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Simplify Setting up Your New Computer

I often have trouble setting up my PC when I get a new one, or after reinstallating my operating system. I had my perfect setup in place and everything worked as it was supposed to, but now I have to go around hunting for the programs that I want to use and start setting up the configuration again.

Maybe you had similar problems before, maybe not (good for you then!). But I found a handy tool, that takes care of the configuration management aspect of this whole ordeal at least.

Stow

The tool I am talking about is GNU Stow, if you’ve heard of it you’re awesome, and if not don’t worry, I’ll give you a quick rundown. There have been many great videos and posts about stow, and it has very comprehensive documentation, but I did not find the 2 minute tl;dr version of Stow yet, so here goes:

What it does

Stow helps you automatically set up and manage symlinks. If you have a folder structure with files (a ‘package’ in stow speak), it can symlink these to a target, and it will automatically make sure to merge everything neatly with existing files. It also takes care of symlink removal for you if you decide that you want to uninstall a package later. If you call stow on a directory like so, stow dir, then the directory to stow to defaults to the parent of the working directory.

Example

So if you’re in ~/.dotfiles and have a package vim which contains your vim-config, then you just type stow vim, and it puts your .vimrc as a symlink in your home directory. If you have a more complicated config in a nested folder structure, that is no problem at all.

You can probably see how convenient this can be if you combine this with a version control system like git and host your dotfiles on an online service.

Useful flags

For your convenience I have summarized a few cli-flags below. Even though I mostly make do without any flags at all.

-t to set the target directory

-D for deleting (unstowing) the stowed symlinks

-R to restow (unstow and stow again), this helps when you deleted some files and want to remove the orphaned symlinks

--dotfiles automatically renames the symlinks of files that start with ‘dot-‘, so that they start with ‘.’