Carstens Blog

The best way to store your dotfiles: A bare Git repository

Disclaimer: This post is heavily based on the one at which goes more into the details

Some other sources you might want to check out:

The only pre-requisite is to install Git.

In his words the technique below requires:

No extra tooling, no symlinks, files are tracked on a version control system, you can use different branches for different computers, you can replicate you configuration easily on new installation.


Store your dotfiles in a Git bare repository which acts as a “side” folder (like $HOME/.dotfiles or $HOME/.myconfig) using a specially crafted alias. This alias runs the git-command against that repository and not the usual .git local folder, which would interfere with any other Git repositories around.

Starting from scratch

Create a bare git repo in your home folder and define an alias to work with it:

# __init repo
git init --bare $HOME/.dotfiles alias
# __create an alias
dotfiles='/usr/bin/git --git-dir=$HOME/.dotfiles/ --work-tree=$HOME'
# __set config option
dotfiles config --local status.showUntrackedFiles no
# __add alias to .bashrc 
echo "alias dotfiles='/usr/bin/git --git-dir=$HOME/.dotfiles/ --work-tree=$HOME'" >> $HOME/.bashrc
# __add alias to .zshrc
# echo "alias dotfiles='/usr/bin/git --git-dir=$HOME/.dotfiles/ --work-tree=$HOME'" >> $HOME/.zshrc

After this you can manage every file within the $HOME folder with the newly created dotfiles alias, like:

dotfiles status dotfiles add .vimrc dotfiles commit -m "Add vimrc" dotfiles add .bashrc dotfiles commit -m "Add bashrc" dotfiles push

Install your dotfiles onto a new system (or migrate to this setup)

If you already store your configuration/dotfiles in a Git repository, on a new system you can migrate to this setup with the following steps:

# Add the bare repo directory to a '.gitignore' file
echo "dotfiles/" >> .gitignore

# clone your repo into a '.dotfiles' directory
git clone --bare <git-repo-url> $HOME/.dotfiles

# Define the alias in the current shell scope:
alias dotfiles='/usr/bin/git --git-dir=$HOME/.dotfiles/ --work-tree=$HOME'

# Checkout the actual content from the bare repository to your '$HOME':
dotfiles checkout

The step above might fail with a message like:

error: The following untracked working tree files 
  would be overwritten by checkout:
  Please move or remove them before you can 
  switch branches

This is because your $HOME folder might already have some stock configuration files which would be overwritten by Git. The solution is simple: back up the files if you care about them, remove them if you don’t care. I provide you with a possible rough shortcut to move all the offending files automatically to a backup folder:

mkdir -p .dotfiles-backup && \ dotfiles checkout 2>&1 | egrep "\s+\." | awk {'print $1'} | \ xargs -I{} mv {} .dotfiles-backup/{}

Re-run the check out if you had problems:

dotfiles checkout

Set the flag showUntrackedFiles to no on this specific (local) repository:

dotfiles config --local status.showUntrackedFiles no

You’re done, from now on you can now type dotfiles commands to add and update your dotfiles:

dotfiles status dotfiles add .vimrc dotfiles commit -m "Add vimrc" dotfiles add .bashrc dotfiles commit -m "Add bashrc" dotfiles push

For completeness this is what I ended up with (tested on a freshly minted Alpine Linux virtualbox):

git clone --bare $HOME/.dotfiles
function dotfiles {
   /usr/bin/git --git-dir=$HOME/.dotfiles/ --work-tree=$HOME $@
mkdir -p .dotfiles-backup
dotfiles checkout
if [ $? = 0 ]; then
  echo "Checked out config.";
    echo "Backing up pre-existing dot files.";
    dotfiles checkout 2>&1 | egrep "\s+\." | awk {'print $1'} | xargs -I{} mv {} .dotfiles-backup/{}
dotfiles checkout
dotfiles config status.showUntrackedFiles no

Wrapping up

I hope you find this technique useful to track your configuration. If you’re curious, my dotfiles live here. Also please do stay connected by following @cblte.


To get the script from here into the Alpine virtualbox machine we use the help of the null-pointer from

# 1. Save the above script in a temporary file in  

# 2. The use the nullpointer to store it temporarily  
curl -F"file=@/tmp/get-dotfiles.txt"` 

# 3. in the virtualbox make sure curl and git are 
# installed by running  
doas apk add git curl

# 4. now download the shell script with curl and the 
# url from second step  
curl -o

# 5. change permission and run the file  
chmod +x