Nix Archive (NAR) format

This is the complete specification of the Nix Archive format. The Nix Archive format closely follows the abstract specification of a file system object tree, because it is designed to serialize exactly that data structure.

The format of this specification is close to Extended Backus–Naur form, with the exception of the str(..) function / parameterized rule, which length-prefixes and pads strings. This makes the resulting binary format easier to parse.

Regular users do not need to know this information. But for those interested in exactly how Nix works, e.g. if they are reimplementing it, this information can be useful.

nar = str("nix-archive-1"), nar-obj;

nar-obj = str("("), nar-obj-inner, str(")");

  = str("type"), str("regular") regular
  | str("type"), str("symlink") symlink
  | str("type"), str("directory") directory

regular = [ str("executable"), str("") ], str("contents"), str(contents);

symlink = str("target"), str(target);

(* side condition: directory entries must be ordered by their names *)
directory = str("type"), str("directory") { directory-entry };

directory-entry = str("entry"), str("("), str("name"), str(name), str("node"), nar-obj, str(")");

The str function / parameterized rule is defined as follows:

  • str(s) = int(|s|), pad(s);

  • int(n) = the 64-bit little endian representation of the number n

  • pad(s) = the byte sequence s, padded with 0s to a multiple of 8 byte