting)

Anyway, I decided to write this simple snippet (there is a library to do that, but I do not want to add a library to WordPress yet)

if(!getenv('APP_ENV') && file_exists(ABSPATH.'.env')){
    $content = file_get_contents(ABSPATH.'.env');
    $envs = explode("\n",$content);
    foreach($envs as $env){

Then add that file to the wp-load.php file. After the first if condition;

if ( ! defined( 'ABSPATH' ) ) { //this is the first if condition in the file
        define( 'ABSPATH', __DIR__ . '/' );
include(ABSPATH.'/dotenv.php'); //this is our code

Then it will be ready to use. dotenv.php file reads .env file content in your local/prod server, then it will load values. wp-config.php file will use that values to configure the WordPress.

Let me tell you one more thing before I finish the post. You have to achieve one more step if you are using wp-cli in your server. wp-cli is using wp-config.php to configure the tool itself, but this file does not know how to load .env file. We can add this snippet to the top of the wp-config.php file to prevent issues.

if(!getenv('APP_ENV')){ //for wp-cli
  include './dotenv.php';

You did it!

You can have separate installations for your WordPress now without changing any code block or installing plugins.

Of course, there is a downside to this approach. You have to care wp-load.php and wp-config.php files after every core update. But it’s a tiny downside. I am using git to follow changes, I am just reverting the changes in this file after the update (or I am adding required lines to new versions of this file), and it’s done.

keep safe kittens

final notice; do not forget to configure the public access to .env file from outworld. no one wants to share db password with others. check URL, it must return 404. for apache , for nginx

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