Advanced Attributes

Derivations can declare some infrequently used optional attributes.

  • allowedReferences
    The optional attribute allowedReferences specifies a list of legal references (dependencies) of the output of the builder. For example,

    allowedReferences = [];

    enforces that the output of a derivation cannot have any runtime dependencies on its inputs. To allow an output to have a runtime dependency on itself, use "out" as a list item. This is used in NixOS to check that generated files such as initial ramdisks for booting Linux don’t have accidental dependencies on other paths in the Nix store.

  • allowedRequisites
    This attribute is similar to allowedReferences, but it specifies the legal requisites of the whole closure, so all the dependencies recursively. For example,

    allowedRequisites = [ foobar ];

    enforces that the output of a derivation cannot have any other runtime dependency than foobar, and in addition it enforces that foobar itself doesn't introduce any other dependency itself.

  • disallowedReferences
    The optional attribute disallowedReferences specifies a list of illegal references (dependencies) of the output of the builder. For example,

    disallowedReferences = [ foo ];

    enforces that the output of a derivation cannot have a direct runtime dependencies on the derivation foo.

  • disallowedRequisites
    This attribute is similar to disallowedReferences, but it specifies illegal requisites for the whole closure, so all the dependencies recursively. For example,

    disallowedRequisites = [ foobar ];

    enforces that the output of a derivation cannot have any runtime dependency on foobar or any other derivation depending recursively on foobar.

  • exportReferencesGraph
    This attribute allows builders access to the references graph of their inputs. The attribute is a list of inputs in the Nix store whose references graph the builder needs to know. The value of this attribute should be a list of pairs [ name1 path1 name2 path2 ... ]. The references graph of each pathN will be stored in a text file nameN in the temporary build directory. The text files have the format used by nix-store --register-validity (with the deriver fields left empty). For example, when the following derivation is built:

    derivation {
      exportReferencesGraph = [ "libfoo-graph" libfoo ];

    the references graph of libfoo is placed in the file libfoo-graph in the temporary build directory.

    exportReferencesGraph is useful for builders that want to do something with the closure of a store path. Examples include the builders in NixOS that generate the initial ramdisk for booting Linux (a cpio archive containing the closure of the boot script) and the ISO-9660 image for the installation CD (which is populated with a Nix store containing the closure of a bootable NixOS configuration).

  • impureEnvVars
    This attribute allows you to specify a list of environment variables that should be passed from the environment of the calling user to the builder. Usually, the environment is cleared completely when the builder is executed, but with this attribute you can allow specific environment variables to be passed unmodified. For example, fetchurl in Nixpkgs has the line

    impureEnvVars = [ "http_proxy" "https_proxy" ... ];

    to make it use the proxy server configuration specified by the user in the environment variables http_proxy and friends.

    This attribute is only allowed in fixed-output derivations (see below), where impurities such as these are okay since (the hash of) the output is known in advance. It is ignored for all other derivations.


    impureEnvVars implementation takes environment variables from the current builder process. When a daemon is building its environmental variables are used. Without the daemon, the environmental variables come from the environment of the nix-build.

    If the configurable-impure-env experimental feature is enabled, these environment variables can also be controlled through the impure-env configuration setting.

  • outputHash; outputHashAlgo; outputHashMode
    These attributes declare that the derivation is a so-called fixed-output derivation, which means that a cryptographic hash of the output is already known in advance. When the build of a fixed-output derivation finishes, Nix computes the cryptographic hash of the output and compares it to the hash declared with these attributes. If there is a mismatch, the build fails.

    The rationale for fixed-output derivations is derivations such as those produced by the fetchurl function. This function downloads a file from a given URL. To ensure that the downloaded file has not been modified, the caller must also specify a cryptographic hash of the file. For example,

    fetchurl {
      url = "";
      sha256 = "1md7jsfd8pa45z73bz1kszpp01yw6x5ljkjk2hx7wl800any6465";

    It sometimes happens that the URL of the file changes, e.g., because servers are reorganised or no longer available. We then must update the call to fetchurl, e.g.,

    fetchurl {
      url = "";
      sha256 = "1md7jsfd8pa45z73bz1kszpp01yw6x5ljkjk2hx7wl800any6465";

    If a fetchurl derivation was treated like a normal derivation, the output paths of the derivation and all derivations depending on it would change. For instance, if we were to change the URL of the Glibc source distribution in Nixpkgs (a package on which almost all other packages depend) massive rebuilds would be needed. This is unfortunate for a change which we know cannot have a real effect as it propagates upwards through the dependency graph.

    For fixed-output derivations, on the other hand, the name of the output path only depends on the outputHash* and name attributes, while all other attributes are ignored for the purpose of computing the output path. (The name attribute is included because it is part of the path.)

    As an example, here is the (simplified) Nix expression for fetchurl:

    { stdenv, curl }: # The curl program is used for downloading.
    { url, sha256 }:
    stdenv.mkDerivation {
      name = baseNameOf (toString url);
      builder = ./;
      buildInputs = [ curl ];
      # This is a fixed-output derivation; the output must be a regular
      # file with SHA256 hash sha256.
      outputHashMode = "flat";
      outputHashAlgo = "sha256";
      outputHash = sha256;
      inherit url;

    The outputHash attribute must be a string containing the hash in either hexadecimal or "nix32" encoding, or following the format for integrity metadata as defined by SRI. The "nix32" encoding is an adaptation of base-32 encoding. The convertHash function shows how to convert between different encodings, and the nix-hash command has information about obtaining the hash for some contents, as well as converting to and from encodings.

    The outputHashAlgo attribute specifies the hash algorithm used to compute the hash. It can currently be "sha1", "sha256", "sha512", or null. outputHashAlgo can only be null when outputHash follows the SRI format.

    The outputHashMode attribute determines how the hash is computed. It must be one of the following two values:

    • "flat"
      The output must be a non-executable regular file. If it isn’t, the build fails. The hash is simply computed over the contents of that file (so it’s equal to what Unix commands like sha256sum or sha1sum produce).

      This is the default.

    • "recursive" or "nar"
      The hash is computed over the NAR archive dump of the output (i.e., the result of nix-store --dump). In this case, the output can be anything, including a directory tree.

    "recursive" is the traditional way of indicating this, and is supported since 2005 (virtually the entire history of Nix). "nar" is more clear, and consistent with other parts of Nix (such as the CLI), however support for it is only added in Nix version 2.21.

  • __contentAddressed

    Warning This attribute is part of an experimental feature.

    To use this attribute, you must enable the ca-derivations experimental feature. For example, in nix.conf you could add:

    extra-experimental-features = ca-derivations

    If this attribute is set to true, then the derivation outputs will be stored in a content-addressed location rather than the traditional input-addressed one.

    Setting this attribute also requires setting outputHashMode and outputHashAlgo like for fixed-output derivations (see above).

    It also implicitly requires that the machine to build the derivation must have the ca-derivations system feature.

  • passAsFile
    A list of names of attributes that should be passed via files rather than environment variables. For example, if you have

    passAsFile = ["big"];
    big = "a very long string";

    then when the builder runs, the environment variable bigPath will contain the absolute path to a temporary file containing a very long string. That is, for any attribute x listed in passAsFile, Nix will pass an environment variable xPath holding the path of the file containing the value of attribute x. This is useful when you need to pass large strings to a builder, since most operating systems impose a limit on the size of the environment (typically, a few hundred kilobyte).

  • preferLocalBuild
    If this attribute is set to true and distributed building is enabled, then, if possible, the derivation will be built locally instead of being forwarded to a remote machine. This is useful for derivations that are cheapest to build locally.

  • allowSubstitutes
    If this attribute is set to false, then Nix will always build this derivation (locally or remotely); it will not try to substitute its outputs. This is useful for derivations that are cheaper to build than to substitute.

    This attribute can be ignored by setting always-allow-substitutes to true.


    If set to false, the builder should be able to run on the system type specified in the system attribute, since the derivation cannot be substituted.

  • __structuredAttrs
    If the special attribute __structuredAttrs is set to true, the other derivation attributes are serialised into a file in JSON format. The environment variable NIX_ATTRS_JSON_FILE points to the exact location of that file both in a build and a nix-shell. This obviates the need for passAsFile since JSON files have no size restrictions, unlike process environments.

    It also makes it possible to tweak derivation settings in a structured way; see outputChecks for example.

    As a convenience to Bash builders, Nix writes a script that initialises shell variables corresponding to all attributes that are representable in Bash. The environment variable NIX_ATTRS_SH_FILE points to the exact location of the script, both in a build and a nix-shell. This includes non-nested (associative) arrays. For example, the attribute hardening.format = true ends up as the Bash associative array element ${hardening[format]}.

  • outputChecks
    When using structured attributes, the outputChecks attribute allows defining checks per-output.

    In addition to allowedReferences, allowedRequisites, disallowedReferences and disallowedRequisites, the following attributes are available:

    • maxSize defines the maximum size of the resulting store object.
    • maxClosureSize defines the maximum size of the output's closure.
    • ignoreSelfRefs controls whether self-references should be considered when checking for allowed references/requisites.


    __structuredAttrs = true;
    outputChecks.out = {
      # The closure of 'out' must not be larger than 256 MiB.
      maxClosureSize = 256 * 1024 * 1024;
      # It must not refer to the C compiler or to the 'dev' output.
      disallowedRequisites = [ "dev" ];
    }; = {
      # The 'dev' output must not be larger than 128 KiB.
      maxSize = 128 * 1024;
  • unsafeDiscardReferences

    When using structured attributes, the attribute unsafeDiscardReferences is an attribute set with a boolean value for each output name. If set to true, it disables scanning the output for runtime dependencies.


    __structuredAttrs = true;
    unsafeDiscardReferences.out = true;

    This is useful, for example, when generating self-contained filesystem images with their own embedded Nix store: hashes found inside such an image refer to the embedded store and not to the host's Nix store.

  • requiredSystemFeatures

    If a derivation has the requiredSystemFeatures attribute, then Nix will only build it on a machine that has the corresponding features set in its system-features configuration.

    For example, setting

    requiredSystemFeatures = [ "kvm" ];

    ensures that the derivation can only be built on a machine with the kvm feature.