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Pearl is a lightweight package manager for automating reproducible environments between different systems (Linux and OSX). It can be used for dotfiles, plugins, programs and any form of code accessible via git.

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Pearl is a lightweight package manager for automating reproducible environments between different systems (Linux and OSX). It can be used for dotfiles, plugins, programs and any form of code accessible via git.

As soon as a package gets installed, its content can be activated out of the box according to certain events, like, for instance, a shell startup (Bash, Zsh or Fish) or an editor startup (Vim or Emacs). This is possible via a smart and simple hook mechanism that integrates the package content within the Pearl ecosystem.

The main advantages on using Pearl are:

  • Create your own Pearl package in a very simple way.
  • Full control and sync of your dotfiles across different systems.
  • Automatic bootstrap of the package content whenever shells or editors get started.
  • Access to a wide range of existing packages via the OPH (Official Pearl Hub).
  • Allows to create your own shareable package repository.
  • Comparison with alternative solutions
  • Stable codebase with 100+ unit tests and exhaustive integration tests via Travis for Linux and OSX.
  • Small number of dependencies needed in order to ensure compatibility with most of the systems.


There are two main use cases for Pearl which will be explained here below:

Use case 1: Create custom package

The following example creates a Pearl package containing a git dotfile and a simple executable available as soon as the package gets installed.

$> pearl create mydotfiles ~/dotfiles

This will create a directory pearl-config in ~/dotfiles containing all the templates to help you start writing a Pearl package. ~/dotfiles does not need to be an empty directory.

Additionally, the local repository in $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/pearl/pearl.conf (defaults to ~/.config/pearl/pearl.conf) will be updated with the new package entry called mydotfiles. This tells to Pearl where to look for the package:

$> cat ~/.config/pearl/pearl.conf
PEARL_PACKAGES["mydotfiles"] = {"url": "~/dotfiles"}

Place the git config inside ~/dotfiles directory:

$> cd ~/dotfiles
$> echo -e "[alias]\n    cfg = config" > gitconfig
$> echo -e "#!/bin/bash\necho Hello World!" > hello
$> chmod +x hello

You need now to give instructions about how to link the gitconfig file into the system and make the executable available in PATH. This is possible through the pearl-config/ file. Just update it with the following:

post_install() {
    link git "${PEARL_PKGDIR}/gitconfig"
    link_to_path "${PEARL_PKGDIR}/hello"
    return 0

post_update() {

pre_remove() {
    unlink git "${PEARL_PKGDIR}/gitconfig"
    unlink_from_path "${PEARL_PKGDIR}/hello"
    return 0

This tells to Pearl to link the git config located in "${PEARL_PKGDIR}/gitconfig" (${PEARL_PKGDIR} is a builtin variable) to the git program just after the package installation. Also, will link the executable hello by creating a symlink and make it visible to PATH env variable. Conversely, before removal, the hooks file tells to unlink the git config file and remove the symlink.

Now, just install the package and you will see the changes already reflected:

$> pearl install mydotfiles
$> git cfg -l
$> hello
Hello World!

Once the package is completed, you can upload it to a git repository and just fetch it from there by updating ~/.config/pearl/pearl.conf:

$> cat ~/.config/pearl/pearl.conf
PEARL_PACKAGES["mydotfiles"] = {"url": ""}

There are way more things you can do with Pearl! For more details about the pearl-config content, look at the section below.

Use case 2: Use Pearl Hub repository

You can just use existing packages from the Pearl Hub repository. It contains a big list of packages about dotfiles, programs and plugins for many known applications.

For instance, look to the entire list of packages:

$> pearl list

If interested to search only for dotfiles:

$> pearl search dotfiles
    Awesome gtk dotfiles
    20 lines script that brings dotfiles in a ssh session
    Awesome Mutt dotfiles
    Awesome emacs dotfiles
    Awesome git dotfiles
    Awesome screen dotfiles
    Awesome Tmux dotfiles
    Awesome vim dotfiles
    Awesome Firefox dotfiles
    Awesome terms dotfiles (i.e. urxvt)
    Awesome bash dotfiles

Recommended Pearl Hub packages to install:



Before installing Pearl be sure that all dependencies are properly installed in your system. The Pearl dependencies are the following:


PLEASE NOTE: Tests may be performed on different versions from the ones listed above. To know which versions are truly tested have a look at latest Travis executions here.


The following are not mandatory dependencies but can be handy to have for the hook functions in Pearl package. All the Linux distributions have these dependencies already installed.

Shells supported

Pearl supports the following shells:

PLEASE NOTE: Tests may be performed on different versions from the ones listed above. To know which versions are truly tested have a look at latest Travis executions here.


Arch Linux

Pearl can be installed in Arch Linux through AUR. The package is pearl-git.

For example, to install Pearl via yay AUR helper:

$> yay -S pearl-git

Any other AUR helpers can be found here.

Other Linux distributions

Assuming all Pearl dependencies are properly installed in the system, to install Pearl you can use the pip command:

$> sudo python3 -m pip install pearl
$> pearl init

Make sure to update PATH environment variable if needed (pearl is typically located to /usr/bin). The idempotent init command will create the $PEARL_HOME directory and the new pearl configuration files from template.


In order to install all Pearl dependencies, you first need to install Homebrew.

To install all the needed dependencies via Homebrew:

$> brew update
$> brew install bash git coreutils grep gnu-sed python

To install Pearl you can use the pip command:

$> pip3 install pearl
$> pearl init

Make sure to update PATH environment variable if needed (pearl is typically located to /usr/bin). The idempotent init command will create the $PEARL_HOME directory and the new pearl configuration files from template.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Pearl gets loaded through ~/.bashrc. The problem is that in OSX, the terminal opens a login shell and only ~/.bash_profile will get executed. Run the following only if ~/.bashrc is not loaded within ~/.bash_profile file:

$> echo "[[ -f $HOME/.bashrc ]] && source $HOME/.bashrc" >> ~/.bash_profile

This will make sure that ~/.bashrc will run at shell startup.

Create your own Pearl package

Any git repository is already a Pearl package. For instance, in order to manage a dotfiles repository in Pearl, you just need to change the Pearl configuration file located in $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/pearl/pearl.conf.

Add the following line to pearl.conf file:

    "mydotfiles": {
        "url": "",
        "description": "My dotfiles"

In other words, update the PEARL_PACKAGES dictionary with a new entry containing the name of the package (i.e. mydotfiles), the git url (i.e. and an optional description.

That's it! The package will be ready to be managed by the Pearl system.

Structure of a Pearl package

Your own git repository can contain an optional directory named pearl-config used by Pearl to integrate the package with the Pearl environment.

/ (package root)
├── pearl-config (optional directory)
│   │
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   ├── config.bash
│   ├── config.zsh
│   ├──
│   ├── config.vim
│   ├── config.el
│   └── package.conf
└── (additional package content)

The files inside pearl-config are also optional script/configuration files:

  • - contains the hooks functions executed during the install, update and remove events.
  • - will be sourced whenever a new Bash/Zsh shell is starting up.
  • config.bash - will be sourced whenever a new Bash shell is starting up.
  • config.zsh - will be sourced whenever a new Zsh shell is starting up.
  • - will be sourced whenever a new Fish shell is starting up.
  • config.vim - will be executed whenever Vim editor is starting up.
  • config.el - will be sourced whenever Emacs editor is starting up.
  • package.conf - contains optional metadata information (name, author, description, keywords, etc) about the package that are useful when indexing the package in a repository list.

The order in which the config.* files are sourced among multiple installed packages depends on the closure dependency tree, in other words, if package A depends on package B and both have config.vim files, the parent package B config file will be sourced first.

The following variables can be used in any of the previous scripts:

  • PEARL_HOME - Pearl location ($XDG_DATA_HOME/pearl which by default is $HOME/.local/share/pearl)
  • PEARL_PKGDIR - Pearl package location
  • PEARL_PKGVARDIR - Pearl package location containing data needed for package
  • PEARL_PKGNAME - Pearl package name
  • PEARL_PKGREPONAME - Pearl package repo name (useful to detect and interact with packages within the same repo)

Additionally, the script can use the utility functions available in Buava and Pearl utils directory that make easier the integration with Pearl ecosystem.

Useful examples of Pearl packages can be checked in the Official Pearl Hub.

The script

Hook functions

  • post_install - Called after an installation of the package occurs.
  • pre_update - Called before an update of the package occurs.
  • post_update - Called after an update of the package occurs.
  • pre_remove - Called before a removal of the package occurs.

An script example

post_install() {
    warn "Remember to setup your config located in: ~/.dotfile"
    # Do a smart backup before modifying the file
    backup ${HOME}/.dotfile
    "# New dotfile" > ${HOME}/.dotfile
    if ask "Are you sure to link the tmux config?" "Y"
        link tmux "$PEARL_PKGDIR/mytmux.conf"

    info "Awesome - new package installed!"
    return 0
post_update() {
    return 0
pre_remove() {
    info "dotfiles package removed"
    unlink tmux "$PEARL_PKGDIR/mytmux.conf"

    # Do an idempotent delete
    delete ${HOME}/.dotfile
    return 0

The info and warn are functions that print a message using different colors (namely cyan and yellow).

The link unlink are idempotent functions (the result will not change if the function will be called multiple times) that are able to link/unlink a config file in order to be loaded at startup by a certain program.

The ask function will make installation interactive, asking user whether to link tmux config or not.

The backup keeps the last three backups of the file and do not perform backup if the file has not been modified since the latest backup. The delete is a function for idempotent remove (it will not raise an error if the file no longer exist).

All these functions belong to the Buava package in and to the Pearl script. You can use them inside the to any hook function.

Very important note: All the hook functions must be idempotent (the commands of each hook function must produce the same result even if the command gets executed multiple times). All buava commands are idempotent and this will help to write hook functions very quickly.

Note: For OSX system, the GNU version sed and grep are automatically imported in and can be directly used if needed.

The package.conf file

package.conf is located in pearl-config directory and is meant to contain package metadata. To simplify the creation of new packages, this file is completely optional. This file may contain name of the package, description, author, os compatibility, license and more. It can be also used to establish dependencies between packages.

Please note that package.conf is only meant to encapsulate package information within the package itself but they are not directly consumed by the Pearl program. In fact, Pearl only reads from the pearl.conf file which is where the metadata information can be also stored.

To give a better idea, take a look at the Pearl Hub repo.conf. The repo-builder is the script responsible to periodically extract the package.conf metadata from each package and update the Pearl Hub repo.conf.

For a local package you can manually include such information directly in the pearl.conf file. This is an example of package defined in pearl.conf which depends on the pearl/cmd package:

    'mydotfiles': {
        "url": '/home/user/my/folder/dotfiles/',
        "description": "This package contains dotfiles",
        "author": "David Smith <>",
        "depends": (

If you do not need such features for your package, just ignore this file.

Create a Pearl package from a local directory

Pearl package system will work even for local directories. This is particularly useful whenever a Pearl package needs to be tested before pushing to a git repository.

For instance, the following lines in pearl.conf file will add a package located in /home/joe/dotfiles:

    "mydotfiles": {
        "url": "/home/user/mydotfiles",
        "description": "My dotfiles"

The directory path must be an absolute path.

The package will be ready to be managed by the Pearl system.

The directory content can be structured in the exact way as described in the section above.

Use third-party git repository not available in Pearl Hub

If you want to use a third-party git repository that is not available in the Official Pearl Hub, you can:

  • Create your own git repository and use the PEARL_PKGVARDIR directory (recommended)
  • Create your own git repository and use git submodule
  • Point directly to the third-party git repository

To see examples of Pearl packages from third-party git repos take a look at the Official Pearl Hub.

Create your own git repository and use the PEARL_PKGVARDIR directory (recommended)

You can use the PEARL_PKGVARDIR directory during the installation phase to install the third-party git repository. This is the best way to incorporate third-party project into Pearl ecosystem.

Here it is an example of file which install the ranger file manager into the directory ${PEARL_PKGVARDIR}/ranger:

function post_install(){
    install_or_update_git_repo "${PEARL_PKGVARDIR}/ranger" master

function post_update(){

function pre_remove(){
    rm -rf ${PEARL_PKGVARDIR}/ranger

The function install_or_update_git_repo comes from the Buava library in which is natively available in Pearl during the installation. You can even use the functions install_git_repo or update_git_repo which respectively install or update the git repository.

For a full example take a look at the ranger Pearl Hub package.

Create your own git repository and use git submodule

Inside your git repository, you just need to add the third-party git repo as a git submodule. For instance, to add the powerline in your Pearl package, you can introduce a submodule in the module directory:

$> git submodule add module

The filesystem structure of the package will become something like this:

/ (package root)
├── pearl-config   (optional directory)
├── module/        (contains third-party code)
└── (additional package content)

Then, you just need to modify the config scripts in order to integrate the third-party project inside Pearl environment.

Point directly to the third-party git repository

Let's suppose you want to install the vim-rails plugin. In your Pearl configuration ($XDG_CONFIG_HOME/pearl/pearl.conf), add your new Pearl package:

    "vim-rails": {
        "url": "",
        "description": "Ruby on Rails power tools"

Install the package:

$> pearl install vim-rails

Voila', your new vim plugin is ready to be used!

This approach is particularly useful whenever you do not need to specify any pearl config to "enrich" the third-party project inside the Pearl environment.

Create your own Pearl repository

A Pearl repository is just a git repository containing a file located in pearl-config/pearl.conf with a list of packages. For instance, the OPH repository is available here.

In order to use the new repository (i.e. ""), update the pearl.conf file by adding the following line:

PEARL_REPOS += ("",)

Comparison with alternative solutions

Here we are going to compare Pearl with other solutions according to the following dimensions:


Ability of the tool to split configurations and/or programs into different modules. Its importance is because in case configs are broken you can still manage other modules which you are more confident they works. For instance, if your vim config does not work you are still able to manage all other dotfiles because they are independent from each other. Obviously, Pearl, by design, allows modularization through packages.

General purpose

Tools can be either general (manage any kind of programs) or dotfiles-specific (limited to dotfiles only).


Indicates how easy is to setup and use the tool. Between all tools, Ansible is the one which has a steep learning curve. Ansible is a powerful software for IT automation which can be widely used for many use cases. Despite of this, Ansible has few drawbacks when using it for lightweight forms of automation compared to Pearl:

  • Pearl uses bash for writing simple scripts for automation:
    • it makes easier the integration with other programs in the system (without existing Playbooks may be hard and tedious to achieve this in Ansible);
    • bash is a powerful, accessible and well-known language;
  • Ansible requires way more dependencies than Pearl;
  • Ansible requires knowledge about how Ansible Playbooks works;
  • Pearl uses built-in functions and variables which heavily simplify construction of scripts for automation;
  • Pearl makes easier to remove packages and restore the system to an initial state;


Indicates whether the tool handles diverse management for configurations/programs when dealing with heterogeneous machines. There are multiple ways to handle diversity through Pearl:

  • one way is to create just one package and write bash functions which handle specific logic for each machine.
  • Alternatively, you can create a base package containing common functionality and use a package specific for each machine. This is possible thanks to the ability to define dependencies between packages.


Ability of the tools to be used in multiple platforms. Pearl can be used on both Linux and OSX.


Pearl Ansible yadm vcsh homesick
Modular Yes Yes No Yes Yes
General purpose Yes Yes No No No
Diversity Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Simple Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Portable Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes


Corrupted Pearl Home directory

Q: What should I do if I accidentally removed files/packages in $PEARL_HOME?

A: You can recover the structure of the $PEARL_HOME by running:

$> pearl init

The command will create all the essential directories and symlinks in $PEARL_HOME. It is harmless to run the init command multiple times since it is idempotent.

Corrupted package

Q: Why I can no longer update/remove a package?

A: This is probably because either one of the hook functions is failing or the package content is corrupted. You can forcely remove the package:

$> pearl --force remove <packagename>

which bypass hook functions that are failing. If that does not even work, you can delete a package by simply removing its directory:

$> rm -rf $PEARL_HOME/packages/pearl/<packagename>

After that, you can reinstall the package again. The Pearl packages contain a dedicated directory var for storing data needed for the package itself. The var data are always managed by the package and they never gets deleted by Pearl during the package removal. If you want to delete the content in var package:

$> rm -rf $PEARL_HOME/var/pearl/<packagename>

Package shell variables/functions not visible in current shell after installation

Q: Why are not package's environment variables/functions visible in my current shell after installing/updating the package?

A: After package install/update, the variables or functions related to the current shell and defined in pearl-config/config.* may not be available because a reload of Pearl configuration file is required. You can fix this by simply run the function:


which reloads the configuration. The use of such function is not always required but depends on whether the variables/functions involve the current shell where the package install/update occurred (i.e. a new variable defined in and the current shell is a bash or zsh). Alternatively, user can always create a new shell and the package resources will be available as expected.

Error during package install

Q: Why Do I get the following error:

Error on executing 'post_install' hook. Rolling back...

A: This occurs when the post_install hook function fails. Pearl will attempt to roll back and force a removal of the package. In this way you can attempt to install the package again once the hook function gets fixed.

Debugging config files

Q: How do I debug config.* files when running the corresponding program (i.e. emacs, vim, bash, zsh, fish)?

A: Set the environment variable PEARL_DEBUG before running the program. For example, to check the config.vim files run when starting up vim program:


Pearl executable not found

Q: Why do I get this message when opening shells (bash, zsh, fish) or editors (vim, emacs):

Pearl error: Could not load pearl package config files. `pearl` executable not found. Please update the PATH variable first."

A: This is because pearl executable is required for properly sourcing the pearl package config.* files. Make sure to add the path location to the PATH in your favorite shell config file (i.e. ~/.bashrc, ~/.zshrc, ~/.config/fish/config).


You could help improving Pearl and the OPH in the following ways:


To sustain the project please consider funding by donations through the GitHub Sponsors page.


Pearl was originally created by Filippo Squillace (

Here is a list of really appreciated contributors!

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