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Getting started with Nix package manager

under Nixos, Nix, Plone, Gentoo, English

Nix is a package manager implemented as a minimalistic functional language.

Nix package, for example Nginx is a result of a function mkDerivation and Nix tries very hard for result to have two properties:

  • No side-effects. Given the same input to the function, you should get the same binary package stored in Nix Store.
  • Package in Nix Store is immutable.

Nix supports Linux, OS X and FreeBSD platforms (probably others like Cygwin, but not as officially supported).

Although Nix Manual is quite verbose about how to use Nix, I'll explain in short how to bootstrap and get started.

A few reasons why to use Nix instead of system package manager

  • Install packages independent of your system environment (try installing Python 2.6, 2.7, 3.2, 3.3 and PyPy on CentOS)
  • Reproducible environment: instead of using language dependent package managers to build development environment, use language agnostic tool
  • Binary and source install
  • Give your unix user the power to install packages
  • Did I mention it's portable and built to be reproducible?
  • Other features I'm not going to dive in

Installing Nix (in single user mode):

You'll need installed bash, sudo and curl commands.

$ bash <(curl

"Don't pipe to your shell", I know. Let's not talk about the color of the atomic bomb and how the color might be potentially dangerous Nevertheless, I strongly advise you to take a look at the script before executing it. After you are comfortable with it, let's agree that above one-liner is convenient. If you insist, there is documentation to type this stuff manually.

If you really read the script carefully, you now know it will only populate two directories for you: /nix/ and ~/.nix-profile/.

You should see something like this:

Platform detected: linux i686
Downloading Nix for your platform...
Installation finished.  To ensure that the necessary environment
variables are set, please add the line

  source /home/ubuntu/.nix-profile/etc/profile.d/

to your shell profile (e.g. ~/.profile).
Adding Nix Packages channel...
Updating Nix Packages...
unpacking channels...
created 2 symlinks in user environment
building path(s) `/nix/store/v5c7nqdad5pmggnhmax91yj49fw9jcyd-user-environment'
created 6 symlinks in user environment

Make sure to source Nix user profile to use Nix:

  source /home/ubuntu/.nix-profile/etc/profile.d/

                                                      ... happy Nix-ing!

Let's activate your Nix profile and use some basic package management commands.

$ source ~/.nix-profile/etc/profile.d/

Searching for packages

$ nix-env -qaP | grep python3-3
nixpkgs.python32                               python3-3.2.5
nixpkgs.python33                               python3-3.3.3
nixpkgs.python3                                python3-3.3.3

To list all installed packages run:

$ nix-env -q

Installing packages

Packages can be referenced by two identifiers, first one is name of the package that might not be unique:

$ nix-env -i python3-3.3.3
... log of downloading binary packages

If there are two packages that share the same name (this might be due to the fact that they provide different scopes of features), you can reference them with an attribute set value:

$ nix-env -iA nixpkgs.python3
... log of downloading binary packages

Updating packages

To update a package and it's dependencies run:

$ nix-env -uA nixpkgs.python3

To update all installed packages:

$ nix-env -u

Uninstalling packages

$ nix-env -e python3-3.3.3
uninstalling `python3-3.3.3`

Binary Channels

Nix will try to download a binary package first and fallback to compiling from source.

To update binary channel, run:

$ nix-channel --update
downloading Nix expressions from ...

Garbage collection

When a package is uninstalled, it's not removed from Nix Store, but symlinks are removed from your profile.

To actually remove uninstalled packages, run:

$ nix-collect-garbage

Reading on

Have fun! Report any bugs to Github or drop by on #nixos IRC channel.

Disclaimer: I've been using Nix for about a year now and back then I had been a long time Gentoo user. I'm also giving a talk NixOS: declarative configuration Linux distribution at FOSDEM 2014.

Upcoming blog posts will focus on why and how is Nix such a game changer in the packaging world.