A slow realization: many of my dotfiles don't need to be dotfiles

September 9, 2013

Like many Unix people, I have a slowly accumulating drift of dotfiles (and dot-directories) cluttering up my $HOME. It has recently struck me that a certain amount of these dotfiles are in fact a self-inflicted injury, by which I mean that they don't actually have to be dotfiles in $HOME and I could move them elsewhere if I wanted to. There are two variants of this injury.

The first variety is where I have simply made a file a dotfile in $HOME out of reflexive habit. There is no system-supplied program that expects to find it there; I have simply needed a file for some purpose and made it a dotfile because it seemed to make sense. For example, I have a set of X resource files that I made into dotfiles basically just because. Since it's my X startup script that loads them into the X server, they could perfectly well live in, say, $HOME/lib/X11 under some set of sensible (and visible) names.

(Often there is some sort of vague link to something that was a necessary dotfile back in history.)

The second variety is where a program defaults to using a dotfile but this can be changed with a command line option and I already run the program in some automated way (through a cover script or the like). Here I can perfectly well change my automation to relocate the dotfile to some better place. There are probably a number of programs I'm running like this.

(Similar to this is things that can be moved with an environment variable, like $INPUTRC for $HOME/.inputrc.)

Certainly going forward I think my rule is going to be that I won't create any new dotfiles unless I have absolutely no choice. Relocating existing ones, well, I have a lot of inertia and my existing setup works, it's just got a massive clutter in $HOME that I can't see unless I do an 'ls -a'.

(Why dotfiles are a bad idea is probably not necessarily obvious, but that's another entry.)

PS: what brought this realization on was building out a version of my environment for Cinnamon on my laptop. When I was copying dotfiles over to the laptop and working on them I started asking myself why they actually were dotfiles instead of being organized somewhere sensible where I could see them.

Written on 09 September 2013.
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Last modified: Mon Sep 9 01:03:43 2013
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