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Local .gitignore files

February 2024

When I work with git, I find it beneficial to keep the .gitignore patterns as close as possible to the files or directories they ignore. So instead of having all ignore patterns in a single .gitignore file at the root of the repository, I prefer to split it into multiple local .gitignore files. Here's why: when renaming directories, the ignore patterns don't need to be updated. It may seem like a minor benefit, but it's one less thing to worry about.

Let's see an example. Suppose we ignore the file backend/results.txt and decide to rename the directory backend to api.

With only a single .gitignore file at the root, the ignore pattern is expressed as an absolute path (well, relative from the root of the repository):

$ cat .gitignore
backend/results.txt

So when we rename backend to api, we must remember to update the .gitignore file to reflect the renaming:

$ cat .gitignore
api/results.txt

However, by using a local .gitignore file in the backend directory, where the ignore pattern is expressed as a relative path to the current directory:

$ cat backend/.gitignore
results.txt

The .gitignore file in the backend directory automatically adapts to the renaming, eliminating the need for a manual update.

Call it laziness if you will, but I appreciate having one less thing to worry about, regardless of its magnitude.

Moreover, in the context of a git repository serving as a monorepo with dozens or hundreds of projects, maintaining local .gitignore files will not only save a few edits when renaming directories but will reduce the risk of accidentally including files that should be ignored. Additionally, it helps keep the .gitignore at the root of the repository relatively small, making it more manageable in the long run.

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