From NixOS Wiki


What is a bootloader?

A bootloader is a type of software that manages the loading of the operating system (OS) on the computer at startup. It is responsible for preparing the system before passing control to the OS. Here are the types of bootloaders commonly used in NixOS:

  • GRUB (Grand Unified Bootloader): Widely used, supports multiple operating systems, and provides a boot menu to select how the system boots.
  • systemd-boot: Simple UEFI-only bootloader, formerly known as gummiboot.
  • EFISTUB: Utilizes the UEFI firmware itself to boot the kernel, without the need for a traditional bootloader.

Legacy Boot vs UEFI

Legacy Boot and UEFI are two different methods of starting a computer. Legacy Boot, also known as BIOS, uses the Master Boot Record (MBR) to start the system, while UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) uses the GUID Partition Table (GPT) and is the modern standard. UEFI supports larger hard drives, faster boot times, and more security features compared to Legacy Boot. Additionally, UEFI provides a better user interface and a more robust pre-boot environment.

Bootloaders for ARM platforms

On ARM platforms, the bootloader options can vary significantly based on the architecture and specific hardware. Common bootloaders include:

  • U-Boot: Universal Boot Loader, widely used in ARM devices.
  • EFI ARM bootloaders: Some ARM devices support UEFI, allowing the use of standard UEFI bootloaders like GRUB or systemd-boot.

For more detailed information on NixOS and ARM architecture, refer to the NixOS on ARM docs.

Am I booted in Legacy or UEFI?

The following command will print which boot mode you are using. This can be used on the NixOS installation image to determine which steps to follow in the guide.

[ -d /sys/firmware/efi/efivars ] && echo "UEFI" || echo "Legacy"

How do I remove older generations from the bootloader?

First, collect garbages in your system, then rebuild. The scripts will collect leftover files.

The first command, in the example below, removes everything older than 14 days.

sudo nix-collect-garbage --delete-older-than 14d
sudo nixos-rebuild boot

Limiting amount of entries with grub or systemd-boot

The grub and systemd-boot modules has an option to limit the number of configurations made available in the boot partition, boot.loader.grub.configurationLimit or boot.loader.systemd-boot.configurationLimit. Setting this to a lower amount than the default may help reduce the occasions where too many different kernels and initrds are added to the /boot partition or ESP.

Why I still boot into systemd-boot after switching to grub in my configuration?

Make sure to check if in your boot order, NixOS-bootloader is the default / first option.

Keeping kernels/initrd on the main partition

For these instructions, GRUB will be required; systemd-boot cannot reference boot files from the root partition. This will differ from the default expectation of NixOS on EFI, where /boot/ is the ESP.

fileSystems."/boot/efi" = ... # ← mount your ESP here instead of at /boot/.
boot.loader = {
  efi = {
    canTouchEfiVariables = true;
    efiSysMountPoint = "/boot/efi"; # ← use the same mount point here.
  grub = {
     efiSupport = true;
     #efiInstallAsRemovable = true; # in case canTouchEfiVariables doesn't work for your system
     device = "nodev";


Kernel initramfs parameters for troubleshooting boot issues

You can add these flags to systemd-boot and grub boot entries via using the e command to edit the currently selected entry, then use arrow keys to move curser and type your additions in the entry area. Type return or F10 (Grub) to boot the entry.

  • boot.trace uses set -x to trace the shell scripts.
  • boot.shell_on_fail allows for root shell if failure to boot. Requires root password.
  • boot.debug1 allows shell and stops right away on failure.
  • boot.debug1devices stop after loading modules and creating device nodes.
  • boot.debug1mounts stop after mounting file systems.
  • boot.panic_on_fail panics on failure.
  • console= set the console to something.
  • root= If a root device is specified on the kernel command line, make it available through the symlink /dev/root.
  • findiso= if an iso name is supplied, try to find the device where the iso resides on.
  • copytoram Skip mounting the ISO and copy its content to a tmpfs.

Re-installing the bootloader

  • Something happened, and the bootloader doesn't work as expected.
  • The ESP was re-made and nothing was kept.
  • The ESP wasn't mounted and I want to re-generate the menu entries.

From a running system

sudo nixos-rebuild --install-bootloader boot

From an installation media

Booting from the installation media, mount the root partition under /mnt and the boot partition under /mnt/boot. Next, enter the installed system with nixos-enter, or by manually binding the virtual filesystems and then calling chroot. Finally, run the command that the installer would run. This will re-install the bootloader.

mount /dev/[root partition] /mnt
mount /dev/[boot partition] /mnt/boot

With nixos-enter:

NIXOS_INSTALL_BOOTLOADER=1 /nix/var/nix/profiles/system/bin/switch-to-configuration boot

Or manually:

for i in dev proc sys; do mount --rbind /$i /mnt/$i; done
    /nix/var/nix/profiles/system/bin/switch-to-configuration boot

Tip: Be patient, it may take some times to re-install the bootloader for you.

Tip: If the installation command fails with "systemd-boot not installed in ESP", try running bootctl install.

Tip: If you've replaced your drives, or have otherwise re-created the /mnt/boot partition, you may want to keep using the same UUID for it. You can use mlabel from the mtools package for this.

New generations are not in the boot menu

The most common cause for this situation is when the ESP isn't mounted where NixOS expects it to be on UEFI systems. NixOS assumes the ESP is mounted under /boot and that it is on the ESP that NixOS will install the files needed for the boot process for UEFI systems.[1] This issue should affect all supported UEFI bootloaders equally for NixOS.

The usual fix for this problem is to add the missing entry for fileSystems."/boot" in hardware-configuration.nix (or where your mount points are defined).

If for some reason it is impossible to boot the existing generations, follow the steps in #Re-installing the bootloader to re-generate the menu entries, then boot in your system to add the missing configuration. The next generations should work as expected in your bootloader.

Wrangling recalcitrant UEFI implementations

Some UEFI implementations are just bad™. Some symptoms include:

  • Losing bootloader configuration choices either randomly, or on disk disconnection.
  • Not being able to manually edit the bootloader configuration.
  • Not being able to save the bootloader configuration.
  • Not being able to boot arbitrary bootloader configuration.

For those problematic EFI setup, or for a portable NixOS setup, it is possible to make use of the default path of the OS loader.

  • For an x86_64 computer, this path is /EFI/BOOT/BOOTX64.EFI. Try this one first.
  • For extremely problematic EFI implementations, an alternative path can be used, the default Windows bootloader location: /EFI/Microsoft/Boot/bootmgfw.efi.[2]

As a recommendation, you can either copy the default NixOS bootloader (which will be in the /EFI/NixOS-boot/ folder) or install an secondary bootloader like rEFInd. A copied NixOS bootloader will not be updated by the NixOS configuration. Using a secondary bootloader will add an intermediary step during the boot process, which can be customized to be as short as wanted, but should allow selecting EFI programs, even on different disks.

Alternatively, when using grub, using the boot.loader.grub.efiInstallAsRemovable option will install the bootloader at the default /EFI/BOOT/BOOTX64.EFI location.

Installing x86_64 NixOS on IA-32 UEFI

Some laptops, mostly those based on Intel Atom (and first-gen 2006-2007 Intel Macs), have a very strange setup: x86_64 CPU, 2-4GB of RAM, and ia-32 bootloader. They usually come with 64-bit Windows 10, which is slow and jerky on such configurations. Installing Linux on these systems is trivial, because most of the time you can just install 32-bit versions, which come with 32-bit UEFI bootloader, and not lose practically anything as amount of RAM is small enough for 32 bits of address. This is not the case with NixOS, though, because by choosing a 32-bit version you lose the prebuilt packages from nixos cache. To install a full 64-bit system with 32-bit bootloader, you need to take the following steps:

  1. Download both latest "Minimal installation CD, 32-bit Intel/AMD" and "Minimal installation CD, 64-bit Intel/AMD" from
  2. Flash 32-bit version on USB stick and boot it. If it does not boot, then you probably have a 64-bit bootloader and do not need to worry about this tutorial.
  3. Note: if your system hangs randomly when booted, you can try adding intel_idle.max_cstate=1 to kernel parameters before booting (press e when you see systemd-boot prompt to enter editing mode).
  4. Once booted, install a minimal system as specified in installation manual. Do not forget to install grub as removable. Example configuration:
boot.kernelParams = [ "intel_idle.max_cstate=1" ]; # In case your laptop hangs randomly
boot.loader = {
  efi = {
    canTouchEfiVariables = false;
  grub = {
     efiSupport = true;
     efiInstallAsRemovable = true;
     device = "nodev";
  1. If everything goes well, reboot and you now should have a bootable 32-bit system. If you do, remove USB stick and flash 64-bit version of NixOS onto it.
  2. Plug it in your PC and boot into GRUB you have just installed. Now we have to boot a 64-bit system from USB stick manually. To do that:
    1. Press "c" before your system boots
    2. cat (hd0)/isolinux/isolinux.cfg
    3. Find ENTRY NIXOS DEFAULT line in the output of previous command. Take kernel parameters from that section.
    4. linux (hd0)/boot/bzImage *kernel parameters from the previous stage, including init=...* intel_idle.max_cstate=1
    5. initrd (hd0)/boot/initrd 
    6. boot
  3. If you did everything correctly, you now should have your x86_64 system booted from USB. Now it's time to install it. Proceed with NixOS installation manual (do not forget to install GRUB, just as with 32-bit system). Add one extra thing to your configuration: i686 GRUB. To do that, add
     forcei686 = true;

to the grub section of your configuration.

Manually adding EFI boot entry

If you somehow lost all EFI boot entries (e.g. by resetting your BIOS), then you can manually add it again. Firstly, find out which disk and partition /EFI/NixOS-boot/grubx64.efi is located (can be x86 or something else), which in the example will be /dev/sda1. Then use efibootmgr to add the entry again, where the disk device is specified, with the partition number followed by the index and finally the path to the grub boot loader.

efibootmgr -c -d /dev/sda -p 1 -L NixOS-boot -l '\EFI\NixOS-boot\grubx64.efi'

Remember to specify the location using single quotes, otherwise it might try to escape them instead.

If you have some problems with installation, report them on on Matrix.