The Dotfiles Problem

Many userspace applications on UNIX use "dotfiles", files and directories named with a preceeding full-stop, to store application settings in a user's home directory. There are many problems with this, not least the fact that almost every application a user runs will add a new "dotfile" hence cluttering up the user's home directory. This problem is small however compared to the backwards compatability issues that moving to a new platform introduces.

Introducing a new platform inherently means that users will have access to both the old platform (e.g. DICE-RH9) and the new platform (DICE-FC3) at the same time. This presents a problem for many applications that use dotfiles as the metadata that they store might change dramatically between platform versions. In many cases this is not a problem as either the applications are intelligent and can use old data formats or migrate the data to the new formats. Problems occur when this is not the case.

The worst problems occur with desktop environments such as Gnome and KDE. These often have groups of "dotfiles" in many different locations. Usually these desktop environments can migrate "dotfile" metadata forwards to new versions of the environments. But, they often do not cater for backwards migration of metadata.

In a transitionary environment when both old and new platforms are sharing home directories this is a significant problem. The following sections discuss some of the issues involved and the various proposals put forward to solve, or at least alleviate this problem.

Things to Consider

  • Users must be able to login to the desktop environments on multiple machines at the same time.
    • This must also allow the different machines to be of differing base platform versions.
  • Where possible the "user experience" should not differ from the usual behaviour of the platform.
  • Rebuilding or rewriting of applications or tools should be avoided as this introduces signifcant maintainance overhead.

The Adopted Solution

TODO: Write this!

-- CarwynEdwards - 03 May 2005

Topic revision: r3 - 27 May 2005 - 13:58:22 - CarwynEdwards
FC3upgrade.DotFiles moved from FC3upgrade.HomeDirectories on 27 May 2005 - 13:57 by CarwynEdwards - put it back
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