Remote Builds

Nix supports remote builds, where a local Nix installation can forward Nix builds to other machines. This allows multiple builds to be performed in parallel and allows Nix to perform multi-platform builds in a semi-transparent way. For instance, if you perform a build for a x86_64-darwin on an i686-linux machine, Nix can automatically forward the build to a x86_64-darwin machine, if available.

To forward a build to a remote machine, it’s required that the remote machine is accessible via SSH and that it has Nix installed. You can test whether connecting to the remote Nix instance works, e.g.

$ nix store ping --store ssh://mac

will try to connect to the machine named mac. It is possible to specify an SSH identity file as part of the remote store URI, e.g.

$ nix store ping --store ssh://mac?ssh-key=/home/alice/my-key

Since builds should be non-interactive, the key should not have a passphrase. Alternatively, you can load identities ahead of time into ssh-agent or gpg-agent.

If you get the error

bash: nix-store: command not found
error: cannot connect to 'mac'

then you need to ensure that the PATH of non-interactive login shells contains Nix.


If you are building via the Nix daemon, it is the Nix daemon user account (that is, root) that should have SSH access to a user (not necessarily root) on the remote machine.

If you can’t or don’t want to configure root to be able to access the remote machine, you can use a private Nix store instead by passing e.g. --store ~/my-nix when running a Nix command from the local machine.

The list of remote machines can be specified on the command line or in the Nix configuration file. The former is convenient for testing. For example, the following command allows you to build a derivation for x86_64-darwin on a Linux machine:

$ uname

$ nix build --impure \
  --expr '(with import <nixpkgs> { system = "x86_64-darwin"; }; runCommand "foo" {} "uname > $out")' \
  --builders 'ssh://mac x86_64-darwin'
[1/0/1 built, 0.0 MiB DL] building foo on ssh://mac

$ cat ./result

It is possible to specify multiple builders separated by a semicolon or a newline, e.g.

  --builders 'ssh://mac x86_64-darwin ; ssh://beastie x86_64-freebsd'

Each machine specification consists of the following elements, separated by spaces. Only the first element is required. To leave a field at its default, set it to -.

  1. The URI of the remote store in the format ssh://[username@]hostname, e.g. ssh://nix@mac or ssh://mac. For backward compatibility, ssh:// may be omitted. The hostname may be an alias defined in your ~/.ssh/config.

  2. A comma-separated list of Nix platform type identifiers, such as x86_64-darwin. It is possible for a machine to support multiple platform types, e.g., i686-linux,x86_64-linux. If omitted, this defaults to the local platform type.

  3. The SSH identity file to be used to log in to the remote machine. If omitted, SSH will use its regular identities.

  4. The maximum number of builds that Nix will execute in parallel on the machine. Typically this should be equal to the number of CPU cores. For instance, the machine itchy in the example will execute up to 8 builds in parallel.

  5. The “speed factor”, indicating the relative speed of the machine. If there are multiple machines of the right type, Nix will prefer the fastest, taking load into account.

  6. A comma-separated list of supported features. If a derivation has the requiredSystemFeatures attribute, then Nix will only perform the derivation on a machine that has the specified features. For instance, the attribute

    requiredSystemFeatures = [ "kvm" ];

    will cause the build to be performed on a machine that has the kvm feature.

  7. A comma-separated list of mandatory features. A machine will only be used to build a derivation if all of the machine’s mandatory features appear in the derivation’s requiredSystemFeatures attribute.

  8. The (base64-encoded) public host key of the remote machine. If omitted, SSH will use its regular known-hosts file. Specifically, the field is calculated via base64 -w0 /etc/ssh/

For example, the machine specification  i686-linux      /home/nix/.ssh/id_scratchy_auto        8 1 kvm     i686-linux      /home/nix/.ssh/id_scratchy_auto        8 2   i686-linux      /home/nix/.ssh/id_scratchy_auto        1 2 kvm benchmark

specifies several machines that can perform i686-linux builds. However, poochie will only do builds that have the attribute

requiredSystemFeatures = [ "benchmark" ];


requiredSystemFeatures = [ "benchmark" "kvm" ];

itchy cannot do builds that require kvm, but scratchy does support such builds. For regular builds, itchy will be preferred over scratchy because it has a higher speed factor.

Remote builders can also be configured in nix.conf, e.g.

builders = ssh://mac x86_64-darwin ; ssh://beastie x86_64-freebsd

Finally, remote builders can be configured in a separate configuration file included in builders via the syntax @file. For example,

builders = @/etc/nix/machines

causes the list of machines in /etc/nix/machines to be included. (This is the default.)

If you want the builders to use caches, you likely want to set the option builders-use-substitutes in your local nix.conf.

To build only on remote builders and disable building on the local machine, you can use the option --max-jobs 0.