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gitignore can actually refer to any of several files:

  • $HOME/.config/git/ignore - applies to all Git projects for this user
  • $GIT_DIR/info/exclude - not sure what this does
  • .gitignore - the file ".gitignore" in the local project folder
  • any file specified by core.excludesfile in the user’s ~/.gitconfig

Each of these has uses specific to them; see the manpage for more information.