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vcsh - Version Control System for $HOME - multiple Git repositories in $HOME


  1. 30 Second How-to
  2. Introduction
  3. Usage Examples
  4. Overview
  5. Getting Started
  6. Contact

30 Second How-to

While it may appear that there's an overwhelming amount of documentation and while the explanation of the concepts behind vcsh needs to touch a few gory details of git internals, getting started with vcsh is extremely simple.

Let's say you want to version control your vim configuration:

vcsh init vim
vcsh vim add ~/.vimrc ~/.vim
vcsh vim commit -m 'Initial commit of my Vim configuration'
# optionally push your files to a remote
vcsh vim remote add origin <remote>
vcsh vim push -u origin master
# from now on you can push additional commits like this
vcsh vim push

If all that looks a lot like standard git, that's no coincidence; it's a design feature.


vcsh allows you to maintain several Git repositories in one single directory. They all maintain their working trees without clobbering each other or interfering otherwise. By default, all Git repositories maintained via vcsh store the actual files in $HOME but you can override this setting if you want to.

All this means that you can have one repository per application or application family, i.e. zsh, vim, ssh, etc. This, in turn, allows you to clone custom sets of configurations onto different machines or even for different users; picking and mixing which configurations you want to use where. For example, you may not need to have your mplayer configuration on a server or available to root and you may want to maintain different configuration for ssh on your personal and your work machines.

A lot of modern UNIX-based systems offer packages for vcsh. In case yours does not read for install instructions or to create a package, yourself. If you do end up packaging vcsh please let us know so we can give you your own packaging branch in the upstream repository.


Some people found it useful to look at slides and videos explaining how vcsh works instead of working through the docs. All slides, videos, and further information can be found on the author's talk page.

Usage Examples

There are three different ways to interact with vcsh repositories; this section will only show the simplest and easiest way.

Certain more advanced use cases require the other two ways, but don't worry about this for now. If you never even bother playing with the other two modes you will still be fine.

vcsh enter and vcsh run will be covered in later sections.

Task Command
Initialize a new repository called "vim" vcsh init vim
Clone an existing repository vcsh clone <remote> <repository_name>
Add files to repository "vim" vcsh vim add ~/.vimrc ~/.vim
vcsh vim commit -m 'Update Vim configuration'
Add a remote for repository "vim" vcsh vim remote add origin <remote>
vcsh vim push origin master:master
vcsh vim branch --track master origin/master
Push to remote of repository "vim" vcsh vim push
Pull from remote of repository "vim" vcsh vim pull
Show status of changed files in all repositories vcsh status
Pull from all repositories vcsh pull
Push to all repositories vcsh push


From zero to vcsh

You put a lot of effort into your configuration and want to both protect and distribute this configuration.

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 into $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.

vcsh takes this approach one step further. It enables single-purpose repositories and stores them in a hidden directory. However, it does not create symbolic links in $HOME; it puts the actual files right into $HOME.

As vcsh allows you to put an arbitrary number of distinct repositories into your $HOME, you will end up with a lot of repositories very quickly.

vcsh was designed with myrepos, a tool to manage Multiple Repositories, in mind and the two integrate very nicely. The myrepos tool (mr) has native support for vcsh repositories and the configuration for myrepos is just another set of files that you can track with vcsh like any other. This makes setting up any new machine a breeze. It can take literally less than five minutes to go from standard installation to fully set up system.

We suggest using myrepos to manage both vcsh and other repositories. The mr utility takes care of pulling in and pushing out new data for a variety of version control systems. While the use of myrepos is technically optional, it will be an integral part of the proposed system that follows. For instance, you can use myrepos to track repositories in home such as .emacs.d, which mr can clone and update for you automatically. To do this, just add a mr configuration file to available.d with a checkout command to clone the repo, and set the [title] to the desired location, e.g. $HOME/.emacs.d. Try the mr register command in an existing repository, then view ~/.mrconfig for an example.

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 myrepos 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 zsh pull
push     = vcsh zsh push
status   = vcsh zsh status
gc       = vcsh zsh gc

checkout = vcsh clone 'git://' '.emacs.d'


$XDG_CONFIG_HOME/mr/available.d contains all available repositories. Only files/links present in mr/config.d, however, will be used by myrepos. 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:

include = cat ${XDG_CONFIG_HOME:-$HOME/.config}/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, myrepos 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 repo_name push.

Moving into a New Host

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

  1. Clone the myrepos repository (containing available.d, config.d etc.); for example: vcsh clone git:// mr
  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 myrepos 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 myrepos) 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.

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

The Template Way


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.

Install vcsh


If you are using Debian Squeeze, you will need to enable backports and the package name for myrepos will be 'mr'.

From Wheezy onwards, you can install both directly:

apt-get install myrepos vcsh


To install vcsh in Gentoo Linux just give the following command as root:

emerge dev-vcs/vcsh

Note the portage package for myrepos still has the old project name:

emerge dev-vcs/mr

Arch Linux

vcsh is available via this AUR package. Likewise myrepos is available here. You may install both using your favorite AUR helper. e.g. with yaourt:

yaourt -Sya myrepos vcsh

Or you can do it yourself manually using the documentation on installing AUR packages on Arch's wiki.

If you prefer to use the devel package that installs the git HEAD version it is available here.

Mac OS X

Formulas are available for vcsh as well as git and myrepos through homebrew. The vcsh formula is set to depend on myrepos, so you only need one install command:

brew install vcsh

From source

To install the latest version from git:

# choose a location for your checkout
mkdir -p ~/work/git
cd ~/work/git
git clone git://
cd vcsh
sudo ln -s vcsh /usr/local/bin               # or add it to your PATH

For myrepos:

# use checkout location from above
cd ~/work/git
git clone git:// myrepos
cd myrepos
make install

Clone the Template

vcsh clone git:// mr

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

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 repo_name
vcsh repo_name add bar baz quux
vcsh repo_name remote add origin git://quuux
vcsh repo_name commit
vcsh repo_name push

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


The Steal-from-Template Way

You're welcome to clone the example repository:

vcsh clone git:// mr
# make sure 'include = cat /usr/share/mr/vcsh' points to an exiting file
vim .mrconfig

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

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 myrepos 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/* .

myrepos 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

myrepos usage ; will be factored out & rewritten

Keeping repositories Up-to-Date

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

mr up
mr push


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 repo_name add bar baz quux
vcsh repo_name commit
vcsh repo_name push

Using vcsh without myrepos

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

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 zsh status
vcsh zsh add .zshrc
vcsh zsh commit

Obviously, without myrepos 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;


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.