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A NixOS cheat sheet and comparison to Ubuntu

Ubuntu vs. NixOS provides a table mapping of common administrative tasks and their commands in Ubuntu to similar capabilities in NixOS.

Working with the nix store

Get the store path for a package

$ nix repl
nix-repl> :l <nixpkgs> 
Added 7486 variables.
nix-repl> "${xorg.libXtst}"

nix-repl> :lf ./configuration.nix # as flakes way for a local file 

# load nixos configuration from a nix file
$ nix repl --file '<nixpkgs/nixos>' -I nixos-config=./configuration.nix

$ nix-build '<nixpkgs>' --no-build-output -A xorg.libXtst

Get store path for a package from the Flake input

When packages are managed using Flakes, store paths to them can be retrieved using nix eval --inputs-from, like this:

$ nix eval --inputs-from "$flake_path" --raw "$input#$package"

For instance, when packages are managed using Home Manager using standard configuration, store path to the Git package can be retrieved using this command:

$ nix eval --inputs-from ~/.config/home-manager --raw nixpkgs#git

Add files to the store

It is sometimes necessary to add files to the store manually. This is particularly the case with packages that cannot be downloaded automatically, for example, proprietary software packages. For most files, it is sufficient to run:

$ nix-store --add-fixed sha256 /path/to/file

Unfortunately, nix-store will try to load the entire file into memory, which will fail if the file size exceeds available memory. If we have root access, we can copy the file to the store ourselves:

$ sudo unshare -m bash  # open a shell as root in a private mount namespace
$ largefile=/path/to/file
$ hash=$(nix-hash --type sha256 --flat --base32 $largefile)  # sha256 hash of the file
$ storepath=$(nix-store --print-fixed-path sha256 $hash $(basename $largefile))  # destination path in the store
$ mount -o remount,rw /nix/store  # remount the store in read/write mode (only for this session)
$ cp $largefile $storepath  # copy the file
$ printf "$storepath\n\n0\n" | nix-store --register-validity --reregister  # register the file in the Nix database
$ exit  # exit to the original shell where /nix/store is still mounted read-only

To add a file with fixed name (when the input filename is not stable), or to add entire directories with filter, you can use builtins.path:

$ nix-instantiate --eval --read-write-mode -E 'builtins.path { path = ./myfile; name = "myname"; }'

Build NixOS from nixpkgs repo

The following snippet will build the system from a git checkout:

$ nixos-rebuild -I nixpkgs=/path/to/nixpkgs switch

This method can be used when testing NixOS services for a pull request to nixpkgs.

Building NixOS from a git is an alternative to using nix channels and set up permanent following this blog article. It has a couple of advantages over nixpkgs as it allows back-porting of packages/changes to stable versions as well as applying customization.

Use the following command to build directly from a particular branch of a repository in GitHub:

$ nixos-rebuild -I nixpkgs= switch

Evaluate a NixOS configuration without building

If you only want to evaluate configuration.nix without building (e.g. to syntax-check or see if you are using module options correctly), you can use:

$ nix-instantiate '<nixpkgs/nixos>' -A system

This creates the .drv file that nixos-rebuild build would build.

Explore a NixOS configuration in the REPL

If you want to see what value a NixOS option takes without building, as opposed to merely checking that all options work, you can run:

$ nix repl --file '<nixpkgs/nixos>'
Welcome to Nix 2.18.2. Type :? for help.

Loading installable ''...
Added 6 variables.
nix-repl> config.environment.shells  # for example
[ "/run/current-system/sw/bin/zsh" ... ]

# Equivalently, if starting from an existing REPL:
nix-repl> :l <nixpkgs/nixos>
Added 6 variables.

nix-repl> config.environment.shells

This can be helpful if your configuration is spread across multiple modules, or if you import modules from external sources, or if NixOS has defaults and you want to know whether a default is being used or extended in your configuration, or a variety of other cases in which you might want the computer to tell you what the end result of all your Nixing is going to be before you switch to it.

You can do this with configuration files other than the one installed in /etc/nixos, too:

nix-repl> :a import <nixpkgs/nixos> { configuration = /path/to/config.nix; }

Manually switching a NixOS system to a certain version of system closure

(Or: What nixos-rebuild does under the hoods.)

Step 1: Do this for the equivalent of nixos-rebuild boot or nixos-rebuild switch, i.e. if you want the changes to persist after reboot:

If you have the store path, run this, replacing $systemClosure with store path to your system closure:

$ nix-env --profile /nix/var/nix/profiles/system --set $systemClosure

Or, if it was a previous generation, you can run this instead, replacing $generation with the desired generation number:

$ nix-env --profile /nix/var/nix/profiles/system --switch-generation $generation

Step 2: Do this for all changes:

Run this, replacing $action with the action (one of boot, switch, test):

$ /nix/var/nix/profiles/system/bin/switch-to-configuration $action

If you use a different profile name the procedure is similar, but use /nix/var/nix/profiles/system-profiles/$profileName instead of /nix/var/nix/profiles/system.

Building a service as a VM (for testing)

While nixos-rebuild build-vm allows to build a vm out of the current system configuration, there is a more light-weight alternative when only a single service needs to be tested.

Given the following configuration:

# vm.nix
{ lib, config, ... }:
  services.tor.enable = true;
  users.users.root.initialPassword = "root";

a vm can be build using the following command:

$ nixos-rebuild -I nixpkgs=/path/to/nixpkgs -I nixos-config=./vm.nix build-vm

where -I nixpkgs=/path/to/nixpkgs is optionally depending whether the vm should be build from git checkout or a channel.

On non-NixOS (linux) systems the following command can be used instead:

$ nix-build '<nixpkgs/nixos>' -A vm -k -I nixos-config=./vm.nix

By default the resulting vm will require X11 to create a virtual display. By specifying additional arguments via the environment variables QEMU_OPTSand QEMU_KERNEL_PARAMS it is possible to reuse the current running terminal as serial console for the vm:

$ export QEMU_OPTS="-nographic -serial mon:stdio" QEMU_KERNEL_PARAMS=console=ttyS0 
$ /nix/store/lshw31yfbb6izs2s594jd89ma4wf8zw6-nixos-vm/bin/run-nixos-vm

To forward a port you can set export QEMU_NET_OPTS. In the following example port 2222 on the host is forwarded to port 22 in the vm:

$ export QEMU_NET_OPTS="hostfwd=tcp::2222-:22"

Don't forget that by default NixOS comes with a firewall enabled:

{...}: {
  networking.firewall.enable = false;

Reuse a package as a build environment

As packages already contains all build dependencies, they can be reused to a build environment quickly. In the following a setup for the cmake-based project bcc is shown. After obtaining the source:

$ git clone
$ cd bcc

Add the following default.nix to the project:

with import <nixpkgs> {};
linuxPackages.bcc.overrideDerivation (old: {
  # overrideDerivation allows it to specify additional dependencies
  buildInputs = [ bashInteractive ninja ] ++ old.buildInputs;

To initiate the build environment run nix-shell in the project root directory

# this will download add development dependencies and set up the environment so build tools will find them.
$ nix-shell

The following is specific to bcc or cmake in general: (so you need to adapt the workflow depending on the project, you hack on)

$ mkdir build
$ cd build
# cmakeFlags is also defined in the bcc package. autotools based projects might defined $configureFlags
$ eval cmake $cmakeFlags ..
$ make

Evaluate packages for a different platform

Sometimes you want to check whether a change to a package (such as adding a new dependency) would evaluate even on a different type of system. For example, you may want to check on x86_64-linux whether a package evaluates for x86_64-darwin or aarch64-linux.

Use the system argument:

$ nix-instantiate --argstr system "x86_64-darwin" -A mypackage

Cross-compile packages

The following command will cross compile the tinc package for the aarch64 CPU architecture from a different architecture (e.g. x86_64).

$ nix-build '<nixpkgs>' --arg crossSystem '(import <nixpkgs> {})' -A tinc

You can add your own specifications, or look at existing ones, in nixpkgs/lib/systems/examples.nix.

Customizing Packages

Upgrading individual packages to a different channel

One can track multiple channels on NixOS simultaneously, and then declaratively change packages from the default channel to another one.

For example one can have both the unstable and stable channels on system root:

$ sudo nix-channel --list

and the following in configuration.nix:

nixpkgs.config = {
  # Allow proprietary packages
  allowUnfree = true;

  # Create an alias for the unstable channel
  packageOverrides = pkgs: {
    unstable = import <nixos-unstable> { # pass the nixpkgs config to the unstable alias # to ensure `allowUnfree = true;` is propagated:
      config = config.nixpkgs.config;

which allows you to switch particular packages to the unstable channel:

environment.systemPackages = with pkgs; [
    # ...

Building statically linked packages

$ nix-build -E 'with (import ./. {}); (curl.override { stdenv = makeStaticLibraries stdenv;}).out'

There is also an stdenv adapter that will build static binaries:

$ nix-build '<nixpkgs>' -A pkgsStatic.hello

Rebuild a package with debug symbols

$ nix-build -E 'with import <nixpkgs> {}; enableDebugging st'
$ file result/bin/st
result/bin/st: ELF 64-bit LSB executable, x86-64, version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked, interpreter /nix/store/f111ij1fc83965m48bf2zqgiaq88fqv5-glibc-2.25/lib/, for GNU/Linux 2.6.32, not stripped, with debug_info

Download a nix store path from the cache

If you want to the exact same nix store path on a different system, you can use the --realise or short -r parameter in the nix-store command:

$ nix-store -r /nix/store/0vg5bw04dn21czjcqcqczyjrhys5cv30-hello-2.10
$ find  /nix/store/0vg5bw04dn21czjcqcqczyjrhys5cv30-hello-2.10

Install an arbitrary nix store path into a user profile

nix-env also accepts the full path to a program in the nix store:

$ nix-env -i /nix/store/yzz2gvpcyxg5i68zi11sznbsp1ypccz8-firefox-65.0

Check the syntax of a nix file

$ echo '{}: bar' > expression.nix
$ nix-instantiate --parse-only expression.nix
error: undefined variable 'bar' at /tmp/expression.nix:1:5

Using override with nix-build

using channels

nix-build -E 'with (import <nixpkgs>{}); polybar.override { i3Support = true; }'

using a local repo

nix-build -E 'with (import ./default.nix{}); polybar.override { i3Support = true; }'

See also