Set up my dotfiles and base configs

Prot's Dots For Debian - Book index

You have installed all the necessary packages and are now ready to fetch the configurations and code that makes up my custom desktop session. It is assumed you are running the stock MATE session and have an open terminal.

The latest fixed release of my dots

The “Code for Prot’s Dots For Debian” (Code for PDFD == CPDFD) is the repository that contains the latest fixed release of my dotfiles. Such tagged releases are versions that I have tested extensively and am confident that others can use. We shall be employing CPDFD, because my dotfiles’ git repository is an unstable environment, intended for running tests and developing new features that eventually end up in a fixed release.

CPDFD is hosted on GitLab’s own instance ( If you have an account there and have configured SSH access, you can clone the repo with the following command:

git clone ~/cpdfd

Otherwise, just clone over HTTPS:

git clone ~/cpdfd

Bear in mind that we clone the repo into the user’s home directory. The rest of this manual will assume ~/cpdfd as a constant.

For the record, my dotfiles are available here:

Primer to managing dotfiles with GNU Stow

You will not be copying anything manually. That is a recipe for disaster! Instead we leverage the power of symbolic links, aka “symlinks”, by using GNU Stow.

The way Stow works is to read the filesystem paths defined by a target and create equivalent symlinks to them at the parent of the present working directory (or a given destination). In practice, since cpdfd is in your home directory, all symlinks will be extensions of /home/USERNAME/, else the ~ path.

Let us take a closer look at what it means to give stow a target. In my dotfiles, I have a directory called “vim”. Its structure looks like this:

~/cpdfd $ tree -aF vim
├── .vim/
│   ├── colors/
│   │   ├── tempus_autumn.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_classic.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_dawn.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_day.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_dusk.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_fugit.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_future.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_night.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_past.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_rift.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_spring.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_summer.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_tempest.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_totus.vim
│   │   ├── tempus_warp.vim
│   │   └── tempus_winter.vim
│   └── spell/
│       ├── el.utf-8.spl
│       ├── el.utf-8.sug
│       ├── en.utf-8.add
│       └── en.utf-8.add.spl
└── .vimrc

3 directories, 21 files

It includes a .vimrc file and a .vim directory with more content. So if you run stow vim from within ~/cpdfd all those paths will be added to your home directory as symlinks. Here I also add the -v option for a verbose output:

~/cpdfd $ stow -v vim
LINK: .vim => cpdfd/vim/.vim
LINK: .vimrc => cpdfd/vim/.vimrc

This means:

  • ~/.vim links to ~/cpdfd/vim/.vim.
  • ~/.vimrc links to ~/cpdfd/vim/.vimrc.

The contents of .vim are accordingly expanded into:


From now on, we will be referring to the immediate subdirectories of ~/cpdfd as “Stow Packages”, as per man stow.

Using GNU Stow is essential because many of my Stow Packages contain somewhat complex structures such as the one shown above. Plus, keeping everything symlinked provides the benefit of controlling things with git. If you need to make changes or pull my latest fixed release, you will be able to do so centrally at ~/cpdfd.

About my Stow packages

Switch to my dotfiles:

cd ~/cpdfd

Now list only the directories that are relevant for stow (they are always written in lower case letters):

~/cpdfd $ ls --ignore='[A-Z]*'
bin  bspwm  colours  compton  dunst  fontconfig  gtk  keyring  music  newsboat  shell  tmux  vim  xterm

Note though, that the directories that are named “NO-STOW-" still contain useful configs. However, they need to be manually adapted to each use case.

Target them all at once (we pass the -v flag so that you see where everything is linked to—though you can always just browse through my dotfiles’ contents):

stow -v bin bspwm colours compton dunst fontconfig gtk keyring music newsboat shell tmux vim xterm

If Stow throws and error and complains that some files already exist, you must delete them, rename them, or otherwise move them to another location. The common offenders are the default ~/.bashrc and ~/.profile which will block the Stow package called “shell”.

The rest of this book assumes that you have used GNU Stow on all the appropriate packages, otherwise things will not work as intended.

Now a few words about each Stow package:

  • bin contains my custom scripts. Some of these are an integral part of my custom desktop session. This topic is covered in the chapter about my local ~/bin.
  • bspwm includes the configuration files for the window manager (BSPWM) and the hotkey daemon (SXHKD). The former is where we define settings such as the width of the border that is drawn around windows, the ratio at which windows are split, and the like. The hotkey daemon stores all the custom key bindings we use to control the session. For more, read the chapter about the basics of my BSPWM.
  • colours is where my Tempus themes for the shell and X resources are located. These files are used by various scripts of mine and should never be edited manually. For more, read the chapter about the Tempus themes.
  • compton refers to the display compositor and has the relevant config file. We use this to avoid screen tearing, add some subtle shadows around windows and enable somewhat smoother transitions.
  • dunst includes configurations for the daemon that displays desktop notifications. These control the look and feel of the program.
  • fontconfig includes all of my custom font configurations. For the specifics, refer to the chapter about fonts.
  • gtk defines the settings for the graphical toolkit. It also adds ports of the Tempus Themes for the GTK3 Source View widget (used by text editors such as Gedit, Pluma, Mousepad) as well as the GTK4 equivalent (used by GNOME Builder).
  • keyring contains the files necessary for autostarting the GNOME Keyring, the tool that stores passwords and secrets. You can use this to store access to SSH keys and the like.
  • music refers to the configuration files for the Music Player Daemon and its ncmpcpp client. Please note that you need to read the chapter about the music setup in order to make this work properly.
  • newsboat stores the files needed by the RSS/Atom reader of the same name. In order to use this program, you need to add some URLs that point to valid feeds. Read the chapter about Newsboat.
  • shell defines my Bash-related configurations, including aliases for common commands, the command line prompt, and various useful tweaks. Read the chapter about my shell setup.
  • tmux is about the terminal multiplexer used in my default terminal. Details are included in the chapter about my Tmux and Vim configurations.
  • vim is my editor of choice, which I use without any plugins or whimsical tweaks. As with the above Stow target, refer to the chapter about Tmux and Vim.
  • xterm contains all the necessary files for configuring the terminal emulator according to my preference.

Ready to go!

You are now ready to log in to BSPWM. Just to be sure, reboot your system. When you reach the login screen, look for the drop-down menu on the top-right corner of the screen, where desktop sessions are listed. Select bspwm and then proceed to add your username and password.

But before you actually log in, read the following chapter about the basics of my BSPWM, how to control it and move around, and the like.