Simplifying file management with GNU Stow

Safely Stowed Away

© Lead Image © zentilia,

© Lead Image © zentilia,

Article from Issue 231/2020

Stow helps you manage custom configuration files across multiple users and computers, as well as organize your dotfiles.

When it comes to file management, keeping chaos in check is highly recommended. Stow [1], a lesser-known GNU file management tool, functions as a symlink farm manager that organizes various sets of software or data located in separate directories on the filesystem, making them appear to be installed in a single directory tree.

Stow was originally created to manage software compiled on the system, which typically ends up in the subdirectories of /usr/local/. Stow is often used to install software globally across the system, but it also provides a clear-cut mechanism for managing configuration files and scripts in these installation's home directories. Stow can be considered the GNU project's official solution to keeping custom configuration files separate and distributing them to other systems.

When it comes to managing custom-compiled software, the software often does not come with an uninstall target in the makefile or a similar mechanism to get rid of it when needed. As a result, this can lead to a time-consuming manual uninstall. For instance, you would need to use whereis <software> to find out which subdirectories the software in question has been distributed to and then remove the files in each directory with rm -rf. Stow can simplify this process.


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