Technical blog by Matt Kubej

Stowing configs

April 10th, 2020

I have been managing my dotfiles and configuration for years within git, but only recently encountered stow. It has greatly simplified managing my configuration and put any previous headaches to rest.

Stow serves as a symlink farm manager. It allows you to store your files in a separate directory, but makes them appear as though they exist in the location your system expects them.

For example, my system expects my tmux configuration to exist in ~/.tmux.conf, but it would be undesirable to use my home directory as a git repository. With stow, I can place my tmux configuration in ~/configs/tmux/.tmux.conf and establish a symlink to ~/.tmux.conf by changing directories to the configs folder and executing stow on the tmux folder by running cd ~/configs && stow tmux. Stow simply mirrors and symlinks the contents of the specified package as the first argument.

My configs directory looks as follows:

➜ tree -L 4 -a -I .git ~/configs
├── compton
│   └── .config
│       └── compton.conf
├── fish
│   └── .config
│       └── fish
│           └──
├── i3
│   └── .config
│       └── i3
│           └── config
├── kitty
│   └── .config
│       └── kitty
│           └── kitty.conf
├── nvim
│   └── .config
│       └── nvim
│           ├── coc-settings.json
│           └── init.vim
├── polybar
│   └── .config
│       └── polybar
│           └── config
├── tmux
│   └── .tmux.conf
└── zathura
    └── .config
        └── zathura
            └── zathurarc

21 directories, 9 files

I would simply go into the ~/configs directory and execute stow as follows:

➜ cd ~/configs
➜ stow compton
➜ stow fish
➜ stow i3
➜ stow kitty
➜ stow nvim
➜ stow polybar
➜ stow tmux
➜ stow zathura

Removing a symlink is just as easy. I could remove the nvim symlink as follows:

➜ cd ~/configs
➜ stow -D nvim

If you are wondering even why you would want to source control your personal configuration, then here are a few reasons to consider:

  • Fearlessly test-drive settings with the ability to revert back
  • Retain a history of changes
  • Provide portability of your configuration across machines

You can find my personal configurations at: