Managing Your Dotfiles With Git and Make

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At some point, I realized I was putting in an awful amount of work customizing my development environment while not being able to easily deploy it anywhere else. There are a number of tools that exist for this exact purpose, but I've found that using Git, Make, and GitHub fullfills all my requirements

I wanted to:

  1. Track changes to my dotfiles.
  2. Backup my dotfiles.
  3. Easily install my dotfiles on a new machine.

Initial Setup

Let's start by tracking your .bashrc:

  1. Set up a git repository for your dotfiles:
$ mkdir ~/dotfiles
$ cd ~/dotfiles && git init
  1. Move your .bashrc to ~/dotfiles/. Make sure to omit the . so it's not hidden in your repo:
$ mv ~/.bashrc ~/dotfiles/bashrc
  1. Create a Makefile.
$ touch ~/dotfiles/Makefile
  1. Put this inside ~/dotfiles/Makefile:1
pwd := $(shell pwd -LP)
.PHONY: bash
all: bash
        @ln -nfs "${pwd}/bashrc" ~/.bashrc
  1. Install your dotfiles:
$ make all
  1. After creating a new repo on GitHub, push your dotfiles:
$ git add .
$ git commit -m"Tracking my dotfiles."
$ git remote add origin <remote repository url>
$ git push -u origin master

Now, all changes to your dotfiles are tracked, and you can easily install your dotfiles on a new machine by cloning your dotfiles repo and running make all.

Adding More Dotfiles

If you want to add another dotfile, it's super easy. For example, let's add your Git config:

  1. Move your .gitconfig to ~/dotfiles/. Again, make sure to omit the . so it's not hidden:
$ mv ~/.gitconfig ~/dotfiles/gitconfig
  1. Update ~/dotfiles/Makefile to be:
pwd := $(shell pwd -LP)
.PHONY: bash git
all: bash git
        @ln -nfs "${pwd}/bashrc" ~/.bashrc
        @ln -nfs "${pwd}/gitconfig" ~/.gitconfig
  1. Install your dotfiles:
$ make all

Installing Your Dotfiles on a New Machine

It's as easy as:

$ git clone <remote repository url> ~/dotfiles
$ cd ~/dotfiles && make all


Since you're using Make, you can have much more complex setup logic. For example, I have different installation paths for different operating systems and separate dedicated Makefiles for things like Vim. If you're curious, you can check out my dotfiles on GitHub.


  1. Makefile syntax is finicky. Check out