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Dotfile Management Made Easy with GNU Stow


As a developer, you likely have a set of configuration files, or “dotfiles,” that you use to customize your development environment. These dotfiles can range from your .bashrc file to your Vim configuration and custom aliases.

Managing dotfiles can be a hassle, especially when you have multiple machines or need to set up a new one. That’s where GNU Stow comes in. It’s a symlink farm manager that simplifies dotfile management by creating symlinks from your dotfiles directory to your home directory.

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To get started with GNU Stow, you’ll need to install it. It’s usually named stow in your distro’s package manager. Once installed, create a ~/.dotfiles directory to store your config files. Make sure to put your configs in the same name and directory structure as they would be in ~. For example, if your default neovim config location is ~/.config/nvim/init.vim, create this file at ~/.dotfiles/.config/nvim/init.vim.

Now, when you run stow -v . from within the ~/.dotfiles directory, it will create the appropriate symlinks, and your programs can read them. For instance, the ~/.config/nvim/init.vim -> ~/.dotfiles/.config/nvim/init.vim symlink will be created following from the above example.

Be careful, though. If there’s a directory already present with the same name as one inside dotfiles, the symlink will be created inside that directory. For example, if ~/.config/nvim already exists, running stow will create ~/.config/nvim/nvim -> ~/dotfiles/.config/nvim.

Clean Up

Use stow -Dv . to remove all dotfiles. You can also remove individual dotfiles by specifying the directory name, such as stow -Dv .config/nvim.

It’s a good idea to version control your dotfiles with Git, which allows you to easily sync them across multiple machines and track changes. However, be careful not to leak any sensitive information if your dotfiles repo is public on GitHub. Also, test your dotfiles thoroughly before pushing changes to your repository.

Final Words

In conclusion, managing your dotfiles with GNU Stow and Git can save you time and headaches. With a little setup, you can manage your dotfiles across multiple machines and keep them version controlled.