To get a complete list of the environmental variables on your system, all you need to do is type set into a CMD prompt. Here are some of the most common, most useful environment variables for Windows:

LocationNotesWin7 x64Vista x64Vista x86XP
All Users DesktopC:\Users\Public\DesktopC:\Users\Public\DesktopC:\Users\Public\DesktopC:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Desktop
All Users Start MenuC:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start MenuC:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start MenuC:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start MenuC:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu
ALLUSERSPROFILEAll Users ProfileC:\ProgramDataC:\ProgramDataC:\ProgramDataC:\Documents and Settings\All Users
APPDATAC:\Users\username>\AppData\RoamingC:\Users\username\AppData\RoamingC:\Users\username\AppData\RoamingC:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data
CommonProgramFilesC:\Program Files\Common FilesC:\Program Files\Common FilesC:\Program Files\Common FilesC:\Program Files\Common Files
CommonProgramFiles(x86)Common 32bit Program Files on 64bit machineC:\Program Files (x86)\Common FilesC:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files
HOMEDRIVEC:C:C:C:
HOMEPATHLocation of User Profile while user is logged in (not location of roaming profile)\Users\username\Users\username\Users\username\Documents and Settings\username
IE FavoritesC:\Users\username\FavoritesC:\Users\username\FavoritesC:\Users\username\FavoritesC:\Documents and Settings\username\Favorites
LinksC:\Users\username\LinksC:\Documents and Settings\username\Links
LOCALAPPDATAMozilla Profile in VistaC:\Users\username\AppData\LocalC:\Users\username\AppData\LocalC:\Users\username\AppData\Local
Mozilla ProfileC:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Mozilla\Firefox\ProfilesC:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Mozilla\Firefox\ProfilesC:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Mozilla\Firefox\ProfilesC:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles
ProgramDataMST Login Scripts, All Users ProfileC:\ProgramDataC:\ProgramDataC:\ProgramData
ProgramFiles32bit programs for 32bit OS, 64bit programs for 64bit OSC:\Program FilesC:\Program FilesC:\Program FilesC:\Program Files
ProgramFiles(x86)32bit Program Files on 64bit machineC:\Program Files (x86)C:\Program Files (x86)
PublicShared Public Data in VistaC:\Users\PublicC:\Users\PublicC:\Users\Public
Quick Launch ToolbarQuick Launch shortcutsC:\Users\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick LaunchC:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick LaunchC:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick LaunchC:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch
SystemDriveDrive where Windows is installedC:C:C:C:
SystemRootLocation where Windows is installedC:\WindowsC:\WindowsC:\WindowsC:\WINNT
User DesktopC:\Users\username\DesktopC:\Users\username\DesktopC:\Users\username\DesktopC:\Documents and Settings\username\Desktop
User DocumentsC:\Users\username\DocumentsC:\Users\username\DocumentsC:\Users\username\DocumentsC:\Documents and Settings\username\My Documents
USERPROFILEProfile locationC:\Users\usernameC:\Users\usernameC:\Users\usernameC:\Documents and Settings\username
WINDIRLocation where Windows is installedC:\WindowsC:\WindowsC:\WindowsC:\WINNT

Update: you may have noticed that there is no environment variable that refers to the location of the user's My Documents directory. Based on this, there isn't a standard method for setting a program's home directory to be the My Documents directory. You can easily navigate to this by adding the documents directory to the %userprofile% variable – %userprofile%\documents.

What are Environment Variables Used For?

Environment variables help programs know what directory to install normal files, where to store temporary files, and where to find user profile info.

One environment variable that started in Vista and still sees heavy use today is %appdata%. This variable points to the location of data made by programs specific to users, such as browsers. If you type or paste this variable name into a run box or explorer window, it will open up the AppData\Roaming folder under your user profile.

As you've seen, this is but one of many useful variables you can use to not only open specific locations faster, but also to easily script and automate some tasks.

What useful environment variables for Windows do you use the most? While you're looking for time testing Windows tips and shortcuts, head over to the most useful shell commands for Windows.

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