mcol.xyz

rewritefs: take back control over your dotfiles

Many of us have had the unfortunate inevitability of using a program written by a sadistic programmer who sticks their program's files right into your neatly organised home folder. Fortunately, some rebels against the what-are-XDG-directory-standards terrorist group have come up with clever solutions to force all of your hidden files to stay within the bounds of your .config folder.

Inspired by the likes of Apache and nginx, rewritefs uses arbitrary regex rules to rewrite (surprise surprise) paths accessed in a mount point. Using a FUSE approach, rewritefs simply mounts a user's a folder and the rest of the functionality is invisible.

This example ruleset is provided to solve the problem of dotfiles clogging your home directory:

m#^(?!\.)# .
m#^\.(cache|config|local)# .
m#^\.# .config/

We have one rule per line, rewriting strings matched by the first part to the content of the second part, with the special rule . meaning 'do not rewrite'. E.g. .vimrc becomes .config/vimrc.

To use these rules all we have to do is mount the directory, in this example our home directory from /mnt into /home, i.e.:

rewritefs -o config=/mnt/home/me/.config/rewritefs /mnt/home/me /home/me

It's worth spending a bit of time going through all the junk in $HOME while setting up a ruleset, as many folders might be more appropriate going into .cache or .local.

A massive plus of careful rulesetting and rewriting the appropriate files into .config is that you can backup or version .config in its entirety while putting things you don't care so much about into .cache or elsewhere. This is much tidier than having to deal with scripting symlinks into $HOME from your dotfiles repo, and more out-of-the-way than version tracking your home directory directly.

Another nifty feature is the ability to specify rules on a per-application basis. For example, you could use this rule to make your annoying colleague's vim mysteriously replace the letter s for the letter z:

- /^\S*vim/
/s/ z

In such a rule, the line starting with - match the program name, and any following lines apply only to that scope.

With great power comes great responsibility, so one must be careful with the power of rewritefs. Despite its power, however, there do seem to be only few real applications for such functionality. I would definitely be interested in hearing what other use people have made for this program.