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Do I have to use chezmoi edit to edit my dotfiles?

No. chezmoi edit is a convenience command that has a couple of useful features, but you don't have to use it.

You can also run chezmoi cd and then just edit the files in the source state directly. After saving an edited file you can run chezmoi diff to check what effect the changes would have, and run chezmoi apply if you're happy with them. If there are inconsistencies that you want to keep, then chezmoi merge-all will help you resolve any differences.

chezmoi edit provides the following useful features:

  • The arguments to chezmoi edit are the files in their target location, so you don't have to think about source state attributes and your editor's syntax highlighting will work.

  • If the dotfile is encrypted in the source state, then chezmoi edit will decrypt it to a private directory, open that file in your $EDITOR, and then re-encrypt the file when you quit your editor. This makes encryption transparent.

  • With the --diff and --apply options you can see what would change and apply those changes without having to run chezmoi diff or chezmoi apply.

  • If you have configured git auto commits or git auto pushes then chezmoi edit will create commits and push them for you.

If you chose to edit files in the source state and you're using VIM then gives you syntax highlighting, however you edit your files. Besides using the plugin, you can use modeline to tell VIM the correct filetype. For example, put # vim: filetype=zsh at the top of dot_zshrc, and VIM will treat dot_zshrc as zsh file.

Symlinks are first class citizens in chezmoi: chezmoi supports creating them, updating them, removing them, and even more advanced features not found in other dotfile managers like having the same symlink point to different targets on different machines by using a template.

With chezmoi, you only use a symlink where you really need a symlink, in contrast to some other dotfile managers (e.g. GNU Stow) which require the use of symlinks as a layer of indirection between a dotfile's location (which can be anywhere in your home directory) and a dotfile's content (which needs to be in a centralized directory that you manage with version control). chezmoi solves this problem in a different way.

Instead of using a symlink to redirect from the dotfile's location to the centralized directory, chezmoi generates the dotfile as a regular file in its final location from the contents of the centralized directory. This approach allows chezmoi to provide features that are not possible when using symlinks, for example having files that are encrypted, executable, private, or templates.

There is nothing special about dotfiles managed by chezmoi whereas dotfiles managed with GNU Stow are special because they're actually symlinks to somewhere else.

The only advantage to using GNU Stow-style symlinks is that changes that you make to the dotfile's contents in the centralized directory are immediately visible whenever you save them, whereas chezmoi currently requires you to pass the --watch flag to chezmoi edit or set to true in your configuration file.

If you really want to use symlinks, then chezmoi provides a symlink mode which uses symlinks where possible. This configures chezmoi to work like GNU Stow and have it create a set of symlinks back to a central directory, but this currently requires a bit of manual work (as described in #167). chezmoi might get some automation to help (see #886 for example) but it does need some convincing use cases that demonstrate that a symlink from a dotfile's location to its contents in a central directory is better than just having the correct dotfile contents.

In symlink mode chezmoi replaces targets with symlinks to the source directory if the target is a regular file and is not encrypted, executable, private, or a template.

Symlinks cannot be used for encrypted files because the source state contains the ciphertext, not the plaintext.

Symlinks cannot be used for executable files as the executable bit would need to be set on the file in the source directory and chezmoi uses only regular files and directories in its source state for portability across operating systems. This may change in the future.

Symlinks cannot be used for private files because git does not persist group and world permission bits.

Symlinks cannot be used for templated files because the source state contains the template, not the result of executing the template.

Symlinks cannot be used for entire directories because of chezmoi's use of attributes in the filename mangles entries in the directory, directories might have the exact_ attribute and contain empty files, and the directory's entries might not be usable with symlinks.

In symlink mode, running chezmoi add does not immediately replace the targets with a symlink. You must run chezmoi apply to create the symlinks.

Why does chezmoi use weird filenames?

There are a number of criticisms of how chezmoi uses filenames:

  1. The long source file names are weird and verbose.
  2. Not all possible file permissions can be represented.
  3. Everything is in a single directory, which can end up containing many entries.

chezmoi's decision to store metadata in filenames is a deliberate, practical, compromise.

Firstly, almost all programs store metadata in filenames: the filename's extension. chezmoi extends the filename to storing metadata in attributes in the filename's prefix as well.

The dot_ attribute makes it transparent which dotfiles are managed by chezmoi and which files are ignored by chezmoi. chezmoi ignores all files and directories that start with . so no special whitelists are needed for version control systems and their control files (e.g. .git and .gitignore).

chezmoi needs per-file metadata to know how to interpret the source file's contents, for example to know when the source file is a template or if the file's contents are encrypted. By storing this metadata in the filename, the metadata is unambiguously associated with a single file and adding, updating, or removing a single file touches only a single file in the source state. Changes to the metadata (e.g. chezmoi chattr +template $TARGET) are simple file renames and isolated to the affected file.

If chezmoi were to, say, use a common configuration file listing which files were templates and/or encrypted, then changes to any file would require updates to the common configuration file. Automating updates to configuration files requires a round trip (read config file, update config, write config) and it is not always possible preserve comments and formatting.

chezmoi's attributes of executable_, private_, and readonly_ allow the file permissions 0o644, 0o755, 0o600, 0o700, 0o444, 0o555, 0o400, and 0o500 to be represented. Directories can only have permissions 0o755, 0o700, or 0o500. In practice, these cover all permissions typically used for dotfiles. If this does cause a genuine problem for you, please open an issue on GitHub.

File permissions and modes like executable_, private_, readonly_, and symlink_ could also be stored in the filesystem, rather than in the filename. However, this requires the permissions to be preserved and handled by the underlying version control system and filesystem. chezmoi provides first-class support for Windows, where the executable_ and private_ attributes have no direct equivalents and symbolic links are not always permitted. By using regular files and directories, chezmoi avoids variations in the operating system, version control system, and filesystem making it both more robust and more portable.

chezmoi uses a 1:1 mapping between entries in the source state and entries in the target state. This mapping is bi-directional and unambiguous.

However, this also means that dotfiles that in the same directory in the target state must be in the same directory in the source state. In particular, every entry managed by chezmoi in the root of your home directory has a corresponding entry in the root of your source directory, which can mean that you end up with a lot of entries in the root of your source directory. This can be mitigated by using .chezmoiroot file.

If chezmoi were to permit, say, multiple separate source directories (so you could, say, put dot_bashrc in a bash/ subdirectory, and dot_vimrc in a vim/ subdirectory, but have chezmoi apply map these to ~/.bashrc and ~/.vimrc in the root of your home directory) then the mapping between source and target states is no longer bidirectional nor unambiguous, which significantly increases complexity and requires more user interaction. For example, if both bash/dot_bashrc and vim/dot_bashrc exist, what should be the contents of ~/.bashrc? If you run chezmoi add ~/.zshrc, should dot_zshrc be stored in the source bash/ directory, the source vim/ directory, or somewhere else? How does the user communicate their preferences?

chezmoi has many users and any changes to the source state representation must be backwards-compatible.

In summary, chezmoi's source state representation is a compromise with both advantages and disadvantages. Changes to the representation will be considered, but must meet the following criteria, in order of importance:

  1. Be fully backwards-compatible for existing users.
  2. Fix a genuine problem encountered in practice.
  3. Be independent of the underlying operating system, version control system, and filesystem.
  4. Not add significant extra complexity to the user interface or underlying implementation.

Can chezmoi support multiple sources or multiple source states?

With some dotfile managers, dotfiles can be distributed across multiple directories or even multiple repos. For example, the user might have one directory per application, or separate repos for home and work configurations, or even separate git submodules for different applications. These can be considered multiple sources of truth for the target state. This, however, comes with complications:

  1. Multiple sources of truth complicate the user interface. When running chezmoi add $FILE, which source should $FILE be added to?

  2. Multiple sources of truth do not compose easily if target files overlap. For example, if you have two sources, both of which need to set an environment variable in .bashrc, how do you handle this when both, only one, or neither source might be activated? What if the sources are mutually exclusive, e.g. if the VIM source and the Emacs source both want to set the $EDITOR environment variable?

  3. Multiple sources of truth are not always independent. Related to the previous point, consider a source that adds an applications's configuration files and shell completions. Should the shell completions be part of the applications's source or of the shell's source?

chezmoi instead makes the opinionated choice to use a single source of truth, i.e. a single branch in a single git repo. Using a single source of truth avoids the inherent complexity and ambiguity of multiple sources.

chezmoi provides mechanisms like templates (for minor differences), .chezmoiignore (for controlling the presence or otherwise of complete files and directories), and password manager integration (so secrets never need to be stored in a repo) handle machine-to-machine differences. Externals make it easy to pull in dotfiles from third-party sources.

That said, if you are keen to use multiple sources of truth with chezmoi, you have a number of options with some scripting around chezmoi.

Firstly, you can run chezmoi apply with different arguments to the --config and --source flags which will apply to the same destination. So that you only have to type one command you can wrap this in a shell function, for example:

chezmoi-apply() {
    chezmoi apply --config ~/.config/chezmoi-home/chezmoi.toml \
                  --source ~/.local/share/chezmoi-home && \
    chezmoi apply --config ~/.config/chezmoi-work/chezmoi.toml \
                  --source ~/.local/share/chezmoi-work

If you want to generate multiple configuration files with chezmoi init then you will need the --config-path flag. For more advanced use, use the --destination, --cache, and --persistent-state flags.

Secondly, you can assemble a single source state from multiple sources and then use chezmoi apply. For example, if you have multiple source states in subdirectories of ~/.dotfiles:


# create a combined source state in a temporary directory
combined_source="$(mktemp -d)"

# remove the temporary source state on exit
trap 'rm -rf -- "${combined_source}"' INT TERM

# copy files from multiple sources into the temporary source state
for source in $HOME/.dotfiles/*; do
    cp -r "${source}"/* "${combined_source}"

# apply the temporary source state
chezmoi apply --source "${combined_source}"

Thirdly, you can use a run_ script to invoke a second instance of chezmoi, as used by @felipecrs.

Why does chezmoi cd spawn a shell instead of just changing directory?

chezmoi cd spawns a shell because it is not possible for a program to change the working directory of its parent process. You can add a shell function instead:

chezmoi-cd() {
    cd $(chezmoi source-path)

Typing chezmoi-cd will then change the directory of your current shell to chezmoi's source directory.

Why are the prompt* functions only available in config file templates?

chezmoi regularly needs to execute templates to determine the target contents of files. For example, templates are executed for the apply, diff, and status commands, amongst many others. Having to interactively respond each time would quickly become tiresome. Therefore, chezmoi only provides these functions when generating a config file from a config file template (e.g. when you run chezmoi init or chezmoi --init apply).

Why not use Ansible/Chef/Puppet/Salt, or similar to manage my dotfiles instead?

Whole system management tools are more than capable of managing your dotfiles, but they are large systems that entail several disadvantages. Compared to whole system management tools, chezmoi offers:

  • Small, focused feature set designed for dotfiles. There's simply less to learn with chezmoi compared to whole system management tools.

  • Easy installation and execution on every platform, without root access. Installing chezmoi requires only copying a single binary file with no external dependencies. Executing chezmoi just involves running the binary. In contrast, installing and running a whole system management tool typically requires installing a scripting language runtime, several packages, and running a system service, all typically requiring root access.

chezmoi's focus and simple installation means that it runs almost everywhere: from tiny ARM-based Linux systems to Windows desktops, from inside lightweight containers to FreeBSD-based virtual machines in the cloud.

Can I use chezmoi to manage files outside my home directory?

In practice, yes, you can, but this usage is strongly discouraged beyond using your system's package manager to install the packages you need.

chezmoi is designed to operate on your home directory, and is explicitly not a full system configuration management tool. That said, there are some ways to have chezmoi manage a few files outside your home directory.

chezmoi's scripts can execute arbitrary commands, so you can use a run_ script that is run every time you run chezmoi apply, to, for example:

  • Make the target file outside your home directory a symlink to a file managed by chezmoi in your home directory.

  • Copy a file managed by chezmoi inside your home directory to the target file.

  • Execute a template with chezmoi execute-template --output=$FILENAME template where $FILENAME is outside the target directory.

chezmoi executes all scripts as the user executing chezmoi, so you may need to add extra privilege elevation commands like sudo or PowerShell start -verb runas -wait to your script.

chezmoi, by default, operates on your home directory but this can be overridden with the --destination command line flag or by specifying destDir in your config file, and could even be the root directory (/ or C:\). This allows you, in theory, to use chezmoi to manage any file in your filesystem, but this usage is extremely strongly discouraged.

If your needs extend beyond modifying a handful of files outside your target system, then existing configuration management tools like Puppet, Chef, Ansible, and Salt are much better suited - and of course can be called from a chezmoi run_ script. Put your Puppet Manifests, Chef Recipes, Ansible Modules, and Salt Modules in a directory ignored by .chezmoiignore so they do not pollute your home directory.

What inspired chezmoi?

chezmoi was inspired by Puppet, but was created because Puppet is an overkill for managing your personal configuration files. The focus of chezmoi will always be personal home directory management. If your needs grow beyond that, switch to a whole system configuration management tool.

Where does the name "chezmoi" come from?

"chezmoi" splits to "chez moi" and pronounced /ʃeɪ mwa/ (shay-moi) meaning "at my house" in French. It's seven letters long, which is an appropriate length for a command that is only run occasionally. If you prefer a shorter command, add an alias to your shell configuration, for example:

alias cz=chezmoi