Avoid fragmenting your configuration

Nowadays configuration often is done using environment (aka ENV) variables. They work great using docker/containers, in development and production, on all platforms and using all languages. In short I think environment variables are great for configuration of many aspects of an application.

However, I encountered a pattern in several different applications that I really dislike: Several, fragmented ENV variables for one configurable aspect of the application.

Let us have a look at two examples to see what I mean, then I will try to explain where it could come from and why I think it is bad practice. Finally I will show a better alternative – at least in my opinion.

First real world example

In one javascript app a websocket url was made configurable using 4 (!) ENV variables like this:

WS_PREFIX || "wss://";
WS_HOST || "hostname";
WS_PORT || "";
WS_PATH || "/ws";

function ConnectionString(prefix, host, port, path) {
  return {
    attrib: {
    string: prefix + host + port + path,

We immediately see, that the author wrote a function to deal with the complex configuration in the rest of the application. Not only the devops team or administrators need to supply many ENV variables but they have to supply them in a peculiar way:

The port needs to be specified as :8888, using a leading colon (or the host needs a trailing colon…) which is more than unexpected. The alternative would be a better and more sophisticated implementation of ConnectionString…

Another real example

In the following example the code there are again three ENV variables dealing with hosts, urls and websockets. This examples feels quite convoluted, is hard to understand and definitely needs a refactoring.


const defaultHost = window.TANGOGQL_HOST ?? "localhost:5004";
const defaultSocketUrl = window.TANGOGQL_SOCKET ?? ws://${defaultHost}/socket;

// dealing with config peculiarities somewhere else
const socketUrl = React.useMemo(() =>
        config.host.replace(/.*:\/\//, "ws://") + "/socket"
    , [config.host]);


The examples show clearly that something simple like a configuration for an URL can lead to complicated and hard to use solutions. Most likely the authors tried to not repeat themselves and factored the URLs into the smallest sensible components. While this may sound like a good idea it puts burden on both the developers and the devops team configuring the application.

In my opinion it would be much simpler and more usable for both parties to have complete URLs for the different use cases. Of course this could mean repeating protocols, hostnames and ports if they are the same in the different situations. But just having one or two ENV variables like


would be straightforward to use in code and to be configured in the runtime environment. At the same time the chance for errors and the complexity in the configuration is reduced.

Even though certain parts of the URLs are duplicated in the configuration I highly prefer this approach over the presented real world solutions.

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