I have a few different linux machines and a lot of config files (and folders) on each.

For example:

~/.scripts/ ( folder )

Is there a simple and elegant method to keep these files synced between my machines ( one has no internet access )?

Also, some files will need a more advanced syncing process, as they will have to differ slightly... for example:

My desktop keyboard has a range of hotkeys, where my laptop has almost none. I use XF86Mail to open thunderbird on my desktop, but Meta+M on my laptop.

My Home Desktop and Work Desktop are both more "multiple user" orientated, where my Laptop is just for me. So on my laptop, I tend to keep the 'rc.xml' file for openbox at /etc/xdg/openbox/rc.xml but on the desktops at ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml

5 Answers 5


Keep the files under version control. This has multiple benefits, including facilitating keeping files synchronized (commit on one machine, update on the others) and keeping a history of changes (so you can easily find out what broke a program that worked last month).

I use CVS and synchronize the repositories with Unison or sneakernet, but that's because I've been doing this since a time before widely-available distributed version control. Anyone starting now should use a proper distributed version control tool, such as bazaar, darcs, git, mercurial, ...

Managing files that need to differ between machines is always a bit of a pain. If the configuration language allows conditionals, use them. Otherwise, if there is an include mechanism, use it to split the configuration file into a machine-dependent part and a shared part. Keep all the machine-dependent parts in a separate directory (something like ~/.local/NAME/) which is always referred to through a symbolic link (~/.here -> local/NAME on each machine). I have a few files that are generated by a script in the shared part from parameters kept in the machine-specific part; this precludes modifying these files indirectly through a GUI configuration interface. Avoid configuring things in /etc, it's harder to synchronize between machines.

  • I use git for this purpose. my repo for ~/.etc I also have a ~/.usr and a ~/.var I wish that these directories were standard so KDE would stop throwing all tmp/var/config/etc files under .kde. so hard to know where what I want is in my home directory. Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 14:18

I agree with the version control answer, but another method I've been experimenting with recently is Dropbox. It's essentially a version control system that automatically syncs between all your machines, so if you edit a file on one computer you'll see the changes reflected on your other computers in a couple seconds, without needing to commit on the former and update on the latter.

Their free basic plan is 2GB, so I use it to version my configuration files and chat logs

  • the major benefit i see here is that it's much easier to setup-up.
    – Ashesh
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 19:41

Puppet and Cfengine are two good tools for syncing files (and a lot more..)

  • There's also chef but these tools are really for managing a large number of machines, probably overkill for 2 or 3 systems Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 14:20

Today, one could get the best of the first (dvcs) and second (dropbox) responses with sparkleshare, which provides a dropbox-like user experience with git-based storage behind the scenes.


filetailor is an open-source Python program for this exact issue. Based on a YAML configuration file, it can make small changes to the files using device-specific variables or using device-specific comments in the files.

Disclaimer: I had this same issue and made filetailor to solve it.

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