Managing dotfiles with stow(8)

Stow Away. Cast: my dotfiles. Written and Directed by: me

Files that begin with a . (dot) character, are hidden on all *nix systems, and allows one to do tasks ranging from customizing colors to shutting down skynet.

How I started with dotfiles#

I came across the concept of dotfiles back in 2019, courtesy of HackerNews ;). Back then, I didn’t have any “dotfiles” to actually manage—I was using standard macOS applications and GitHub’s Atom for all my programming purposes (ik, i was a noob back then).

After a while, around the start of 2020, I started using vim, switched to yabai and started using skhd , worked around $AAPL’s ridiculous default settings (I’m looking at you, Dock) accessible only through the command-line and I found myself modifying and breaking a lot of my settings more often then not.

Hence I decided to put all my dotfiles scattered everywhere under git like any normal person, and manually symlinked them to the necessary locations.1

Present day#

I then switched to Linux-based distros after I got zephyrus. This led to a lot more tools for which I needed to could manage dotfiles - I used i3 as my WM, zathura as my PDF reader, nvim for text-editing (believe me, it’s sooo much better, especially with lua), i3status and i3blocks, tmux and a looot of colorscheme customisations. Moreover, every other weekend, I was trying out other distros - Manjaro, Debian, Alpine to name a few and needed a way to make my configs portable :).

I now use vanilla Pop!_OS 21.04 with Gnome and Pop-shell for a simple, just-works™ setup. Over the months, I had a lot of dotfiles and individually symlinking them became a PITA, especially after a clean install.

That was when I found stow(8) .

cd ~/dots && stow *#

Now, it’s as simple as that. All that was needed was a little bit of organisation of files.

Let’s take “stow"ing nvim’s config files. Typically they need to be placed in ~/.config/nvim/.

So, for stow to symlink your nvim files properly, you need to have your files organised like this:

           ├─ init.lua
           ├─ lua/
           └─ plugin/

When you do stow nvim, all the files in the nvim directory get symlinked in the parent directory of your “stow dir”, which is ~.

Doing stow *, symlinks all “package directories” (essentially the top level folders in stow dir) to the parent directory.

© Akilesh Kannan 2023 · Made with Neovim and Hugo · Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0