Nix Language Quirks

From NixOS Wiki

with and let

with gets less priority than let. This can lead to confusions, especially if you like to write with pkgs;:

nix-repl> pkgs = { x = 1; }

nix-repl> with pkgs; x

nix-repl> with pkgs; let x = 2; in x

So we see, that let binding overrides with binding. But what about this?

nix-repl> let x = 2; in with pkgs; x

Nah, with and let have different priority when resolving names.

Good discussion on this topic

Old let syntax

This is an old Nix syntax, that probably isn't used much

nix-repl> let { x = 1; y = x + 1; body = y; }

It is equivalent to modern syntax expression let x = 1; y = x + 1; in y. Note, that it doesn't require rec keyword.

Note, that it isn't equivalent to with rec { x = 1; y = x + 1; body = y; }; body because of mentioned with and let quirk, but is same as rec { x = 1; y = x + 1; body = y; }.body

Default values are not bound in @ syntax

Destructured arguments can have default values, but those default values are part of the full function argument.

In the following example, calling the function that binds a default value "a" to the argument's attribute a with an empty attribute set as argument will produce an empty attribute set args instead of { a = "a"; }:

(args@{a ? "a"}: args) {}

{ }

Related: GitHub issue filed 2017

Something that looks like both record attribute and let-binding

Destructuring function argument - is a great feature of Nix.

nix-repl> f = { x ? 1, y ? 2 }: x + y

nix-repl> f { }

The fact that we can add @args argument assignment is also cool

nix-repl> f = { x ? 1, y ? 2, ... }@args: with args; x + y + z

nix-repl> f { z = 3; }

But don't be fooled, args doesn't necessarily contain x and y:

nix-repl> f = { x ? 1, y ? 2, ... }@args: args.x + args.y + args.z

nix-repl> f { z = 3;}
error: attribute x missing, at (string):1:30

These x and y are in fact let-bindings, but overridable ones.

Imports and namespaces

There is a keyword import, but it's equivalent in other languages is eval. It can be used for namespacing too:

  pkgs = import <nixpkgs> {};
  lib = import <nixpkgs/lib>;
  pkgs.runCommand (lib.strings.removePrefix "....

consider using import here as using qualified import ... in Haskell or import ... in Python.

Another way of importing is with import ...;, which corresponds to Python from ... import *.

But because of not very great IDE support in Nix, with import ...; is discouraged. Rather use inherit, especially if you are targeting source code for Nix newcomers:

  lib = import <nixpkgs/lib>;
  inherit (lib.strings)
    removePrefix removeSuffix
  inherit (lib.lists)
    isList init drop
  removePrefix ...

inherit has higher priority than with, and conflicts with let

nix-repl> let pkgs = { x = 1; }; x = 2; x = 3; inherit (pkgs) x; in x
error: attribute x at (string):1:31 already defined at (string):1:24

This makes it a sane citizen of Nix lanugage... except it has a twin, called { inherit ...; }. They DON'T do the same - let inherit ... adds let-bindings, and { inherit ...; } adds attributes to a record.

builtins.replaceStrings key match on ""


builtins.replaceStrings [match] [replace] string

Function allows match for "" in string. [match] gets checked sequentially, and when "" is checked - it always matches. And so - when "" is checked in always inserts the replacement, then next char in sting gets passed through, and the next char after that from the string gets processed.

nix-repl> builtins.replaceStrings ["" "e"] [" " "i"] "Hello world"
" H e l l o   w o r l d "
nix-repl> builtins.replaceStrings ["ll" ""] [" " "i"] "Hello world"
"iHie ioi iwioirilidi"

Indented String trims leading whitespace

Not really surprising, but ...

Leading spaces are removed also in single-line Indented Strings

''  s  '' == "s  "

Usually, Indented Strings have multiple lines

'' == "s\n"

Though note that tab characters are not stripped:

'' ==  "	s\n"

See NixOS/nix#7834 and NixOS/nix#9971 for more information.

Integer precision

Integer precision is limited to 64 Bit in the original Nix interpreter.

So the valid integer range is from -2**63 to 2**63-1 = from -9223372036854775808 to 9223372036854775807

Integer overflow is not an error

nix-repl> 9223372036854775807 + 1

Invalid integer literals throw

nix-repl> 9223372036854775808  
error: invalid integer '9223372036854775808'

No negative number literals

Negative numbers are parsed as "zero minus positive"

nix-instantiate --parse --expr '(-1)'
(__sub 0 1)

So this throws, because the positive number is out of range

nix-repl> -9223372036854775808
error: invalid integer '9223372036854775808'

but this works

nix-repl> -9223372036854775807 - 1

Nix Language FAQ

Q: What is the shortest id function definition?

A: x: x

Q: Why not x:x?


nix-repl> builtins.typeOf (x: x)
nix-repl> builtins.typeOf (x:x)

! Can you figure out how can this happens before reading explanation?

Q: Can Nix code be interpolated?

No, only attribute names can.

nix-repl> let ${"x"} = 2; in x

nix-repl> with { ${"x"} = 2; }; x

nix-repl> let x = 1; y = ${x}; in y
error: syntax error, unexpected DOLLAR_CURLY, at (string):1:16

Q: Can it be eval-ed from string?

A: Yes, but it is not recommended as "eval" is generally regarded as an easy to abuse language feature. It is possible but only via the store (not as bad as "import from derivation", but still not suitable for hot code paths):

nix-repl> let code = "(x: x) ''id function was called''"; in import (builtins.toFile "eval" code)
"id function was called"