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vcsh - manage config files in $HOME via fake bare git repositories


  1. Contact
  2. Introduction
  3. Overview
  4. Getting Started
  5. Usage

1 Contact

There are several ways to get in touch with the author and a small but committed community around the general idea of version controlling your (digital) life.

2 Introduction

vcsh allows you to have several git repositories, all maintaining their working trees in $HOME without clobbering each other. That, in turn, means you can have one repository per config set (zsh, vim, ssh, etc), picking and choosing which configs you want to use on which machine.

vcsh was designed with mr in mind so you might want to install that, as well.

Read for detailed setup instructions.

The following overview will try to give you an idea of the use cases and advantages of vcsh. See sections 3 and 4 for detailed instructions and examples.

3 Overview

3.1 Comparison to Other Solutions

Most people who decide to put their dotfiles under version control start with a single repository in $HOME, adding all their dotfiles (and possibly more) to it. This works, of course, but can become a nuisance as soon as you try to manage more than one host.

The next logical step is to create single-purpose repositories in, for example, ~/.dotfiles and to create symbolic links in $HOME. This gives you the flexibility to check out only certain repositories on different hosts. The downsides of this approach are the necessary manual steps of cloning and symlinking the individual repositories. It will probably become a nuisance when you try to manage more than two hosts.

vcsh takes this second approach one step further. It expects single-purpose repositories and stores them in a hidden directory (similar to ~/.dotfiles). However, it does not create symbolic links in $HOME; it puts the actual files right into $HOME.

Furthermore, by making use of mr, it makes it very easy to enable/disable and clone a large number of repositories. The use of mr is technically optional (see 4.3), but it will be an integral part of the proposed system that follows.

3.2 Default Directory Layout

To illustrate, this is what a possible directory structure looks like.

    |-- $XDG_CONFIG_HOME (defaults to $HOME/.config)
    |   |-- mr
    |   |   |-- available.d
    |   |   |   |-- zsh.vcsh
    |   |   |   |-- gitconfigs.vcsh
    |   |   |   |-- lftp.vcsh
    |   |   |   |-- offlineimap.vcsh
    |   |   |   |-- s3cmd.vcsh
    |   |   |   |-- tmux.vcsh
    |   |   |   |-- vim.vcsh
    |   |   |   |-- vimperator.vcsh
    |   |   |   `-- snippets.git
    |   |   `-- config.d
    |   |       |-- zsh.vcsh        -> ../available.d/zsh.vcsh
    |   |       |-- gitconfigs.vcsh -> ../available.d/gitconfigs.vcsh
    |   |       |-- tmux.vcsh       -> ../available.d/tmux.vcsh
    |   |       `-- vim.vcsh        -> ../available.d/vim.vcsh
    |   `-- vcsh
    |       |-- config
    |       `-- repo.d
    |           |-- zsh.git  -----------+
    |           |-- gitconfigs.git      |
    |           |-- tmux.git            |
    |           `-- vim.git             |
    |-- [...]                           |
    |-- .zshrc   <----------------------+
    |-- .gitignore.d
    |   `-- zsh
    |-- .mrconfig
    `-- .mrtrust


The files you see in $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d are mr configuration files that contain the commands to manage (checkout, update etc.) a single repository. vcsh repo configs end in .vcsh, git configs end in .git, etc. This is optional and your preference. For example, this is what a zsh.vcsh with read-only access to my zshrc repo looks likes. I.e. in this specific example, push can not work as you will be using the author's repository. This is for demonstration, only. Of course, you are more than welcome to clone from this repository and fork your own.

checkout = vcsh clone 'git://' zsh
update   = vcsh run zsh git pull
push     = vcsh run zsh git push
status   = vcsh run zsh git status
gc       = vcsh run zsh git gc


$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d contains all available repositories. Only files/links present in mr/config.d, however, will be used by mr. That means that in this example, only the zsh, gitconfigs, tmux and vim repositories will be checked out. A simple mr update run in $HOME will clone or update those four repositories listed in config.d.


Finally, ~/.mrconfig will tie together all those single files which will allow you to conveniently run mr up etc. to manage all repositories. It looks like this:

jobs = 5
include = cat $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/config.d/*


$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vcsh/repo.d is the directory where all git repositories which are under vcsh's control are located. Since their working trees are configured to be in $HOME, the files contained in those repositories will be put in $HOME directly. Of course, mr will work with this layout if configured according to this document (see above).

vcsh will check if any file it would want to create exists. If it exists, vcsh will throw a warning and exit. Move away your old config and try again. Optionally, merge your local and your global configs afterwards and push with vcsh run foo git push.

3.3 Moving into a New Host

To illustrate further, the following steps could move your desired configuration to a new host.

  1. Clone the mr repository (containing available.d, config.d etc.); for example: vcsh clone git://
  2. Choose your repositories by linking them in config.d (or go with the default you may have already configured by adding symlinks to git).
  3. Run mr to clone the repositories: cd; mr update.
  4. Done.

Hopefully the above could help explain how this approach saves time by

  1. making it easy to manage, clone and update a large number of repositories (thanks to mr) and
  2. making it unnecessary to create symbolic links in $HOME (thanks to vcsh).

If you want to give vcsh a try, follow the instructions below.

4 Getting Started

Below, you will find a few different methods for setting up vcsh:

  1. The Template Way
  2. The Steal-from-Template Way
  3. The Manual Way

4.1 The Template Way

4.1.1 Prerequisites

Make sure none of the following files and directories exist for your test (user). If they do, move them away for now:

  • ~/.gitignore.d
  • ~/.mrconfig
  • $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d/mr.vcsh
  • $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d/zsh.vcsh
  • $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/config.d/mr.vcsh
  • $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/vcsh/repo.d/mr.git/

All of the files are part of the template repository, the directory is where the template will be stored.

apt-get install mr

4.1.2 Clone the Template

mkdir -p ~/work/git
cd !$
git clone git:// vcsh
cd vcsh
ln -s vcsh /usr/local/bin        # or add it to your PATH
vcsh clone git:// mr.vcsh

4.1.3 Enable Your Test Repository

mv ~/.zsh   ~/zsh.bak
mv ~/.zshrc ~/zshrc.bak
cd $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/config.d/
ln -s ../available.d/zsh.vcsh .  # link, and thereby enable, the zsh repository
mr up

4.1.4 Set Up Your Own Repositories

Now, it's time to edit the template config and fill it with your own remotes:

vim $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d/mr.vcsh
vim $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d/zsh.vcsh

And then create your own stuff:

vcsh init foo
vcsh run foo git add -f bar baz quux
vcsh run foo git remote add origin git://quuux
vcsh run foo git commit
vcsh run foo git push

cp $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d/mr.vcsh $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d/foo.vcsh
vim $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d/foo.vcsh # add your own repo


4.2 The Steal-from-Template Way

You're welcome to clone the example repository:

vcsh clone git://

Look around in the clone. It should be reasonably simple to understand. If not, poke me, RichiH, on Freenode (query) or OFTC (#vcs-home).

4.3 The Manual Way

This is how my old setup procedure looked like. Adapt it to your own style or copy mine verbatim, either is fine.

# Create workspace
mkdir -p ~/work/git
cd !$

# Clone vcsh and make it available
git clone git:// vcsh
sudo ln -s ~/work/git/vcsh/vcsh /usr/bin/local
hash -r

Grab my mr config. see below for details on how I set this up

vcsh clone ssh://<remote>/mr.git
cd $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/config.d/
ln -s ../available.d/* .

mr is used to actually retrieve configs, etc

~ % cat ~/.mrconfig
include = cat $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/config.d/*
~ % ls $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d # random selection of my repos
git-annex gitk.vcsh git.vcsh ikiwiki mr.vcsh reportbug.vcsh snippets.git wget.vcsh zsh.vcsh
~ %
# then simply ln -s whatever you want on your local machine from
# $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d to $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/config.d
~ % cd
~ % mr -j 5 up

5 Usage

5.1 Keeping repositories Up-to-Date

This is the beauty of it all. Once you are set up, just run:

mr up
mr push


5.1 Making Changes

After you have made some changes, for which you would normally use git add and git commit, use the vcsh wrapper (like above):

vcsh run foo git add -f bar baz quux
vcsh run foo git commit
vcsh run foo git push

By the way, you'll have to use -f/--force flag with git-add because all files will be ignored by default. This is to show you only useful output when running git-status. A fix for this problem is being worked on.

5.3 Using vcsh without mr

vcsh encourages you to use mr. It helps you manage a large number of repositories by running the necessary vcsh commands for you. You may choose not to use mr, in which case you will have to run those commands manually or by other means.

A Few Examples

To initialize a new repository: vcsh init zsh

To clone a repository: vcsh clone ssh://<remote>/zsh.git

To interact with a repository, use the regular Git commands, but prepend them with vcsh run $repository_name. For example:

vcsh run zsh git status
vcsh run zsh git add -f .zshrc
vcsh run zsh git commit

Obviously, without mr keeping repositories up-to-date, it will have to be done manually. Alternatively, you could try something like this:

for repo in `vcsh list`; do
    vcsh run $repo git pull;

mr can be found at:

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