From NixOS Wiki
Revision as of 06:28, 20 September 2021 by Nix (talk | contribs) (add to Software and Cookbook categories)
Jump to: navigation, search

Note: This page uses wide tables. Pages like this one with wide tables are much more easily viewed with the Vector wiki theme.

A NixOS cheat sheet and comparison to Ubuntu

This is meant to give you basic ideas and get you unstuck. NixOS is very different from most distributions, a deeper understanding will be necessary sooner or later. Please follow the links to the manual pages or browse the Wiki for more in-depth NixOS tutorials.

The system-wide column is the equivalent of using apt under Ubuntu.

Task Ubuntu NixOS (system-wide and root) NixOS (user) and Nix in general
Basic concepts
This column will let you do everything you can with Ubuntu and more. This column just isn't possible in Ubuntu.
Who can install packages and who can run them? All packages are always system-wide and only root can install packages. Packages root installs are system-wide. It does so through /etc/nixos/configuration.nix. If root installs packages the same way users do, through ~/.nixpkgs/config.nix, they are also global. Root's default profile is the system-wide default profile. Users can install their own packages and have their own profiles (environments) through ~/.nixpkgs/config.nix
Package manager apt which is really running on top of dpkg, sometimes wrapped by UIs like aptitude. nix, but many system-wide operations are provided by nixos packages. Just nix without the involvement of nixos.
How do you select your official sources and major releases These are baked into the distribution (e.g. Ubuntu version X). Upgrades are hard and permanent. At any time you select from a collection of channels. They're system-wide when set by root. You can roll back changes or switch channels with ease. Channels are per-user if they're not set by root.
Where are packages installed? apt installs globally into /bin/, /usr/, etc. System-wide packages are in /run/current-system/sw/ (these are installed because of /etc/nixos/configuration.nix) and /nix/var/nix/profiles/default/bin/ (this is the profile managed by root). Note that the files are just symlinks to the real packages managed by nix /nix/store/. User packages are in ~/.nix-profile/. Note that the files are just symlinks to the real packages managed by nix in /nix/store/.
When changes take effect As soon as the command runs. Commands are not atomic and can leave your machine in a bad state. Most of the time you modify the configuration file and apply changes with nixos-rebuild switch

TODO: How does one get nixos to do all the work for a switch and separate out the actual switching from fetching/building?

Most of the time you apply changes with nix-env -i all

TODO: How does one get nix to do all the work for a switch and separate out the actual switching from fetching/building?

Packages Uniformly referred to as packages Technically called "derivations" but everyone calls them packages. Technically called "derivations" but everyone calls them packages.
Package management
Install a package for all users
$ sudo apt-get install emacs

1. Add to /etc/nixos/configuration.nix:

environment.systemPackages = with pkgs; [
  wget # let's assume wget was already present

2. Run :

$ sudo nixos-rebuild switch
$ nix-env -iA nixos.emacs

Or with collections, add the package to your ~/.nixpkgs/config.nix and run

$ nix-env -iA nixos.all
Install a package for a specific user only Not possible

1. Add to /etc/nixos/configuration.nix:

users.users.alice.packages = with pkgs; [ emacs ];

2. Run:

$ sudo nixos-rebuild switch

1. Add to ~/.nixpkgs/config.nix:

users.users.alice.packages = with pkgs;[ emacs ];

2. Run:

$ nix-env -iA nixos.all
Install a service
$ sudo apt install openssh-server

1. Add to /etc/nixos/configuration.nix:

services.openssh.enable = true;
2. Run:
$ sudo nixos-rebuild switch
Not possible
Uninstall a package
sudo apt-get remove emacs
remove from /etc/nixos/configuration.nix
$ sudo nixos-rebuild switch
$ nix-env --uninstall emacs
Uninstall a package removing its configuration
$ sudo apt-get purge emacs
All configuration is in configuration.nix
Update the list of packages
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo nix-channel --update
$nix-channel --update
Upgrade packages
$ sudo apt-get upgrade
$ sudo nixos-rebuild switch
$ nix-env -u
Check for broken dependencies
$ sudo apt-get check
$ nix-store --verify --check-contents
List package dependencies
$ apt-cache depends emacs
Show the direct dependencies:
$ nix-store --query --requisites /run/current-system

or show a nested ASCII tree of dependencies:

$ nix-store -q --tree /nix/var/nix/profiles/system

(/run/current-system and /nix/var/nix/profiles/system are symbolic links that eventually end up at the same place.)

$ nix-store --query --references\
  $(nix-instantiate '<nixpkgs>' -A emacs)

For installed packages:

$ nix-store --query --references $(which emacs)
List which packages depend on this one (reverse dependencies)
$ apt-cache rdepends emacs
For installed packages (only print reverse dependencies *which are already installed*):
$ nix-store --query --referrers $(which emacs)
Verify all installed packages
$ debsums
$ sudo nix-store --verify --check-contents
$ nix-store --verify --check-contents
Fix packages with failed checksums Reinstall broken packages
$ sudo nix-store --verify --check-contents --repair
$ nix-store --verify --check-contents --repair
Select major version and stable/unstable Change sources.list and apt-get dist-upgrade. A an extremely infrequent and destructive operation. The nix variants are safe and easy to use.
$ nix-channel --add\ <name>

Add the unstable channel. At that address you will find names for other versions and variants. Name can be any string.

$ nix-channel --remove <name>

To eliminate a channel.

$ nix-channel --list

To show all installed channel.

When run by a user channels work locally, when run by root they're used as the system-wide channels.
Private package repository PPA Define your package tree as in the general column, and include it in configuration.nix, then list your packages in systemPackages to make them available system wide See [1]
Install a particular version of a package
$ apt-get install package=version
Although Nix on its own doesn't understand the concept of package versioning, you can install and play with older (or newer!) software via with

For instance, to launch an older version of Vim you could use:

$ nix-shell \
    -p vim \
    -I nixpkgs=\
Package configuration
Configure a package
$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure <package>
Edit /etc/nixos/configuration.nix Edit ~/.nixpkgs/config.nix; TODO: More details about how to edit
Global package configuration Modify configuration file in /etc/ Edit /etc/nixos/configuration.nix
Find packages
$ apt-cache search emacs
$ nix-env -qaP '.*emacs.*'
$ nix search emacs
$ nix-env -qaP '.*emacs.*'
$ nix search emacs
Show package description
$ apt-cache show emacs
$ nix-env -qa --description '.*emacs.*'
$ nix-env -qa --description '.*emacs.*'
Show files installed by package
$ dpkg -L emacs
$ readlink -f $(which emacs)


$du -a /nix/store/ji06y4haijly0i0knmr986l2dajffv1p-emacs-24.4
Show package for file
$ dpkg -S /usr/bin/emacs
follow the symlink or
nix-locate /bin/emacs
Start a service
$ sudo systemctl start apache
$ sudo systemctl start apache
Stop a service
$ sudo systemctl stop apache
$ sudo systemctl stop apache
Enable a service
$ sudo systemctl enable apache
In /etc/nixos/configuration.nix, add
services.tor.enable = true;
, then run
$ sudo nixos-rebuild switch
Disable a service
$ sudo systemctl disable apache
In /etc/nixos/configuration.nix, add
services.tor.enable = false;
, then run
$ sudo nixos-rebuild switch
Where your log files live /var/log/ System-wide packages /var/log/ User packages ~/.nix-profile/var/log/
Adding a user
$ sudo adduser alice
users.users.alice =
 { isNormalUser = true;
   home = "/home/alice";
   description = "Alice Foobar";
   extraGroups = [ "wheel" "networkmanager" ];
   openssh.authorizedKeys.keys =
      [ "ssh-dss AAAAB3Nza... alice@foobar" ];
to /etc/nixos/configuration.nix and then call
nixos-rebuild switch
Misc tasks
List binaries
$ ls /usr/bin/
$ ls /run/current-system/sw/bin &&\
ls /nix/var/nix/profiles/default/bin/
$ ls ~/.nix-profile/bin
Get the current version number
$ cat /etc/debian_version
$ nixos-version
Get sources for a package
$ sudo apt-get source emacs
In Debian, apt-get source gets both the patched upstream source and the recipe for the package. Those need two steps in Nix. To find the package's attribute path:
$ nix-env -qaP emacs
$ nox emacs
To download the source as specified by the package recipe:
nix-build '<nixpkgs>' -A emacs.src
The patched source is usually not a derivation itself, but can be produced for most packages with the following command:
nix-shell '<nixpkgs>' -A emacs\
 --command 'unpackPhase; patchPhase'
Compile & install a package from source
git clone foobar
cat >default.nix <<EOF
with import <nixpkgs> { };
lib.overrideDerivation foobar (oldAttrs : {
src = ./foobar;
Install a binary package e.g. via nix-ld
Install a .deb
$ sudo dpkg -i package.deb
Install dpkg with Nix, then
dpkg -i package.deb
While this is technically possible it will in all likelihood not work.

Comparison of secret managing schemes

Manage secrets in your (system) configuration. That page tries to give an overview of different schemes that can be used and outlines the aims, requirements and implications of each.

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

Adding 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.

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 `x68_64-linux` whether a package evaluates for `x68_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

- Garbage Collection - Nix store on NFS