Dotfiles

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User-specific application configuration is traditionally stored in so called dotfiles (files whose filename starts with a dot). It is common practice to track dotfiles with a version control system such as Git to keep track of changes and synchronize dotfiles across various hosts. There are various approaches to managing your dotfiles (e.g. directly tracking dotfiles in the home directory v.s. storing them in a subdirectory and symlinking/copying/generating files with a shell script or a dedicated tool). Apart from explaining how to manage your dotfiles this article also contains a list of dotfile repositories from Arch Linux users.

Tracking dotfiles directly with Git

The benefit of tracking dotfiles directly with Git is that it only requires Git and does not involve symlinks. The disadvantage is that host-specific configuration generally requires merging changes into multiple branches.

The simplest way to achieve this approach is to initialize a Git repository directly in your home directory and ignoring all files by default with a gitignore(5) pattern of *. This method however comes with two drawbacks: it can become confusing when you have other Git repositories in your home directory (e.g. if you forget to initialize a repository you suddenly operate on your dotfile repository) and you can no longer easily see which files in the current directory are untracked (because they are ignored).

An alternative method without these drawbacks is the "bare repository and alias method" popularized by this Hacker News comment, which just takes three commands to set up:

$ git init --bare ~/.dotfiles
$ alias config='/usr/bin/git --git-dir=$HOME/.dotfiles/ --work-tree=$HOME'
$ config config status.showUntrackedFiles no

You can then manage your dotfiles with the created alias.

Tip: To avoid accidentally commiting confidential information, see Git#Filtering confidential information.

Host-specific configuration

A common problem with synchronizing dotfiles across various machines is host-specific configuration.

With Git this can be solved by maintaining a master branch for all shared configuration, while each individual machine has a machine-specific branch checked out. Host-specific configuration can be committed to the machine-specific branch; when shared configuration is modified in the master branch, the per-machine branches need to be rebased on top of the updated master.

In configuration scripts like shell configuration files conditional logic can be used. For example, Bash scripts (i.e. .bashrc) can apply different configuration depending on the machine name (or type, custom variable, etc.):

if [[ "$(hostname)" == "archlaptop" ]]; then
    # laptop specific commands here
else
    # desktop or server machine commands
fi

Similar can also be achieved with .Xresources.[1]

If you find rebasing Git branches too cumbersome, you may want to use a tool that supports file grouping, or if even greater flexibility is desired, a tool that does processing.

Tools

File grouping
How configuration files can be grouped to configuration groups (also called profiles or packages).
Processing
Some tools process configuration files to allow them to be customized depending on the host.
Name Package Written in File grouping Processing
dotdrop dotdropAUR Python configuration file Jinja2
dotfiles dotfilesAUR Python No No
Dots dots-managerAUR Python directory-based custom append points
GNU Stow stow Perl directory-based[2] No
Mackup mackupAUR Python automatic per application No
mir.qualia mir.qualiaAUR Python No custom blocks
rcm rcmAUR Perl directory-based (by host or tag) No

Tools wrapping Git

If you are uncomfortable with Git, you may want to use one of these tools, which abstract the version control system away (more or less).

Name Package Written in File grouping Processing
dotgit dotgitAUR Bash filename-based No
homeshick homeshick-gitAUR Bash repository-wise No
homesick homesickAUR Ruby repository-wise No
Pearl pearl-gitAUR Bash repository-wise No
vcsh vcshAUR Shell repository-wise No
yadm1) yadm-gitAUR Shell filename-based
(by class, OS, hostname & user) [3]
Jinja2
(optional)[4]
  1. Supports encryption of confidential files with GPG.[5]

User repositories

Author Shell (Shell framework) WM / DE Editor Terminal Multiplexer Audio Monitor Mail IRC
alfunx zsh awesome vim kitty tmux ncmpcpp/mpd htop/lain thunderbird
Ambrevar Eshell EXWM Emacs Emacs (Eshell) Emacs TRAMP + dtach EMMS conky/dzen mu4e Circe
awal fish i3 vim st tmux i3status The Lounge
ayekat zsh karuiwm vim rxvt-unicode tmux ncmpcpp/mpd karuibar mutt irssi
bamos zsh i3/xmonad vim/emacs rxvt-unicode tmux mpv/cmus conky/xmobar mutt ERC
brisbin33 zsh xmonad vim rxvt-unicode screen dzen mutt irssi
BVollmerhaus bash i3-gaps kakoune rxvt-unicode polybar thunderbird
cinelli zsh dwm vim termite-git pianobar htop mutt-kz weechat
dikiaap zsh i3-gaps neovim alacritty tmux i3blocks
Earnestly zsh i3/orbment vim/emacs termite tmux mpd conky mutt weechat
ErikBjare zsh xmonad/xfce4 vim terminator tmux xfce4-panel weechat
falconindy bash i3 vim rxvt-unicode ncmpcpp conky mutt
graysky zsh xfce4 vim terminal ncmpcpp custom thunderbird
hugdru zsh awesome neovim rxvt-unicode tmux thunderbird weechat
insanum bash herbstluftwm vim evilvte tmux dzen mutt-kz
jasonwryan bash/zsh dwm vim rxvt-unicode tmux ncmpcpp custom mutt irssi
jdevlieghere zsh xmonad vim terminal tmux htop mutt weechat
jelly zsh i3 vim termite tmux ncmpcpp mutt-kz-git weechat
maximbaz zsh i3-gaps neovim kitty py3status thunderbird
meskarune bash herbstluftwm vim rxvt-unicode screen conky weechat
neersighted zsh i3 vim rxvt-unicode tmux ncmpcpp htop mutt irssi
OK100 bash dwm vim rxvt-unicode cmus conky, dzen mutt weechat
pablox-cl zsh (zplug) gnome3 neovim kitty
reisub0 bash awesome neovim termite mpd conky
sistematico zsh/fish/bash i3-gaps vim/nano termite tmux ncmpcpp polybar mutt weechat
sitilge zsh awesome neovim termite thunderbird
swalladge zsh/bash i3 neovim/vim termite tmux cmus i3pystatus mutt
SyfiMalik zsh i3 vim rxvt-unicode tmux ncmpcpp/mpd polybar mutt weechat
thiagowfx bash/zsh i3 vim/emacs rxvt-unicode ncmpcpp i3blocks
vodik zsh xmonad vim termite-git tmux ncmpcpp custom mutt weechat
w0ng zsh dwm vim rxvt-unicode tmux ncmpcpp custom mutt irssi
whitelynx fish i3 neovim kitty i3pystatus
Wintervenom bash herbstluftwm vim rxvt-unicode screen mpd (mpc-utils) hlwm-dzen2 mutt weechat
wolfcore bash dwm vim rxvt-unicode tmux cmus custom weechat
zendeavor zsh i3 vim rxvt-unicode tmux ncmpcpp i3status weechat

See also