Louis does dotfiles


For a long time, I kept a small set of minimalistic dotfiles (.bash_profile, .gitconfig, .vimrc). You probably couldn't find anything in my .bash_profile other than exports and path definitions that were absolutely necessary to get tools such as Homebrew and virtualenvwrapper to work. Furthermore, I was dismissive towards spending any significant amount of time down the rabbit hole of perpetual dotfile customization and optimization.

Recently, while digging through my bookmarks saved from months ago, I came across GitHub does dotfiles. Needless to say, after perusing through some of the most popular dotfiles, dotfile utilities and tutorials, I came away quite impressed. It disabused me of my previous misbelief that dotfile calibration is ultimately a fruitless and ceaseless task, and I decided to give it another shot.

Getting Started

Instead of starting from scratch, I decided to bootstrap off an existing dotfile repo. From going through GitHub does dotfiles, I found Mathias Bynens' dotfiles to be by far the most popular. Not only that, it seemed to offer the most sensible defaults for OSX.

First, I created a fork (Louis' fork of Mathias' dotfiles) and cloned it locally. From several blog posts, I have found that some people like to clone to a directory under ~, such as ~/dotfiles. Personally, I like to clone it to a synchronized directory, such as ~/Dropbox/dotfiles, so that I can still easily access it anywhere that has an internet connection, even if it is infeasible to install and use git.

Now we need to create symlinks to these dotfiles inside the home directory. While you can do this manually, it can become cumbersome to manage should you decide to remove or update these symlinks in the future. Hence, it might be worthwhile to consider using one of the dotfile mananagement utilities. After trying out rcm [1], and giving serious consideration to a few others that seemed promising (homesick, dfm), I settled on GNU Stow.

GNU Stow

First, we install GNU Stow with Homebrew:

$ brew install stow

A few good places to get started with GNU Stow are Using GNU Stow to manage your dotfiles and Managing Dotfiles with GNU Stow. Perhaps the most important thing to know is the terminology it uses. Specifically, what package, target directory and stow directory are. From the man page:

A "package" is a related collection of files and directories that you wish to administer as a unit [...]

A "target directory" is the root of a tree in which one or more packages wish to appear to be installed. [...]

A "stow directory" is the root of a tree containing separate packages in private subtrees. When Stow runs, it uses the current directory as the default stow directory.

Note that by default, the target directory is the parent of the stow directory.

Since our dotfiles reside in ~/Dropbox/dotfiles, for our purposes, the stow directory should be ~/Dropbox and the package should be dotfiles. The target directory is the parent of the stow directory, which is ~, so no further modifications are required.

Additionally, there are a few bash scripts (bootstrap.sh, brew.sh) which we don't wish to symlink to from our home directory, so we want Stow to ignore those.

It may be a good idea to see what Stow will do to your filesystem without actually making any modifications. To do this, we can use the flags --simulate --verbose=1.

Putting it all together, we have:

$ stow --ignore='(bootstrap.sh|brew.sh)' \
       --simulate --verbose=1 \
       --dir=$HOME/Dropbox/ dotfiles
LINK: .aliases => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.aliases
LINK: .bash_profile => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.bash_profile
LINK: .bash_prompt => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.bash_prompt
LINK: .bashrc => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.bashrc
LINK: .curlrc => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.curlrc
LINK: .editorconfig => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.editorconfig
LINK: .exports => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.exports
LINK: .functions => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.functions
LINK: .gdbinit => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.gdbinit
LINK: .gitattributes => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.gitattributes
LINK: .gitconfig => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.gitconfig
LINK: .gvimrc => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.gvimrc
LINK: .hgignore => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.hgignore
LINK: .hushlogin => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.hushlogin
LINK: .inputrc => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.inputrc
LINK: .osx => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.osx
LINK: .path => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.path
LINK: .screenrc => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.screenrc
LINK: .vim => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.vim
LINK: .vimrc => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.vimrc
LINK: .wgetrc => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/.wgetrc
LINK: bin => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/bin
LINK: init => ../Dropbox/dotfiles/init
WARNING: in simulation mode so not modifying filesystem.

If you're happy with this, go ahead and remove the simulate option and run again! That's it!


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