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A tool that bootstraps your dotfiles
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Dotbot is a tool that bootstraps your dotfiles (it's a [Dot]files [bo]o[t]strapper, get it?). It does less than you think, because version control systems do more than you think.

Dotbot is designed to be lightweight and self-contained, with no external dependencies and no installation required. Dotbot is easy to set up, and it's easy to configure.

Dotbot is VCS-agnostic, and it doesn't make any attempt to manage your dotfiles. Existing version control systems like git are pretty awesome at doing this.

Dotbot can be a drop-in replacement for any other tool you were using to manage your dotfiles.

Dotfiles Organization

If you want an in-depth tutorial about organizing your dotfiles, see this blog post.

A great way to organize your dotfiles is having all of them in a single (isolated) git repository and symlinking files into place. You can add plugins and stuff using git submodules. This whole symlinking business can be a bit of work, but it's much better than just having your entire home directory under source control, and Dotbot can automate all of this for you and let you have a one-click install process, so you can have all the benefits of isolation without the annoyance of having to manually copy or link files.

Dotbot itself is entirely self contained and requires no installation (it's self-bootstrapping), so it's not necessary to install any software before you provision a new machine! All you have to do is download your dotfiles and then run ./install.


If you are starting fresh with your dotfiles, you can fork the template repository. If you want, you can rename it afterwards (to something like just "dotfiles"). If you're looking for inspiration, the template repository contains links to dotfiles repositories that use Dotbot.


Dotbot is super easy to set up. This description is given in terms of git and git submodules, but the procedure is similar for other VCSs.

You can add Dotbot to your dotfiles by running the following command from within your git repository:

git submodule add https://github.com/anishathalye/dotbot

This locks Dotbot on the current version. At any point, to upgrade Dotbot to the latest version, you can run:

git submodule update --remote dotbot # or other path to Dotbot submodule

To have a one-click (one-command) install, you can place a bootstrap install shell script that calls Dotbot with the appropriate parameters. This script simply passes its arguments to Dotbot, so the script itself will not have to be updated once it's placed in the proper location (the Dotbot repository can be updated independently).

An bootstrap install shell script for git is given in tools/git-submodule/install. By default, the script assumes that the configuration is located in install.conf.yaml and Dotbot is located in dotbot. The script automatically makes sure that the correct version of Dotbot is checked out in the submodule.

This script should be copied into your dotfiles repository. Once the install script has been copied into your dotfiles, there is no need to modify the script again -- it is merely a shim that checks out the appropriate version of Dotbot and calls the full Dotbot installer. Note that using a symbolic link to the sample install script included in the Dotbot repository won't work correctly -- it can actually lead to several problems. For example, when cloning your dotfiles onto a new system, the Dotbot submodule won't be initialized (unless you use the --recursive flag), so the symbolic link will be broken, pointing to a nonexistent file.

Adapting the bootstrap script for different situations (such as using a different VCS) is fairly straightforward.


Dotbot uses YAML-formatted (or JSON-formatted) configuration files to let you specify how to set up your dotfiles. Currently, Dotbot knows how to link files and folders, execute shell commands, and clean directories of broken symbolic links.

Ideally, bootstrap configurations should be idempotent. That is, the installer should be able to be run multiple times without causing any problems. This makes a lot of things easier to do (in particular, syncing updates between machines becomes really easy).

Dotbot configuration files are YAML (or JSON) arrays of tasks, where each task is a dictionary that contains a command name mapping to data for that command. Tasks are run in the order in which they are specified. Commands within a task do not have a defined ordering.

When writing nested constructs, keep in mind that YAML is whitespace-sensitive. Following the formatting used in the examples is a good idea.

Link commands specify how files and directories should be symbolically linked. If desired, items can be specified to be forcibly linked, overwriting existing files if necessary.


Link commands are specified as a dictionary mapping targets to source locations. Source locations are specified relative to the base directory (that is specified when running the installer). Source directory names should contain a trailing "/" character.

Link commands support an (optional) extended configuration. In this type of configuration, instead of specifying source locations directly, targets are mapped to extended configuration dictionaries. These dictionaries map "path" to the source path, specify "create" as true if the parent directory should be created if necessary, and specify "force" as true if the file or directory should be forcibly linked.


- link:
      create: true
      path: config/terminator/
    ~/.vim: vim/
    ~/.vimrc: vimrc
      force: true
      path: zshrc


Shell commands specify shell commands to be run. Shell commands are run in the base directory (that is specified when running the installer).


Shell commands can be specified in several different ways. The simplest way is just to specify a command as a string containing the command to be run. Another way is to specify a two element array where the first element is the shell command and the second is an optional human-readable description. Shell commands support an extended syntax as well, which provides more fine-grained control. A command can be specified as a dictionary that contains the command to be run, a description, and whether stdin, stdout, and stderr are enabled. In this syntax, all keys are optional except for the command itself.


- shell:
  - mkdir -p ~/src
  - [mkdir -p ~/downloads, Creating downloads directory]
    command: read var && echo Your variable is $var
    stdin: true
    stdout: true
    command: read fail
    stderr: true


Clean commands specify directories that should be checked for dead symbolic links. These dead links are removed automatically. Only dead links that point to the dotfiles directory are removed.


Clean commands are specified as an array of directories to be cleaned.


- clean: ['~']

Full Example

The configuration file format is pretty simple. Here's an example of a complete configuration. The conventional name for the configuration file is install.conf.yaml.

- clean: ['~']

- link:
    ~/.dotfiles: ''
    ~/.tmux.conf: tmux.conf
    ~/.vim: vim/
    ~/.vimrc: vimrc

- shell:
  - [git submodule update --init --recursive, Installing submodules]

The configuration file can also be written in JSON. Here is the JSON equivalent of the YAML configuration given above. The conventional name for this file is install.conf.json.

        "clean": ["~"]
        "link": {
            "~/.dotfiles": "",
            "~/.tmux.conf": "tmux.conf",
            "~/.vim": "vim/",
            "~/.vimrc": "vimrc"
        "shell": [
            ["git submodule update --init --recursive", "Installing submodules"]


Do you have a feature request, bug report, or patch? Great! See CONTRIBUTING.md for information on what you can do about that.


Copyright (c) 2014-2015 Anish Athalye. Released under the MIT License. See LICENSE.md for details.