Set or change pre-defined environment variables in Docker Compose

Compose already comes with pre-defined environment variables. It also inherits common Docker CLI environment variables, such as DOCKER_HOST and DOCKER_CONTEXT. See Docker CLI environment variable reference for details.

This page contains information on how you can set or change the following pre-defined environment variables if you need to:


Methods to override

You can set or change the pre-defined environment variables:

When changing or setting any environment variables, be aware of Environment variable precedence.



Sets the project name. This value is prepended along with the service name to the container's name on startup.

For example, if your project name is myapp and it includes two services db and web, then Compose starts containers named myapp-db-1 and myapp-web-1 respectively.

Compose can set the project name in different ways. The level of precedence (from highest to lowest) for each method is as follows:

  1. The -p command line flag
  3. The top level name: variable from the config file (or the last name: from a series of config files specified using -f)
  4. The basename of the project directory containing the config file (or containing the first config file specified using -f)
  5. The basename of the current directory if no config file is specified

Project names must contain only lowercase letters, decimal digits, dashes, and underscores, and must begin with a lowercase letter or decimal digit. If the basename of the project directory or current directory violates this constraint, you must use one of the other mechanisms.

See also the command-line options overview and using -p to specify a project name.


Specifies the path to a Compose file. Specifying multiple Compose files is supported.

  • Default behavior: If not provided, Compose looks for a file named compose.yaml or docker-compose.yaml in the current directory and, if not found, then Compose searches each parent directory recursively until a file by that name is found.
  • Default separator: When specifying multiple Compose files, the path separators are, by default, on:
    • Mac and Linux: : (colon),
    • Windows: ; (semicolon).

The path separator can also be customized using COMPOSE_PATH_SEPARATOR.


See also the command-line options overview and using -f to specify name and path of one or more Compose files.


Specifies one or more profiles to be enabled on compose up execution. Services with matching profiles are started as well as any services for which no profile has been defined.

For example, calling docker compose upwith COMPOSE_PROFILES=frontend selects services with the frontend profile as well as any services without a profile specified.

  • Default separator: specify a list of profiles using a comma as separator.

Example: COMPOSE_PROFILES=frontend,debug
This example enables all services matching both the frontend and debug profiles and services without a profile.

See also Using profiles with Compose and the --profile command-line option.


When enabled, Compose performs path conversion from Windows-style to Unix-style in volume definitions.

  • Supported values:
    • true or 1, to enable,
    • false or 0, to disable.
  • Defaults to: 0.


Specifies a different path separator for items listed in COMPOSE_FILE.

  • Defaults to:
    • On macOS and Linux to :,
    • On Windows to;.


When enabled, Compose doesn't try to detect orphaned containers for the project.

  • Supported values:
    • true or 1, to enable,
    • false or 0, to disable.
  • Defaults to: 0.


Specifies the maximum level of parallelism for concurrent engine calls.


Specifies when to print ANSI control characters.

  • Supported values:
    • auto, Compose detects if TTY mode can be used. Otherwise, use plain text mode.
    • never, use plain text mode.
    • always or 0, use TTY mode.
  • Defaults to: auto.


When enabled, Compose writes its internal status and progress messages to stdout instead of stderr. The default value is false to clearly separate the output streams between Compose messages and your container's logs.

  • Supported values:
    • true or 1, to enable,
    • false or 0, to disable.
  • Defaults to: 0.


Lets you specify which environment files Compose should use if --env-file isn't used.

When using multiple environment files, use a comma as a separator. For example,

COMPOSE_ENV_FILES=.env.envfile1, .env.envfile2

If COMPOSE_ENV_FILES is not set, and you don't provide --env-file in the CLI, Docker Compose uses the default behavior, which is to look for an .env file in the project directory.

Unsupported in Compose V2

The environment variables listed below have no effect in Compose V2. For more information, see Migrate to Compose V2.

  • COMPOSE_API_VERSION By default the API version is negotiated with the server. Use DOCKER_API_VERSION.
    See the Docker CLI environment variable reference page.
  • COMPOSE_DOCKER_CLI_BUILD Use DOCKER_BUILDKIT to select between BuildKit and the classic builder. If DOCKER_BUILDKIT=0 then docker compose build uses the classic builder to build images.