Data Types


  • String

    Strings can be written in three ways.

    The most common way is to enclose the string between double quotes, e.g., "foo bar". Strings can span multiple lines. The special characters " and \ and the character sequence ${ must be escaped by prefixing them with a backslash (\). Newlines, carriage returns and tabs can be written as \n, \r and \t, respectively.

    You can include the results of other expressions into a string by enclosing them in ${ }, a feature known as string interpolation.

    The second way to write string literals is as an indented string, which is enclosed between pairs of double single-quotes, like so:

      This is the first line.
      This is the second line.
        This is the third line.

    This kind of string literal intelligently strips indentation from the start of each line. To be precise, it strips from each line a number of spaces equal to the minimal indentation of the string as a whole (disregarding the indentation of empty lines). For instance, the first and second line are indented two spaces, while the third line is indented four spaces. Thus, two spaces are stripped from each line, so the resulting string is

    "This is the first line.\nThis is the second line.\n  This is the third line.\n"

    Note that the whitespace and newline following the opening '' is ignored if there is no non-whitespace text on the initial line.

    Indented strings support string interpolation.

    Since ${ and '' have special meaning in indented strings, you need a way to quote them. $ can be escaped by prefixing it with '' (that is, two single quotes), i.e., ''$. '' can be escaped by prefixing it with ', i.e., '''. $ removes any special meaning from the following $. Linefeed, carriage-return and tab characters can be written as ''\n, ''\r, ''\t, and ''\ escapes any other character.

    Indented strings are primarily useful in that they allow multi-line string literals to follow the indentation of the enclosing Nix expression, and that less escaping is typically necessary for strings representing languages such as shell scripts and configuration files because '' is much less common than ". Example:

    stdenv.mkDerivation {
      postInstall =
          mkdir $out/bin $out/etc
          cp foo $out/bin
          echo "Hello World" > $out/etc/foo.conf
          ${if enableBar then "cp bar $out/bin" else ""}

    Finally, as a convenience, URIs as defined in appendix B of RFC 2396 can be written as is, without quotes. For instance, the string "" can also be written as

  • Number

    Numbers, which can be integers (like 123) or floating point (like 123.43 or .27e13).

    See arithmetic and comparison operators for semantics.

  • Path

    Paths, e.g., /bin/sh or ./ A path must contain at least one slash to be recognised as such. For instance, is not a path: it's parsed as an expression that selects the attribute sh from the variable builder. If the file name is relative, i.e., if it does not begin with a slash, it is made absolute at parse time relative to the directory of the Nix expression that contained it. For instance, if a Nix expression in /foo/bar/bla.nix refers to ../xyzzy/fnord.nix, the absolute path is /foo/xyzzy/fnord.nix.

    If the first component of a path is a ~, it is interpreted as if the rest of the path were relative to the user's home directory. e.g. ~/foo would be equivalent to /home/edolstra/foo for a user whose home directory is /home/edolstra.

    Paths can also be specified between angle brackets, e.g. <nixpkgs>. This means that the directories listed in the environment variable NIX_PATH will be searched for the given file or directory name.

    When an interpolated string evaluates to a path, the path is first copied into the Nix store and the resulting string is the store path of the newly created store object.

    For instance, evaluating "${./foo.txt}" will cause foo.txt in the current directory to be copied into the Nix store and result in the string "/nix/store/<hash>-foo.txt".

    Note that the Nix language assumes that all input files will remain unchanged while evaluating a Nix expression. For example, assume you used a file path in an interpolated string during a nix repl session. Later in the same session, after having changed the file contents, evaluating the interpolated string with the file path again might not return a new store path, since Nix might not re-read the file contents.

    Paths themselves, except those in angle brackets (< >), support string interpolation.

    At least one slash (/) must appear before any interpolated expression for the result to be recognized as a path.

    a.${foo}/b.${bar} is a syntactically valid division operation. ./a.${foo}/b.${bar} is a path.

  • Boolean

    Booleans with values true and false.

  • Null

    The null value, denoted as null.


Lists are formed by enclosing a whitespace-separated list of values between square brackets. For example,

[ 123 ./foo.nix "abc" (f { x = y; }) ]

defines a list of four elements, the last being the result of a call to the function f. Note that function calls have to be enclosed in parentheses. If they had been omitted, e.g.,

[ 123 ./foo.nix "abc" f { x = y; } ]

the result would be a list of five elements, the fourth one being a function and the fifth being a set.

Note that lists are only lazy in values, and they are strict in length.

Attribute Set

An attribute set is a collection of name-value-pairs (called attributes) enclosed in curly brackets ({ }).

An attribute name can be an identifier or a string. An identifier must start with a letter (a-z, A-Z) or underscore (_), and can otherwise contain letters (a-z, A-Z), numbers (0-9), underscores (_), apostrophes ('), or dashes (-).

name = identifier | string
identifier ~ [a-zA-Z_][a-zA-Z0-9_'-]*

Names and values are separated by an equal sign (=). Each value is an arbitrary expression terminated by a semicolon (;).

attrset = { [ name = expr ; ]... }

Attributes can appear in any order. An attribute name may only occur once.


  x = 123;
  text = "Hello";
  y = f { bla = 456; };

This defines a set with attributes named x, text, y.

Attributes can be accessed with the . operator.


{ a = "Foo"; b = "Bar"; }.a

This evaluates to "Foo".

It is possible to provide a default value in an attribute selection using the or keyword.


{ a = "Foo"; b = "Bar"; }.c or "Xyzzy"
{ a = "Foo"; b = "Bar"; }.c.d.e.f.g or "Xyzzy"

will both evaluate to "Xyzzy" because there is no c attribute in the set.

You can use arbitrary double-quoted strings as attribute names:

{ "$!@#?" = 123; }."$!@#?"
let bar = "bar"; in
{ "foo ${bar}" = 123; }."foo ${bar}"

Both will evaluate to 123.

Attribute names support string interpolation:

let bar = "foo"; in
{ foo = 123; }.${bar}
let bar = "foo"; in
{ ${bar} = 123; }.foo

Both will evaluate to 123.

In the special case where an attribute name inside of a set declaration evaluates to null (which is normally an error, as null cannot be coerced to a string), that attribute is simply not added to the set:

{ ${if foo then "bar" else null} = true; }

This will evaluate to {} if foo evaluates to false.

A set that has a __functor attribute whose value is callable (i.e. is itself a function or a set with a __functor attribute whose value is callable) can be applied as if it were a function, with the set itself passed in first , e.g.,

let add = { __functor = self: x: x + self.x; };
    inc = add // { x = 1; };
in inc 1

evaluates to 2. This can be used to attach metadata to a function without the caller needing to treat it specially, or to implement a form of object-oriented programming, for example.