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Edmund Miller

Thoughts on NixOS

/ 4 min read

NixOS is a dream. It allows you to program your os by declaring what you want in it. And then you can declare how you want your packages built. Most of the time you just want the default, but for example

(polybar.override {
mpdSupport = true;
pulseSupport = true;
nlSupport = true;

It gives you the power to customize things when you want. And then contributing packages is more developer focused, it’s just a PR away. It makes it really simple to mix bleeding edge, with stable.

The rollbacks are another big initial selling point that you kind of forget about because things end up being so stable but they’re the best. Basically in your grub you can select any generation you’d like, so in case you wanted to try out a new kernel and that break you just rollback to the previous generation.

The drawbacks are you need to understand a bit of functional programming, and then on top of that you have to learn nix which is a dsl. There’s nothing wrong with the language, just that it’s another thing you have to learn.

It may also kill your hobby of ricing. It makes it so quick to reproduce a setup, that you can spend time actually thinking about the artistic portion and not symlinking config files, and getting the right package version on ubuntu. I follow a guy’s dotfiles and he created a modular system, so your theme separate from the logic that sets up your WM, so you can carry your rice across WM easily and themeses across a wm.

Link to my Dotfiles

Guix, cuts out the dsl issue with nix as the language. I love a good lisp personally, and it’s definately easier to pick up than nix. Nix/OS is also a pretty old project, so it’s grown over time, so the tooling was build up over time so there’s a bunch of different tools like nix-shell ,nixos-install, nixos-rebuild, nix-env that are all at the first level where as guix has all of those things under guix so it’s better for new people to discover commands from. Again the main issue is they’re going to die on the FOSS hill, but I think that’ll get fixed with private package repos.

Now that’s just all for the OS. They can both be used for dev-tools which is where they really shine imo. You can use nix/guix on MacOS and any distro of your choosing. You can create your builds and dev environment for any language in them. So for example, you’re just trying out python for the first time. You’re overwhelmed with the 20 different ways to set up a developement environment. With nix it’s just

let pkgs = import <nixpkgs> {};
nanomsg-py = .... build expression for this python library;
in pkgs.stdenv.mkShell {
buildInputs = [
shellHook = ''
alias pip="PIP_PREFIX='$(pwd)/_build/pip_packages' \pip"
export PYTHONPATH="$(pwd)/_build/pip_packages/lib/python2.7/site-packages:$PYTHONPATH"

Another example that I had recently, was I needed an older version of node, but I didn’t want to clutter up my path with multiple node packages I just wanted to build a project really quick with node_10{.verbatim}. All it was is nix-shell -p node_10 and boom I had a shell with node_10{.verbatim} installed. So then you can combo the power of nix-shell with direnv, to automagically switch environments based on what project your in, and it’s easy for your team to replicate also, and let’s you be more language-agnostic because while tooling is awesome when it’s good(rust for example, or node possibly) when it’s scary or the community get’s fragmented(python) it’s a problem.

If anyone made it this far and you want more come hang out in the Doom Emacs Discord, you don’t have to be an Emacs user even, but you might end up one.