1 Month with NixOS

Posted 5 Jul 2023 (2023-07-05)

Initial interpretations

So this past month I decided to tackle NixOS once again out of the desire to have my config be managed in an easier and more flexible way than it had been at the time. I had already noticed the limitations of GNU Stow and the fragility of my Arch Linux system; not being able to do what I want with my system the way I want it was really bogging me down. Thankfully I had heard about this cool tool (nix) and distribution built around the tool (NixOS) and had a gander on their web site. A month later I am sold and never want to go back; let me explain why.

So initially I got started with flakes which is a single file for any project; even whole systems too. In nix there is a thing called a dev-shell. What this allows you to do is, given a list of dependencies for your project, reproduce the dependencies for the program to run properly for you and ideally everyone who uses the file with the project. Anyway, I listed out my dependencies in the DSL (domain specific language) – yeah, nix is a whole programming language too but for packing and system configuration – and ran nix develop; all the dependencies were pinned to a version of the package repository, nixpkgs in this case, and the shell was created. From this I could run everything as it should be ran with 0 issues. It was that easy. I even checked with other people and it worked the same way for them too. As it should with reproducability.

Okay so that’s cool – how far can we take this? As it turns out very far.

Then I learned a little bit of the nix language itself – enough that I could do something with it; even if that something wasn’t very good. I ended up slowly using the nix shell more and more, then I decided to create a virtual machine and build my Arch Linux config within it. Surely if it’s really fully reproducible I should be able to build everything in a virtual environment then apply it on physical hardware? And sure enough that’s what I did. I installed the distribution then evaluated the flake with sudo nixos-rebuild switch --flake . and the entire system was built. All contained within a git repository too. Something like this in the computing world has been so overdue but now that it’s here I don’t want to use anything else.

Why it makes life easier for me

As aforementioned, being able to have a whole system within a single file or git repository then be able to reproduce everything bit for bit (check a hex dump) and have it all just work has been a game changer. When I want to use my laptop after a month or two of not touching it I don’t have to worry about an update potentially breaking it. If it can be reproduced and is broken for me then it’s broken for everyone else.


There’s always going to be upsides and downsides and nix/NixOS is no different:

  1. Difficult learning curve. Learning the language and all of its bells and whistles is still something I am doing. I am nowhere near proficient but I can do enough to make something work.
  2. You forget how to manually configure things. Because a language is how you configure 95% of everything you forget the old way to do everything. If you don’t use any other systems this is fine I would say but if you do then it’s going to get annoying.
  3. Extreme lack of documentation or organisation of documentation. There’s like 3 base manuals then the manuals for everything else. NixOS options and packages are searchable via an interface but all the manuals are full HTML pages and they aren’t all in the same place or following the same textual standards. Sometimes the table of contents of things like the nixpkgs manual can be hard to traverse. If there was an interface for everything official it would be great. That’s all we need.


All in all despite it’s weaknesses I think I will still continue to use it and assert dominance over those who don’t. :)

Oh and just recently I added a flake to this site so everything here should be fully reproducible as it is on my machine. How cool is that? You can find the site source code in the footer.