Samathy Barratt

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In Brief: GNU Stow

A week or so ago I got around to installing a wiki on my home server. I'm planning to write something up about that too soon.

After installing the wiki software, I started to feel extremely uncomfortable about not having all my /etc/ config files versioned, and stored in a place I could easily get to them.

All the config for all my programs on my laptops and desktops are stored in a dotfiles git repo. But I don't do anything like that for server configs.

That leaves me in the situation where my server may be working perfectly right now, but if I change anything which breaks stuff, need to re-use a config somewhere else, or just want to figure out how I got it into the state its in, I can't.

So, config management on linux servers, whats the sitch' on that?

If you search the internet for something like "Linux config management" you get enterprise-ish solutions like Chef, Puppet and Ansible.

I've used Ansible a bit at work, and its okay. Out of the bunch above it is by far the one I would be most likely to use on my personal infrastructure.

Rixx suggested that I should look at etckeeper. etckeeper is like, partially what I want. But I really do not care about keeping the default configs for all the software I've got installed. What I cared about, was keeping the configs that I'd customised, and only those files.

I also wanted to keep track of some server configuration which doesn't live in /etc/ ( specifically, the wiki config, but other stuff too ).

Plus I have very little need for the system to be automated - when I edit a file, I know full well I edited it, and I'd like to be able to add a useful commit message telling future me what the heck I was doing.

So, getting to the point; I ended up using GNU Stow, just like I use for my local dotfiles.

Stow is very simple. For each piece of software you want to store the config for, you create a directory. Inside that directory, you create the directory structure where the configs normally live. So, for nginx, I have:


While in the config directory, I can run stow -t / nginx and stow will make symlinks in /etc/nginx/sites-available/ pointing to all the files inside config/nginx/etc/nginx/sites-available/.

I placed the config directory on my server's RAID array, moved all the configs I cared about into their respective directory structures, and put the whole thing in a git repo.

Bonuses came when I realised I could mount that config directory on my server as an nfs accessible directory on my other devices in my home network. So my server, and network-services(Internal DNS,DynamicDns etc) systems have their configs stored in a redundant, backed up, versioned place.

Every time I edit a file that I'm already tracking, I just add a git commit detailing my changes.

To add a new file, I just move it from its location to the appropriate location in my config repo, and then stow it back to where it should be.

There are some issues that come about with most files in /etc/ being owned by root making tracking them in a git repo kinda weird. But it only takes a little wrangling by running git add, git commit with sudo and then git commit --amend --reset-author with my normal user later. I'm sure theres a better solution than that, but hey, works.

Perhaps if I was maintaining actual infrastructure, or deploying servers often I would use a different tool. But for now, stow is simple and easy to manage and doesn't require much setup.

It works for me!

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