Non-standard uses for git(1)

Published: November 7, 2021

In this post, I'm not going to teach you how to use git(1). Instead, I wanted to write a quick post to encourage you to use git for non-conventional use cases (i.e. things other than source code).

If perchance you're not familiar with git, there's a ton of good documentation out there. I'd recommend starting with the official and free Pro Git. Also, as a PSA, just know that git stores whole snapshots and NOT diffs.


Git is a distributed version control system, and this is a beautiful thing. I feel it's often lost on us, given that we use it most frequently on centralized forges for team collaboration (GitHub, GitLab, etc).

Git being distributed means you can:

  1. Use it offline (your copy is "first class")
  2. Mirror it to as many places as you want

In other words, git can be used without any dependence on a third- party service or company and with complete ownership of private data. Forges (and I recommend are a great place to backup your code and collaborate, but you don't have to use a forge to use git as a futureproof way to do what it does best: version your files.

Story Time

When I started my first job in tech, I found that it was a good habit to take personal notes. It was incredibly useful to quickly reference obscure CLI commands or system knowledge gained from pairing. These were things that were too small or personal to make it into standard documentation but invaluable to have on hand.

My first solution was shoving them all into a directory called ~/notes as plaintext files. They were easy to write and reference, and it was simple to back them up by copying the directory to another drive nightly.

Over time, the cp -a trick broke down:

Around the same time, I started getting more familiar with git, and it finally occurred to me: I could use git and still keep these notes private!

Git can clone/push/pull across filesystems, so in the matter of minutes I solved both of my issues with just:

# Set up the backup mirror
$ git init --bare /backup/drive/notes.git

# Put it to use!
$ cd ~/notes
$ git init && git add . && git commit -m "import"
$ git remote add origin /backup/drive/notes.git
$ git push -u origin main

If you don't have a backup drive mounted, it's equally good (or better) to make the remote a repo accessed over SSH:

# On the remote host$ git init --bare ~/notes.git

# On the local host
$ git remote add origin

Going Further

These days, I shudder at the thought of any important plaintext on my system that's not version-controlled somewhere. Too many hours are spent writing these little files, and it's so easy to version them, why risk losing any of that history?

Aside from my private notes, I version:

In conclusion, my advice to anyone writing anything of importance: just use git(1)!

See Also

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