Chapter 2. Install on Your Running System
Welcome to the second Nix pill. In the first pill we briefly described Nix.
Now we'll install Nix on our running system and understand what changed in our system after the installation. If you're using NixOS, Nix is already installed; you can skip to the next pill.
For installation instructions, please refer to the Nix Reference Manual on Installing Nix.
These articles are not a tutorial on using Nix. Instead, we're going to walk through the Nix system to understand the fundamentals.
The first thing to note: derivations in the Nix store refer to other
derivations which are themselves in the Nix store. They don't use
from our system or anywhere else. It's a self-contained store of all the software we need to bootstrap up
to any particular package.
2.2. The beginnings of the Nix store
Start looking at the output of the install command:
copying Nix to /nix/store..........................
were talking about in the first article. We're copying in the
necessary software to bootstrap a Nix system. You can see bash,
coreutils, the C compiler toolchain, perl libraries, sqlite and Nix itself
with its own tools and libnix.
You may have noticed that
/nix/store can contain
not only directories, but also files, still always in the form
2.3. The Nix database
Right after copying the store, the installation process initializes a database:
initialising Nix database...
Yes, Nix also has a database. It's stored under
/nix/var/nix/db. It is a sqlite database
that keeps track of the dependencies between derivations.
The schema is very simple: there's a table of valid paths, mapping from an auto increment integer to a store path.
Then there's a dependency relation from path to paths upon which they depend.
You can inspect the database by installing sqlite (nix-env -iA sqlite -f '<nixpkgs>') and then running sqlite3 /nix/var/nix/db/db.sqlite.
2.4. The first profile
Next in the installation, we encounter the concept of the profile:
building path(s) `/nix/store/a7p1w3z2h8pl00ywvw6icr3g5l9vm5r7-user-environment'
created 7 symlinks in user environment
A profile in Nix is a general and convenient concept for realizing rollbacks. Profiles are used to compose components that are spread among multiple paths under a new unified path. Not only that, but profiles are made up of multiple "generations": they are versioned. Whenever you change a profile, a new generation is created.
Generations can be switched and rolled back atomically, which makes them convenient for managing changes to your system.
Let's take a closer look at our profile:
$ ls -l ~/.nix-profile/ bin -> /nix/store/ig31y9gfpp8pf3szdd7d4sf29zr7igbr-nix-2.1.3/bin [...] manifest.nix -> /nix/store/q8b5238akq07lj9gfb3qb5ycq4dxxiwm-env-manifest.nix [...] share -> /nix/store/ig31y9gfpp8pf3szdd7d4sf29zr7igbr-nix-2.1.3/share
That nix-2.1.3 derivation in the Nix store is Nix itself, with binaries and libraries. The process of "installing" the derivation in the profile basically reproduces the hierarchy of the nix-2.1.3 store derivation in the profile by means of symbolic links.
The contents of this profile are special, because only one
program has been installed in our profile, therefore e.g. the
bin directory points to the only program
which has been installed (Nix itself).
But that's only the contents of the latest generation of our
profile. In fact,
~/.nix-profile itself is a
symbolic link to
In turn, that's a symlink to
in the same directory. Yes, that means it's the first generation of
default-1-link is a symlink to the nix
store "user-environment" derivation that you saw printed during the installation process.
We'll talk about
manifest.nix more in the next article.
2.5. Nixpkgs expressions
More output from the installer:
downloading Nix expressions from `http://releases.nixos.org/nixpkgs/nixpkgs-14.10pre46060.a1a2851/nixexprs.tar.xz'... unpacking channels... created 2 symlinks in user environment modifying /home/nix/.profile...
The installer downloaded the package descriptions from commit
The second profile we discover is the channels profile.
~/.nix-defexpr/channels points to
which points to
channels-1-link which points
to a Nix store directory containing the downloaded Nix
Channels are a set of packages and expressions available for
download. Similar to Debian stable and unstable, there's a
stable and unstable channel. In this installation, we're
Don't worry about Nix expressions yet, we'll get to them later.
Finally, for your convenience, the installer modified
~/.profile to automatically enter the Nix
does is simply to add
NIX_PATH. We'll discuss
nix.sh, it's short.
2.6. FAQ: Can I change /nix to something else?
You can, but there's a good reason to keep using
/nix instead of a different directory. All
the derivations depend on other derivations by using absolute paths. We
saw in the first article that bash referenced a
glibc under a specific absolute path in
You can see for yourself, don't worry if you see multiple bash derivations:
$ ldd /nix/store/*bash*/bin/bash [...]
Keeping the store in
/nix means we can grab
the binary cache from nixos.org (just like you grab packages
from debian mirrors) otherwise:
glibc would be installed under
Thus bash would need to point to glibc under
/foo/store, instead of under
So the binary cache can't help, because we need a different bash, and so we'd have to recompile everything ourselves.
/nix is a sensible place for the store.
We've installed Nix on our system, fully isolated and owned by
nix user as we're still coming to terms with
this new system.
We learned some new concepts like profiles and channels. In
particular, with profiles we're able to manage multiple
generations of a composition of packages, while with channels
we're able to download binaries from
The installation put everything under
and some symlinks in the Nix user home. That's because every
user is able to install and use software in her own environment.
I hope I left nothing uncovered so that you think there's some kind of magic going on behind the scenes. It's all about putting components in the store and symlinking these components together.
2.8. Next pill...
...we will enter the Nix environment and learn how to interact with the store.