Distributed build

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Sometimes you want to use a faster machine for building a nix derivation you want to use on a slower one. If you have ssh access to a machine where Nix (not necessarily NixOS) is installed, then you can offload building to this machine.

There is a dedicated chapter in the Nix Manual.

This is a step by step guide to setting up distributed builds.


First, log-in as the user which runs builds locally. If you are using a single user install, this means yourself, and if this is a multi-user install, this means root.

You must ensure you can run nix* commands on the remote without user interaction and without any option on the ssh command line:

$ ssh builder nix-store --version

Here is a way to achieve this: First we configure how ssh should connect to our builder.

Host builder
        Port 1234
        User foo

        # any other fancy option needed to log in
        # ProxyJump foo ...

        # Prevent using ssh-agent or another keyfile, useful for testing
        IdentitiesOnly yes
        IdentityFile /root/.ssh/nix_remote

SSH connection must be non-interactive so we use a public key without a passphrase.

$ ssh-keygen -f ~/.ssh/nix_remote
# do not add a passphrase to the ssh key!
$ ssh-copy-id -i ~/.ssh/nix_remote builder

When you are done, you can test your setup like this:

$ nix ping-store --store ssh://builder

If you get an error like serialised integer ... is too big for type j this means that something (/etc/profile for example) outputs bytes to stdout before launching the command specified on the ssh command line. Either disable this behavior or have the output be sent to stderr instead.

Single user install

See the Nix Manual and the option --builders.

Multi-User install

We must configure the nix-daemon to use our builder. Options like --builders on the command line is ignored unless your user is in the trusted user list.


There are a few NixOS options we can use:

{ config, pkgs, ... }:

	nix.buildMachines = [ {
	 hostName = "builder";
	 system = "x86_64-linux";
	 maxJobs = 1;
	 speedFactor = 2;
	 supportedFeatures = [ ];
	 mandatoryFeatures = [ ];
	}] ;
	nix.distributedBuilds = true;
	# optional, useful when the builder has a faster internet connection than yours
	nix.extraOptions = ''
		builders-use-substitutes = true

See the Nix Manual for the exact signification of each option.

Non NixOS

The previous method should be rather easily adaptable: replace adding NixOS options by editing /etc/nix/nix.conf.


Because of bug Issue.png#46038, you need to set nix.distributedBuilds = true; in configuration.nix even if you are triggering a distributed build via the command line.

Using remote builders

Local builder

Your local machine is still a builder, notably when connecting to remote builders fails, nix will fallback to building locally. To never use the local machine set the max-jobs nix option to 0

$ nix-build -j0 blah


Each builder is declared with a set of supportedFeatures. When a builder lacks one of the requiredSystemFeatures of a derivation, it will be ignored. Here are some features used in nixpkgs:

Feature Derivations requiring it
kvm Everything which builds inside a vm, like NixOS tests
nixos-test NixOS tests
big-parallel kernel config, libreoffice, evolution and chromium.
To know what features a derivation needs, you can run
$ nix show-derivation /nix/store/hash-foo.drv 


  • How do I know if I'm distributing my build at all?
    • Run nix build with --max-jobs 0.
  • How do I know why my builds aren't being distributed?
    • Run nix build -vvvvvvvvv 2>&1 | less and search for decline.
  • I can nix ping-store but the build doesn't distribute.
    • If on NixOS, Check that nix ping-store command works when run as root.
    • If on NixOS, make sure your account is in nix.trustedUsers in /etc/nixos/configuration.nix.
  • I can ping the store as root, but I'm getting "broken pipe" errors when trying to distribute.
    • You may have hit bug Issue.png#46038. Add nix.distributedBuilds = true; to configuration.nix and nixos-rebuild switch.

See also

See also: