Hippo is a host repository for tracking system configuration files.


Hippo is a thin layer built on top of Git that simplifies managing a host-wide repository of files with metadata (permissions and ownership). Conceptually, Hippo simply serializes metadata before certain Git commands are run, and restores file metadata after others. By default, the host-wide git repository lives in /var/hippo/.git, metadata is tracked in /var/hippo/manifest.


Hippo requires privileged access to checked-in files, so all commands below should be run as root. Most Hippo commands are identical to their Git equivalents:

Initialise a new host repository

hippo init

Add a file

hippo add /etc/inetd.conf

It’s a good idea to add files and do an initial commit, before making any modifcations. This gives you a baseline to track changes against.


hippo commit -a 

Push to a remote host

hippo push aldo@remotehost:repo

Inspect a hippo repository with git

A Hippo repository is just a Git repo, with a bit of added structure. You can check out a hippo repository using Git, and inspect or even modify the included files and metadata log:

git clone aldo@remotehost:repo

Flash a configuration checked into Hippo onto a new system

hippo clone aldo@remotehost:repo


Configuring an origin repository

In a shared environment, we can’t store the origin repository information directly in the hippo repository, because different administrators may need a different repository URL string. The easiest way around this, is to configure the remote branches in the individual administrator gitconfigs instead. For example, I have this in my ~/.gitconfig:

[branch "master"]
    remote = origin
    merge = refs/heads/master

[remote "origin"]
    url = aldo@remotehost:/path/to/repo
    fetch = +refs/heads/*:refs/remotes/origin/*

Commit templates

You can use git’s built-in commit template functionality with hippo. First, create the template file - in this example, I use /etc/hippo-commit-template. Then, set the commit template like this:

hippo config commit.template /etc/hippo-commit-template

Multi-hop SSH

Often, you will want to push or pull from a repo that is not directly reachable from the current system. In this case, you can set up multi-hop SSH. In your ~/.ssh/config file add a section as follows:

Host destination_host_name
    ProxyCommand ssh -Aq intermediate_host_address nc -q0 %h 22
    Hostname destination_host_address

Here, destination_host_name is the shortcut name you want to use for the destination host. The intermediate and destination host addresses are either IP addresses or resolvable hostnames.

You can now push or pull to the destination host, using the assigned shortcut name.