Bootloader

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FAQ

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

The grub module has an option to limit the number of configurations made available in the boot partition, boot.loader.grub.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.

Keeping kernels/initrd on the main partition

Warning: This solution is broken starting with GRUB 2.04. It is unknown whether its a GRUB issue or NixOS issue. Refer to [1]

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.

Breeze-text-x-plain.png
/etc/nixos/hardware-configuration.nix
fileSystems."/boot/efi" = ... # ← mount your ESP here instead of at /boot/.
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/etc/nixos/configuration.nix
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";
  };
};

Troubleshooting

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 switch

From an installation media

Booting from the installation media, mount the root partition, and the boot partition under /mnt. Next, bind system virtual file systems under /mnt. 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

Create a file called foo.sh and paste these lines into it:

for i in dev proc sys; do mount --rbind /$i /mnt/$i; done
NIXOS_INSTALL_BOOTLOADER=1 chroot /mnt \
    /nix/var/nix/profiles/system/bin/switch-to-configuration boot

Make it executable with chmod and then run it.

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

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, 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 https://nixos.org/nixos/download.html.
  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:
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/etc/nixos/configuration.nix
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
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/etc/nixos/configuration.nix
nixpkgs.config.packageOverrides = pkgs: { grub2 = (import <nixpkgs> {system = "i686-linux";}).grub2; }

To your configuration.

If you have some problems with installation, report them on #nixos on freenode.
  1. NixOS manual: 2.1. UEFI Installation
  2. https://github.com/NixOS/nixpkgs/pull/35528