Friday, July 13, 2012

Introducing Dotfiles Builder

Managing bashrc sucks

We all have our nice little bashrc that we are proud of. It tests for files, programs and terminal features, detect your OS version, builds a PATH, etc. For all of our OS and different setups, various solutions exist.

Keeping several versions


  • Ultimate fine-tuning
  • Easy to understand
  • Usually optimized for every setup


  • Very time consuming to manage
  • Hard to “backport” new ideas

Keep a single unusable file with everything and edit accordingly


  • Easy to backport, you just need to rembember to do it
  • Good performance
  • Since you edit at each deployment, nice fine-tuning capability


  • The single file can become unbearably cluttered.
  • You eventually end up managing several version.
  • Tedious to edit at each deployment

Include several subfiles


  • Still have a lot fine-tuning capabilities
  • If well constructed, can be easy to understand
  • Easy to deploy new features


  • Hard to detect which file to include
  • Multiplicates the number of files to manage
  • Slow performance
  • Until recently, this was my prefered method.

Wanted features

So, what does a good bashrc have?

Should have:

  • Good performance. On a busy server, you really don't want to wait 5 seconds for your new terminal because your IO is sky rocketing.
    • Reduce number of included files
    • Reduce tests for environment features
    • Reduce tests for program and files
  • High flexibility
    • Cross-OS compatible
    • A lot of feature detection
    • Ideally, configuration files
  • Ease and speed of configuration
    • It should not take more than a minute to setup a new bashrc
    • If you need to specify your developer email, it would be nice to do it only once.

Yes, you read right, reduce tests AND do a lot of feature detection. You don't want to do Java specific configuration or set an empty variable if Java is not even installed, but you do want Java to be automatically detected.

Generating a bashrc

Let's face it, you will install or remove Java way less often then you will start a new shell. Why then test for Java at each new shell?

This is where I introduce the Dotfiles Builder. The script runs in Bash and outputs the wanted bashrc.

This way, instead of doing:

if [ -d "$HOME/bin" ]; then

You would do:

if [ -d "$HOME/bin" ]; then
  echo "PATH=\"$HOME/bin:$PATH\""

And the result would simply be


But constructing PATH is a rather common task and you want to make sure the folder is not already on your PATH. Why not wrap it up ?

Take a look at the alpha version:
As well as the example output.

This is a very alpha version of the intended program, but I still want to share what I have and maybe get some feedback and collaborators along the way. Currently, it only generates a bashrc, but expect more to come.

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