All My Dotfiles Are Belong To You

Under a Blood Red Moon

As I mentioned in my last post, I am a bit of a computer nerd. The last couple of months have seen my head buried in my Mac’s Terminal tapping out and learning old-style commands: grep this, ack that, and vim you. I say old-style but the computer terminal is still as current and as useful as it was back in the ’60s and ’70s when it was the only way to access computing power. Technically, Terminal (and other software like it) is not a real terminal, it is a piece of software emulating—or pretending to be—a terminal. There is even a terminal emulator available (for a fee) that looks just like an actual vintage computer screen—complete with flickering, fuzzy letters, and curved edges—called Cathode. It is visually spectacular, but a little OTT for me.

Sharing is Caring

I recently decided to join the growing community of dotfilers on GitHub, a web frontend for using git, a distributed version control system (VCS). VCSs are used where it is handy to keep track of files in a project as they change. At various intervals one commits changes made to the project into the local repository. This way, one has a record of all the changes made to a file over the length of time the project is worked on.

Using GitHub and git is a great way of sharing stuff, giving back to the community—it is a social coding site. It is also a great way of sharing stuff between one’s own machines, a bit like Dropbox but more nerdy. This makes it ideal to keep something like your dotfiles. All you have to do is upload (or push in git-speak) on one machine, and then download (or clone) your files on another. Et voila! You have your familiar environment set up and ready to go. What’s really great is that one can make changes on this other machine, push the changes to GitHub, and grab them on the original machine. Cool.

But What Are Dotfiles?

On a UNIX-like OS (think all the Linuxes, Mac OS X, and more I don’t know), dotfiles are simply files whose name starts with a dot, otherwise known as a full stop, or period. They are usually not displayed in a directory listing, or in file browsers like OS X’s Finder. Prepending a dot to a file’s name is a way of hiding that file from a basic directory listing.

They are use mainly for storing application settings and configuration data, or for data that shouldn’t be as easily accessible as a plain file. Some common dot-files are the so-called RC files, named after runcom files, of which .vimrc and .bash_profile (.bashrc on Linux etc.) are a few examples.

All My Dotfiles…

So anyhow, all that was just to say that I have my dotfiles on GitHub. I don’t expect that to make much if a difference to most of you, but you never know. I hope it does. Merry Christmas.