nix-instantiate - instantiate store derivations from Nix expressions


nix-instantiate [--parse | --eval [--strict] [--json] [--xml] ] [--read-write-mode] [--arg name value] [{--attr| -A} attrPath] [--add-root path] [--expr | -E] files…

nix-instantiate --find-file files…


The command nix-instantiate produces store derivations from (high-level) Nix expressions. It evaluates the Nix expressions in each of files (which defaults to ./default.nix). Each top-level expression should evaluate to a derivation, a list of derivations, or a set of derivations. The paths of the resulting store derivations are printed on standard output.

If files is the character -, then a Nix expression will be read from standard input.


  • --add-root path
    See the corresponding option in nix-store.

  • --parse
    Just parse the input files, and print their abstract syntax trees on standard output in ATerm format.

  • --eval
    Just parse and evaluate the input files, and print the resulting values on standard output. No instantiation of store derivations takes place.

  • --find-file
    Look up the given files in Nix’s search path (as specified by the NIX_PATH environment variable). If found, print the corresponding absolute paths on standard output. For instance, if NIX_PATH is nixpkgs=/home/alice/nixpkgs, then nix-instantiate --find-file nixpkgs/default.nix will print /home/alice/nixpkgs/default.nix.

  • --strict
    When used with --eval, recursively evaluate list elements and attributes. Normally, such sub-expressions are left unevaluated (since the Nix language is lazy).


    This option can cause non-termination, because lazy data structures can be infinitely large.

  • --json
    When used with --eval, print the resulting value as an JSON representation of the abstract syntax tree rather than as an ATerm.

  • --xml
    When used with --eval, print the resulting value as an XML representation of the abstract syntax tree rather than as an ATerm. The schema is the same as that used by the toXML built-in.

  • --read-write-mode
    When used with --eval, perform evaluation in read/write mode so nix language features that require it will still work (at the cost of needing to do instantiation of every evaluated derivation). If this option is not enabled, there may be uninstantiated store paths in the final output.


Instantiate store derivations from a Nix expression, and build them using nix-store:

$ nix-instantiate test.nix (instantiate)

$ nix-store -r $(nix-instantiate test.nix) (build)
/nix/store/qhqk4n8ci095g3sdp93x7rgwyh9rdvgk-perl-BerkeleyDB-0.26 (output path)

$ ls -l /nix/store/qhqk4n8ci095g3sdp93x7rgwyh9rdvgk-perl-BerkeleyDB-0.26
dr-xr-xr-x    2 eelco    users        4096 1970-01-01 01:00 lib

You can also give a Nix expression on the command line:

$ nix-instantiate -E 'with import <nixpkgs> { }; hello'

This is equivalent to:

$ nix-instantiate '<nixpkgs>' -A hello

Parsing and evaluating Nix expressions:

$ nix-instantiate --parse -E '1 + 2'
1 + 2
$ nix-instantiate --eval -E '1 + 2'
$ nix-instantiate --eval --xml -E '1 + 2'
<?xml version='1.0' encoding='utf-8'?>
  <int value="3" />

The difference between non-strict and strict evaluation:

$ nix-instantiate --eval --xml -E 'rec { x = "foo"; y = x; }'
  <attr name="x">
    <string value="foo" />
  <attr name="y">
    <unevaluated />

Note that y is left unevaluated (the XML representation doesn’t attempt to show non-normal forms).

$ nix-instantiate --eval --xml --strict -E 'rec { x = "foo"; y = x; }'
  <attr name="x">
    <string value="foo" />
  <attr name="y">
    <string value="foo" />