Validating environment variables with zod

March 18, 2023 ・ 4 min read

This is a quick blog post to showcase something I’ve seen in some frontend starter repositories, namely create-t3-app.

Environment variables and .env files are the de-facto way of configuring JavaScript web applications. Most meta-frameworks, such as Next.js, Svelte Kit, and others, support them out of the box, allowing you to have one or multiple .env files for your projects.

Some frameworks even add TypeScript support, generating types based on the contents of your .env files, as svelte-kit does.

Taking it a step further

Even with TypeScript support, there is one thing that I think is essential for most web applications: runtime validation of used environment variables.

This is extremely useful when other developers check out your projects. It can be difficult to figure out exactly what environment variables are needed and what values they should have, unless you keep a detailed documentation of every environment variable (which you should do, even if you use the information in this blog post).

And as it’s usual for runtime validations, we can use zod to perform this task:

import z from "zod";

const envSchema = z.object({
  DATABASE_URL: z.string(),
  NODE_ENV: z.enum(["development", "test", "production"]).default("development"),

export const ENV = envSchema.parse(process.env);

In the above code, we define a zod schema that requires the presence of a DATABASE_URL and NODE_ENV. The value of NODE_ENV defaults to development.

Next, we export an ENV variable with the result of the parse function from our zod schema. The parse function validates the contents of process.env and returns an object that matches the schema. This means we filter out any unnecessary information from process.env. Keep this in mind.

We can use it as such:

import { ENV } from "./env.ts";

// This will use be fully typed if using Typescript! Will also work for Javascript.

When using TypeScript, all uses of ENV will be strongly typed. Additionally, if the schema has validation errors, the application itself will crash if DATABASE_URL is missing, for example.

Handling non-string values

If you need to read non-string values such as numbers or booleans from your environment, you can rely on the transform function.

import z from "zod";

const envSchema = z.object({
    DATABASE_URL: z.string(),
    NODE_ENV: z.enum(["development", "test", "production"]).default("development"),
    SOME_NUMBER: z.string().regex(/^\\d+$/).transform(Number),
    SOME_BOOLEAN: z.enum(["true", "false"]).transform((v) => v === "true"),

export const ENV = envSchema.parse(process.env);

The strategy here is to first validate the string value, and then use transform to convert it to the final value. For numbers, a simple regex can be used, and for booleans, an enum can be used. When using ENV, SOME_NUMBER and SOME_BOOLEAN will have a type of number and boolean, respectively.

Handling a bad schema

If our environment doesn’t match our defined schema, our application could crash during runtime. Some frameworks and libraries might actually crash when running the app server itself, which is good, but others might crash during runtime. To prevent this, it is a good practice to validate the schema before running our application.

First, we need to find a way to extract issues from our schema, as it will be useful when running the validation script.

import z from "zod";

const envSchema = z.object({
  DATABASE_URL: z.string(),
  NODE_ENV: z.enum(["development", "test", "production"]).default("development"),

export const ENV = envSchema.parse(process.env);

export const getEnvIssues = (): z.ZodIssue[] | void => {
  const result = serverEnvSchema.safeParse(process.env);
  if (!result.success) return result.error.issues;

Next, we write a validation script that we can run before launching our web app. You can even incorporate this step into your CI pipelines, to detect environment errors before actually deploying your application. I personally add this script to my build step on Vercel or Netlify (or wherever I’m deploying).

Make sure to install zod-error as well. It helps to prettify zod errors for you.

import { generateErrorMessage } from "zod-error";
import { getEnvIssues } from "./env.ts";

const issues = getEnvIssues();

if (issues) {
  console.error("Invalid environment variables, check the errors below!");
    generateErrorMessage(issues, {
      delimiter: { error: "\\n" },

console.log("The environment variables are valid!");

If you are working in a TypeScript environment, you can run the script above using ts-node.

I can’t use process.env!

Users of tools like deno, Cloudflare Workers, vite, or bun cannot use process.env, which is specific to Node.js (although it also works on Webpack!).

Instead, here are some alternatives:

  • deno - use Deno.env.toObject()
  • Cloudflare - while not tested, you can try to access environment variables as global variables via globalThis
  • vite - use import.meta.env
  • bun - use Bun.env

In summary, consult the documentation for your runtime or meta-framework to learn how to access the objects containing all environment variables.

Hope this information is helpful! See you soon.

Want to talk about this? Feel free to reach me on the web: