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A .env file specifies your build/dev-time environment variables.

This file should be added to your .gitignore file to avoid pushing secrets to your repository.

Dev, Build and Generate Time

Nuxt CLI has built-in dotenv support in development mode and when running nuxi build and nuxi generate.

In addition to any process environment variables, if you have a .env file in your project root directory, it will be automatically loaded at dev, build and generate time. Any environment variables set there will be accessible within your nuxt.config file and modules.

Note that removing a variable from .env or removing the .env file entirely will not unset values that have already been set.

Custom File

If you want to use a different file - for example, to use .env.local or .env.production - you can do so by passing the --dotenv flag when using nuxi.

npx nuxi dev --dotenv .env.local

When updating .env in development mode, the Nuxt instance is automatically restarted to apply new values to the process.env.

Production Preview

After your server is built, you are responsible for setting environment variables when you run the server.

Your .env file will not be read at this point. How you do this is different for every environment.

For local production preview purpose, we recommend using nuxi preview since using this command, the .env file will be loaded into process.env for convenience. Note that this command requires dependencies to be installed in the package directory.

Or you could pass the environment variables as arguments using the terminal. For example, on Linux or macOS:

DATABASE_HOST=mydatabaseconnectionstring node .output/server/index.mjs

Note that for a purely static site, it is not possible to set runtime configuration config after your project is prerendered.

Read more in Docs > Guide > Going Further > Runtime Config.
If you want to use environment variables set at build time but do not care about updating these down the line (or only need to update them reactively within your app) then appConfig may be a better choice. You can define appConfig both within your nuxt.config (using environment variables) and also within an ~/app.config.ts file in your project.
Read more in Docs > Guide > Directory Structure > App Config.