Graham Christensen

Coding, making, hardware, and everything else too.

How to have two git repositories in the same directory

If you were to search GitHub for dotfile repositories, you would find thousands of them. Just perusing the top few will give you a wonderful treasure-trove of useful tips and tricks for becoming a true power user. This resource has truly opened my eyes to things I could be doing better, faster.

When I struck gold and didn’t want to cobble together my files yet again (IE: every time I reinstall) I decided to begin versioning my dotfiles. I began in the most obvious of ways: I made my home directory a git repository, ignored all my files, and only explicitly added all the files I really wanted in there. This worked for a while, but the files that I truly wish WERE versioned were not - my SSH and GPG keys, and my SSH configuration. Additionally, I had a few bash variables which contained private information that I didn’t want to make public.

The obvious solution was to put these into another repository hosted on my own server but integrating that repository into my home directory is what infuriated me.

The first and common method people seem to be doing is using tools like dotty or homesick to manage the multiple repositories and setup symlinks automatically.

These tools worked fine for a little while, but they had a severe downside: neither of them are designed to be easy to add files back in. This made it very difficult to maintain or find files I had forgotten to import; it was mostly a guess-and-check kind of situation.

They created a reasonable interface to working with themselves, but when it came down to using git like it is supposed to be, it was just an enormous headache.

Unfortunately the problem with using symlinks in this situation is inherent: git doesn’t know what you’re doing, and does its best. I cannot blame git.

A Proposed Solution

My biggest frustration with these tools were they didn’t let git do what it is good at: manage my dammed files. They tried to be smarter than git, and really quite poorly. It pissed me off a good deal.

My ideal solution was letting git manage itself like I know it can, but I just needed it to support multiple repositories in one directory.

If only…

If only I could have my git repository files located in, say, ~/.git-repos/private, but tell it to check my files out into ~/ that would do it, right?


Git already provides the tools to do exactly to this!

  • $GIT_DIR - This tells Git where to look for the .git directory. In this way you could be in /tmp/whatever and manage your git repository located in /home/grahamc/my-awesome-files.
  • GIT_WORK_TREE - This tells Git where the files are that it is tracking. Using this your .git directory could be in /tmp/whatever and actually have all your checked out files be put in to /home/grahamc/my-awesome-files.

Now we’re getting somewhere!

The Sexy Solution: git multi

That’s right, I built it out. Using those two shell variables it was pretty trivial, didn’t require crazy dependencies, or any nasty symlinks.

Go ahead and get these shell scripts, drop them in to your ~/bin (or path, I suppose) and be enlightened.

Adding a Repository

git multi add public

Blammo. Done. That’s it. That even checks out the repository and everything.

Working on a Repository

git multi work public

This command opens up a bash terminal with $GIT_DIR and $GIT_WORK_TREE already set and everything. Your git commands work like they were native. Wait. Mmmm… it’s because they are.

When you’re done and want to commit or push? Just do that. git commit; git push origin master.

For bonus points, add grahamc/git-multi (or your own fork) as an additional repository to your home directory.

Hit me up with a pull request or comments if you have issues.

posted on September 13 2011