Chezmoi: Part 2

Chezmoi is a dotfiles management tool. I wrote about it previously when I almost deleted my dotfiles and was looking for a better way to manage them.

7 months later and I'm happy I chose Chezmoi. I'm managing dotfiles across 3 machines and 2 OS's currently. I have a basic workflow and it seems like a good time to see if there are further benefits to be found. This is a review of my workflow and some notes on how to use the tool more effectively.

I've aliased chezmoi to cm in this article and on all my machines.

Including files or subdirectories from other projects is really interesting and something I didn't realise was possible. It goes a long way to bridging the gap between simple dotfiles management and something more powerful like Ansible.

Next steps (in another 7 months?) would be to use templates and make use of the secrets management capabilities.


  1. When you cm init you create a new git repo in ~/.local/share/chezmoi. This is where the source state lives. It's a repo, so you can do all the usual vcs things you'd expect, but cm won't do it for you (by default).

  2. cm edit-config opens the configuration file for editing.

Include dotfiles from other projects

  1. Use .chezmoiexternal.toml to tell cm to import dotfiles from a different repo. See below for an example

  2. You can't include subdirectories from other projects like oh-my-zsh because you can't use git submodules (cm uses its own format for the source state).

  3. The section heading (the part with square brackets) is the destination path of the object being imported.

  4. type is "archive" for collections of files (projects) and "file" for individual files. If the url is a tarball then cm will unpack it.

  5. The default value for refreshPeriod is never. Cm caches downloaded archives locally to avoid downloading them every time apply is called. To force a refresh, call cm --refresh-externals apply or cm -R apply.

  6. When using Oh My Zsh, make sure you disable auto-updates by setting DISABLE_AUTO_UPDATE="true" in ~/.zshrc. Auto updates will cause the ~/.oh-my-zsh directory to drift out of sync with cm's source state. Refresh the downloads (by setting refreshPeriod) to update Oh My Zsh and its plugins.

Adding files and directories

  1. You add a file to cm with cm add <file>. This copies the file into the source state but changes the name. If the file you want to track is ~/.zshrc then cm will create a file in the source state called dot_zshrc.

  2. You can cm add <dir> just like you can cm add &lt;file&gt;. If you copy a directory into the source state, the name of the source state copy will be prepended with dot_, too. The names of the files and dirs inside the directory are not changed.

Which files are tracked, not tracked or ignored

  1. cm managed shows a list of manged files

  2. cm unmanaged shows a list of unmanaged files. You can add entire directories with cm add.

  3. .chezmoiignore contains a list of files that won't be copied from the source directory to the destination when you run cm apply. This is the opposite of my intuition [documentation].

  4. Because cm apply can change so much stuff, try cm apply --dry-run --verbose first.

  5. .chezmoiignore is a template, so you can ignore different files on different machines.

Editing tracked files

cm diff will show you what changes would be applied if your ran cm apply from the perspective of the source state (Green ⇒ added to source state).

cm apply will overwrite local changes (after prompting for confirmation) with the copy from the source state.

You can resolve differences if things get messy with cm merge $FILE.

There are 4 ways of editing files:

  1. chezmoi edit $FILE - opens $FILE in the editor. cm edit will open the source state directory. You can also use cm edit --apply $FILE to apply the changes as soon as you close the file.

  2. cm cd and then edit the files directly. Then cm apply to apply the changes. cm diff will show you what changes would be made by running cm apply, from the perspective of the source state. (Green means added to the source state, red is removed. This is the opposite of my intuition).

  3. Edit the file in the home directory and then re-add it using cm add $FILE or cm re-add (re-add doesn't work with templates). I've created an alias to re-add all files that have been changed cm aa.

  4. Edit the file in the home directiry and then merge the changes into the source state with cm merge $FILE.


Importing an entire project:

To import Oh My Zsh, the zsh-syntax-highlighting plugin, and powerlevel10k by putting the following in ~/.local/share/chezmoi/.chezmoiexternal.toml:

    type = "archive"
    url = ""
    exact = true
    stripComponents = 1
    refreshPeriod = "168h"
    type = "archive"
    url = ""
    exact = true
    stripComponents = 1
    refreshPeriod = "168h"
    type = "archive"
    url = ""
    exact = true
    stripComponents = 1

Importing a single file from another project

To import plug.vim from into ~/.vim/autoload/plug.vim add this to ~/.local/share/chezmoi/.chezmoiexternals.toml

    type = "file"
    url = ""
    refreshPeriod = "168h"


Most of this was taken directly from the documentation.