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17.6 Random number environment variables

The library allows you to choose a default generator and seed from the environment variables GSL_RNG_TYPE and GSL_RNG_SEED and the function gsl_rng_env_setup. This makes it easy try out different generators and seeds without having to recompile your program.

Function: const gsl_rng_type * gsl_rng_env_setup (void)

This function reads the environment variables GSL_RNG_TYPE and GSL_RNG_SEED and uses their values to set the corresponding library variables gsl_rng_default and gsl_rng_default_seed. These global variables are defined as follows,

 
extern const gsl_rng_type *gsl_rng_default
extern unsigned long int gsl_rng_default_seed

The environment variable GSL_RNG_TYPE should be the name of a generator, such as taus or mt19937. The environment variable GSL_RNG_SEED should contain the desired seed value. It is converted to an unsigned long int using the C library function strtoul.

If you don't specify a generator for GSL_RNG_TYPE then gsl_rng_mt19937 is used as the default. The initial value of gsl_rng_default_seed is zero.

Here is a short program which shows how to create a global generator using the environment variables GSL_RNG_TYPE and GSL_RNG_SEED,

 
#include <stdio.h>
#include <gsl/gsl_rng.h>

gsl_rng * r;  /* global generator */

int
main (void)
{
  const gsl_rng_type * T;

  gsl_rng_env_setup();

  T = gsl_rng_default;
  r = gsl_rng_alloc (T);
  
  printf ("generator type: %s\n", gsl_rng_name (r));
  printf ("seed = %lu\n", gsl_rng_default_seed);
  printf ("first value = %lu\n", gsl_rng_get (r));

  gsl_rng_free (r);
  return 0;
}

Running the program without any environment variables uses the initial defaults, an mt19937 generator with a seed of 0,

 
$ ./a.out 
generator type: mt19937
seed = 0
first value = 4293858116

By setting the two variables on the command line we can change the default generator and the seed,

 
$ GSL_RNG_TYPE="taus" GSL_RNG_SEED=123 ./a.out 
GSL_RNG_TYPE=taus
GSL_RNG_SEED=123
generator type: taus
seed = 123
first value = 2720986350