Managing Dotfiles With Git

Dotfiles are user specific application configuration files. Traditionally, they are stored as files whose filename starts with a dot, hence the term dotfiles. It is common to track these dotfiles with a version control system such as Git for easy portability between systems. In this post, I will show my way of tracking and managing these dotfiles.


For easy management of all dotfiles in the home directory, I like to create a git repository which has a work tree in the $HOME directory but a separate git directory in $HOME/dotfiles. That way, this git repository won’t get in the way of other potential Git repositories you might have in your home directory or in subdirectories.

To do this, you first need to create a directory dotfiles in your home directory:

mkdir dotfiles

Next, we create an alias, so we don’t need to type this long command every time. To do this, paste the following:

echo "alias dotfiles=\"git --work-tree $HOME --git-dir $HOME/dotfiles\"" \
>> ~/.bashrc && bash

We can now initialize the dotfiles directory as a git directory inside of it by running:

dotfiles init

To add a remote origin for this repository, we run:

dotfiles remote add -t \* -f origin <url-of-the-remote-repository>

If this new remote repository already has dotfiles that you want to sync with your system, you can simply checkout the branch you want. For example dotfiles checkout master.

That is all you need to do to create this git repository, and you can do all the normal git specific commands but you just need to use dotfiles instead of git as the prefix. To add a new file to be tracked by this repository, you would do:

dotfiles add <filename> ;\
dotfiles commit -m "<Your commit message>" ;\
dotfiles push origin master

Since your home directory has a lot of files, you would most likely want to ignore all untracked files when checking the status of this git repository. For that, we can run:

dotfiles config --local status.showUntrackedFiles no


This is how I personally manage my own dotfiles and found this solution easier than other solutions such as symlinks, rsync, Ansible and so on. If you are interested in my own personal dotfiles you can check them out on my GitHub.