This page from user Handy is used with the author’s permission (h/t). It has been shortened and edited for the different context.
What’s a hidden <.dot> file?
They are files & directories with a “.” dot in front of them. Placing a “.” dot in front of a file or directory tells the operating system that such files & directories are to be hidden from view in file managers, file requesters & such. File managers & other applications can usually be set to view these normally hidden files; in Thunar, Ctrl-H serves as a toggle to view/hide them. These hidden files & directories usually contain config files of some sort. If you want to see them in your filemanager usually Ctrl+H will reveal them and Ctrl+H will hide them.
I will refer to these hidden files as <.dot> files in this article.
Why is it worth knowing about these <.dot> files?
- It is well worthwhile knowing which <.dot> directories & files in your ~/ directory are valuable in saving you time & effort if you have to reinstall due to a hardware failure, corrupt data, user error…
- If you are coming from, or going to another distro, this can be extremely valuable knowledge. As again, these <.dot> files can save you an enormous amount of time & effort in configuring your system to be just the way you like it. More on this to come.
- This knowledge can also be used to backup important config files, some of which can have had many, many hours of work in them.
So, what do these <.dot> files in my /home do?
Looking in your ~/ directory (in a fashion that allows you to see all of the hidden <.dot> directories & files) gives us the ability to identify (& backup) any folders that have config or other customised data for our system, including the DE or WM that we use, as well as our applications.
Some examples of these are; panels, trays, clocks, text editors, image viewers, pdf viewers & whatever else that has been installed & configured on our system. A quick look in your ~/.config directory will make this clear.
Here is a guide to get you going:
The following is a guide built from looking at my custom built Manjaro mongrel Openbox system.
As far as your hidden files go you don’t need all of them for reference or for use by copying directly into your new system. Looking at what’s in there critically is a good learning experience as it helps you to become more familiar with your Linux system.
The following are hidden <.dot> directories & files that I would keep from my ~/ (this stands for my /home/ directory):
.config – you can drop this whole directory into your new distro as it keeps settings for any apps, DE/WM that you have been using in your previous distro. (Some apps stick their settings elsewhere so have a look in your ~/ for any of them that I miss here.)
Also, it is worth noting that any config files in this directory will have absolutely no effect if the program that they belong to is not installed on your machine. So orphan config files pose absolutely no danger.
.gimp-2.8 – if you are a gimp user (version may differ).
.griffith – for those that use the griffith movie database.
.mozilla – for Firefox users, this is a really important one. I’ve found a little trick that can save you oodles of time:
You take the contents only of the
directory, (you will know it when you see it) & copy it over the top of the contents of the same location on the new installation.
It will have a different which you must not change as it is the key to this trick.
This will bring all of your Firefox settings including any & all of your add-ons/extensions & Bookmarks, to your new install or distro (it also works with BSD & Windows). Saving a LOT of work for some of us. Also copy over the ~/.mozilla/firefox/profiles.ini replacing the original file in the new distro.
.themes – if you have a favourite or one that you have built or modified, then you most definitely want this folder.
.wallpaper – if you use feh to create a slideshow of your desktop backgrounds.
.xbmc – if you are one who uses this software you will be wanting this important directory.
.Xdefaults – if you use the lal clock, or some other app needs this file then grab it. It doesn’t exist on most systems.
.bash_profile – is worth bringing along for reference at least. I modify this file so that my machine boots straight to my Openbox desktop without needing to login. I’ve also modified my user search path using this file & set my user default Terminal editor here.
.bashrc – if you modify your .bashrc you won’t let this one escape your attention. My .bashrc is a monster (in size that is).
.conkyrc – if you use conky & any other files or directories that you may have that are associated with your conky.
.fehbg – if you use feh for your desktop background.
.gtickrc – if you use the gtick metronome, it has your settings held here.
.mtpaint – holds the mtpaint user config.
.pypanelrc – for anyone using the pypanel, here’s your config.
.stalonetrayrc – holds its config here.
.xinitrc – a very useful file for some of us, so it is worth keeping hold of as it is used to start a variety of things in conjunction with the startx command.
It is certainly useful for reference, but is not necessarily a good candidate to overwrite an existing .xinitrc that has been installed by a different distro, or the same distro that is using a different DE/WM. So be careful with what you do with this one.
When changing distros:
People often get into trouble due to their keeping their old /home partition for a couple of prime reasons.
- Permission problems (if they are using a different user name for example).
- They have a mixture of hidden <.dot> files from both distros in their ~/ partition.
No 2. above may understandably set off warning bells with some readers. .xinitrc is the prime candidate to cause trouble. So heed the warning I attached to that one previously. .bashrc may sometimes have something specific to a distro that you may desire.
This is OK, because you can combine what you want from one .bashrc with another & customise to suit yourself. When in doubt merge the two of them. As you learn more about bash you may go in & strip out some duplication (it is harmless if it exists anyway).
The following files may sometimes have something that is either useful (you may want to use it) or more rarely something important:
.Xdefaults .Xresources .bash_profile .bashrc .conkyrc .xinitrc
So if in doubt, don’t overwrite these files in an installation of a different distro, or If you are using the same distro with a different DE/WM. Do a little research on anything you are unsure about.