Many applications on Linux systems allow you to alter how they behave at certain times by altering files containing configuration information. These configuration files may contain application start-up information, run-time settings and application shutdown settings. In general, a configuration filename is based on the name of the application for which it contains settings. Such a naming convention allows you to more readily determine which configuration file contains settings for a given application.
It's important to remember that there are two different kinds of configurations on a Debian system. System-wide configuration affects all users. System-wide settings are made in the /etc directory, so you generally must be root in order to change system-wide settings. You might configure the way the system connects to the Internet, for example, or have web browsers on the system always start on the company home page. Since you want these settings to apply to all users, you make the changes in /etc. Sample configuration files in /etc include /etc/X11/XF86Config, /etc/lynx.cfg, and /etc/ppp/options. In fact, nearly all the files in /etc are configuration files.
User configuration affects only a single user. Dotfiles are used for user configuration. For example, the file ~/.newsrc stores a list of which USENET (discussion group) articles you have read and which groups you subscribe to. This allows news readers such as trn or GNUS to display unread articles in the groups you're interested in. This information will be different for every user on the system, so each user has his own .newsrc file in his home directory.