Managing dotfiles with Mitamae

Published on: 06 February 2024 In categories:

I wrote in my weeknotes recently that I wanted to rebuild my dev machine.

I got around to doing it last weekend. I reduced my Windows partition down to 200Gb for emergencies, gave Fedora 39 the remaining ~750Gb, reformatted my 2Gb data drive as ext4 and gave it a permanent fstab entry.

My AMD Ryzen based Fedora development workstation

Fedora 39 is really nice out of the box. It only took me about an hour in total to get everything installed and comfortable and working as I like; with a working development environment for writing Ruby, as well as working on the Ruby VM, my photography workflow, AV stuff and enough settings for my general day to day comfort.

This machine was already running the latest version of Fedora Workstation (39), but it had been upgraded from Fedora 34. This is my first desktop machine in well over a decade (I had an Athlon 64 X2 workstation I had built, running Arch - I think I sold it in or around 2010 when we moved house and I went laptop only), so I’d spent a bunch of time experimenting with how I wanted everything to behave.

Doing this meant I’d accumulated a lot of crap, experimenting with Desktop environments and workflows and the like, so it was harder to see what was actually new in 39.

Gnome 45 is really slick. I like it a lot.

One of the reasons setting up was so quick is because I have a dotfiles repo. It uses Mitamae, which is a lightweight implementation of Itamae built using mRuby.

Itamae itself is a lightweight config management tool inspired by Chef.

Mitamae is really nice for implementing config management on a few machines, where you have access to each machine and want to just run an install script locally. I use it for my Desktop, my personal Laptop, and in a limited fashion, on my work Macbook Pro.

The recipes are written in mRuby compatible Ruby. So they’re very familiar. For example, setting up my dotfiles for the Sway wayland compositor looks like this:

dotfiles = {
  ".config/sway/swayexit" => "sway/swayexit",
  ".config/sway/" => "sway/status.#{node.hostname}.sh",
  ".config/waybar/style.css" => "waybar/style.css",
  ".config/waybar/modules/" => "waybar/",
  ".config/xdg-desktop-portal/portals.conf" => "xdg/portals.conf"

dotfile_template ".config/sway/config" do
  source "sway/config.erb"
    monitor_config: node.mconfig

dotfile dotfiles

This looks superficially very similar to the Chef DSL, but in reality is a lot more constrained, which feels like a really good thing.

Mitamae still allows you to do custom stuff if you want to. For instance, both the dotfile_template and the dotfile resources are actually a custom definition defined inside my repo. dotfile_template looks like this:

define :dotfile_template, source: nil, variables: {} do
  template_path = "#{node.home_dir}/#{params[:name]}"
  template_root = File.dirname(template_path)

  directory template_root do
    user node[:user]

  template template_path do
    action :create
    owner node.user
    group node.user
    source "#{TEMPLATES_DIR}/#{params[:source]}"

As you can see this is just some syntactic sugar around the built-in template resource, but you can do more than this too.

And dotfile wraps the directory and link resources to set up symlinks in the correct place on the filesystem to the appropriate configs inside the dotfiles repo.

define :dotfile, source: nil, owner: node[:user] do
  links = if params[:name].is_a?(String)
    { params[:name] => params[:source] }

  links.each do |to, from|
    destination = File.expand_path(to, node[:home_dir])
    dest_dir    = File.dirname(destination)
    source      = File.expand_path(from, FILES_DIR)

    directory dest_dir do
      user node[:user]

    link destination do
      to source
      user params[:owner]
      force true

The customisation of resources like this allows you to make some cute design decisions too - for instance the dotfile resource can either be called with a hash of mappings as in the above example. But if the first argument is a String, then it will work in exactly the same way as any other resource and let us define the arguments manually. Like this example, where I’m overriding part of the Pipewire audo config:

dotfile pipewire_pulse_config_home + "/pipewire-pulse.conf" do
  source "mopidy/pipewire-pulse.conf"

I’ve used many different variations of “dotfiles” repos over the years, from custom install scripts, to simple tools like GNU Stow, all the way up to fully fledged config management systems like Ansible, (and Puppet, but I deleted this many years ago).

Mitamae sits really nicely in the middle. It balances the trifecta of flexibility, maintanability and complexity really well, and seems to be a perfect fit for me.

The key is that it’s low enough friction that adding new things isn’t a chore. Which means I’m less likely to allow my dotfiles repo to be out of sync with the config actually on my machines. And it also allows enough customisation and power that I can manage multiple sets of dotfiles in an elegant way.

Plus I get to write Ruby, which is always a plus in my book. Implementing iterations in yaml is an abomination and should be stopped.

If any of this resonates with you I’d really recommend trying it out. Mitamae is a great tool.