What these dotfiles are?

In unix world, most programs are configured command line and they save their configurations in homedir usually a file which names start with a dot. Thus dotfiles.

Power users care about them alot. You can store your dotfiles on some git server like github or gitlab and many other options there like you can host them on your VPS as well. If you use git to store them and you don’t have a private repository, anybody can see them.

Dotfiles often contains some private data like plain text passwords and some informations you don’t wanna share publicly. Today I’m gonna show you some technique so your dotfiles will be encrypted and nobody will be able to see them.


You will need a gpg key, stow and a git repository. Create a gpg key if you don’t have one already.

Real procedure?

So you have a git repository now. Call it ~/cfg in my case.

Inside ~/cfg you have some files which you don’t wanna share publicly unencrypted. But you still want them to be hosted somewhere for backup.

For example, I have a file adbkey which is private key for adb devices (androids).

I don’t wanna share it publicly but I still wanna version control it. So lets do it in a secure fashion.

Create directory structure

$ mkdir -p ~/cfg/etc/.android
$ mkdir -p ~/cfg/etc/.local/share/misc

Move the sensitive files

So now we have created the directories. Lets move the real files we wanna add to git repository for tracking.

$ mv ~/.android/adbkey ~/cfg/etc/.local/share/misc
$ cd ~/cfg/etc/.android
$ ln -sf ../.local/share/misc/adbkey adbkey

Let stow do this for you. It’s very useful piece of software and I manage my dotfiles using it. But you can use ln too if you can’t find stow in your distribution repositories.

$ cd ~/cfg
$ stow etc

It will create a symlink ~/.android/adbkey pointing to ~/cfg/etc/.android/adbkey.

Track file(s) with git

Now we can add this symlink to track. Git doesn’t track the real file. It will only track the symlink.

$ cd ~/cfg
$ git add etc/.android

Tell git to ignore sensitive file(s)

$ echo "etc/.local/share/misc/" >> ~/cfg/.gitignore

Now it won’t track the sensitive files in ~/cfg/.local/share/misc.

Compress the sensitive file(s) with tar

$ cd ~/cfg
$ tar czf encrypted.tar.gz etc/.local/share/misc

Encrypt the tar archive and delete the un-encrypted archive

$ gpg -er abdullah@abdullah.today encrypted.tar.gz
$ rm encrypted.tar.gz

Replace abdullah@abdullah.today with your email ID you used while creating gpg key.

Add encrypted archive to git

$ cd ~/cfg
$ git add encrypted.tar.gz.gpg

Commit and push the changes to remote

$ git commit -m 'adding encrypted dotfiles'
$ git push

Functions to automate this process

Here I have written two bash/zsh functions to automate this stuff. endot to encrypt the dotfiles and dedot to decrypt them.

  cd ~/cfg
  tar czf encrypted.tar.gz etc/.local/share/misc
  gpg -er abdullah@abdullah.today encrypted.tar.gz
  rm encrypted.tar.gz


  cd ~/cfg
  gpg -do encrypted.tar.gz encrypted.tar.gz.gpg
  tar xvf encrypted.tar.gz
  rm encrypted.tar.gz

You can save the functions into your shell initialzing files like ~/.zshrc for zsh and ~/.bashrc for bash.

Whenever you change these sensitive files, just run the endot function in the terminal and it will encrypt the new dotfiles and git will complain that the encrypted.tar.gz.gpg is modified so commit it and push the new version.

I hope this article will help many of you. If you have better alternatives or need some assistance, just leave a comment.