A Script to Install My Dotfiles

| posted in: nerdliness 

A year or so ago I created a script that allowed me to quickly install my dotfiles on a new computer. The script wasn’t terribly sophisticated, but it got the job done. Called make.sh it takes an all-or-nothing approach to setting up my configurations.

Recently I ran across a Bash script that serves as a general purpose Yes/No prompt function. Using this script as a jumping off point I was able to create a more sophisticated install.sh script that allows me a more granular approach to setting up my dotfiles.


The ask function lets you create Yes/No prompts quckly and easily. Follow the link above for more details. I was able to default some of my configurations to Yes or install, and others to No or don’t install.

Key/Value Pairs

In order to keep my script DRY I needed to have a list of the configuration files paired with their default install/don’t install setting. Turns out you can do key/value pairs in Bash. It works like this:

for i in a,b c_s,d ; do 
  echo $KEY" XX "$VAL;

The key/value pairs are comma separated and space delimited, e.g., key,value key,value key,value. By using Bash parameter substitution it’s possible to separate the key and value portions of each pair.

My list of pairs looks like this:

tuples="bash,Y gem,Y git,Y openconnect,Y tmux,Y slate,Y hg,N textmate,N"

The loop the processes these pairs looks like this:

for pair in $tuples; do
  if ask "Setup $dir" $flag; then
    echo "Linking $dir files"
    cd $dotfiles_dir/$dir;
    for file in *; do
      ln -sf $dotfiles_dir/$dir/$file ${HOME}/.$file
  echo ""

Each key/value pair is a directory (dir) and a install/don’t install flag (flag). My dotfiles repository is organized into directories, one for each tool or utility. The fourth line is where the ask function comes into play. Using the flag from the key/value pair it creates a prompt that is defaulted to either Y/n or y/N so that all I need to do is hit the enter key. Within each directory there are one or more files needing to be symlinked. The inner loop walks through the list of files creating the necessary symlink.

Linking Directories

Some of my configurations have directories or are trageted at locations where simple symlinking won’t work.

Neovim, for example, all lives in ~/.config/nvim. Symlinking directories can produce unexpected results. Using the n flag on the symlink statement treats destination that is a symlink to a directory as if it were a normal file. If the ~/.config/nvim directory already exists, ln -sfn ... prevents you from getting ~/.config/nvim/nvim.

My Vim setup contains both directories and individual files.

My ssh config needs to be linked into the ~/.ssh directory.

The linking for each of these three exceptions is handled outside the main loop in the script.

The install.sh script

Here’s the entire install.sh script.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.