Ad hoc shell environments
Ad hoc shell environments¶
In a Nix shell environment, you can immediately use any program packaged with Nix, without installing it permanently.
You can also share the command invoking such a shell with others, and it will work on all Linux distributions, WSL, and macOS1.
Create a shell environment¶
Once you install Nix, you can use it to create new shell environments with programs that you want to use.
In this section you will run two exotic programs called
lolcat that you will probably not have installed on your machine:
$ cowsay no can do The program ‘cowsay’ is currently not installed. $ echo no chance | lolcat The program ‘lolcat’ is currently not installed.
nix-shell with the
--packages) option to specify that we need the
The first invocation of
nix-shell may take a while to download all dependencies.
$ nix-shell -p cowsay lolcat these 3 derivations will be built: /nix/store/zx1j8gchgwzfjn7sr4r8yxb7a0afkjdg-builder.pl.drv /nix/store/h9sbaa2k8ivnihw2czhl5b58k0f7fsfh-lolcat-100.0.1.drv ... [nix-shell:~]$
Within the Nix shell, you can use the programs provided by these packages:
[nix-shell:~]$ cowsay Hello, Nix! | lolcat
exit or press
CTRL-D to exit the shell, and the programs won’t be available anymore.
[nix-shell:~]$ exit exit $ cowsay no more The program ‘cowsay’ is currently not installed. $ echo all gone | lolcat The program ‘lolcat’ is currently not installed.
Search for packages¶
What can you put in a shell environment? If you can think of it, there’s probably a Nix package of it.
Enter the program name you want to run in search.nixos.org to find packages that provide it.
For the following example, find the package names for these programs:
In the search results, each item shows the package name, and the details list the available programs.2
Run any combination of programs¶
Once you have the package name, you can start a shell with that package.
--packages) argument can take multiple package names.
Start a Nix shell with the packages providing
Again, the first invocation may take a while to download all dependencies.
$ nix-shell -p git neovim nodejs these 9 derivations will be built: /nix/store/7gz8jyn99kw4k74bgm4qp6z487l5ap06-packdir-start.drv /nix/store/d6fkgxc3b04m85wrhg6j0l5y0ray82l7-packdir-opt.drv /nix/store/da6njv7r0zzc2n54n2j54g2a5sbi4a5i-manifest.vim.drv /nix/store/zs4jb2ybr4rcyzwq0dagg9rlhlc368h6-builder.pl.drv /nix/store/g8sl2xnsshfrz9f39ki94k8p15vp3xd7-vim-pack-dir.drv /nix/store/jmxkg8b1psk52awsvfziy9nq6dwmxmjp-luajit-2.1.0-2022-10-04-env.drv /nix/store/kn83q8yk6ds74zgyklrjhvv5wkv5wmch-python3-3.10.9-env.drv /nix/store/m445wn3vizcgg7syna2cdkkws3kk1gq8-neovim-ruby-env.drv /nix/store/r2wa882mw99c311a4my7hcis9lq3kp3v-neovim-0.8.1.drv these 151 paths will be fetched (186.43 MiB download, 1018.20 MiB unpacked): /nix/store/046zxlxhq4srm3ggafkymx794bn1jksc-bzip2-1.0.8 /nix/store/0p1jxcb7b4p8jhhlf8qnjc4cqwy89460-unibilium-2.1.1 /nix/store/0q4fpnqmg8liqraj7zidylcyd062f6z0-perl5.36.0-URI-5.05 ... [nix-shell:~]$
Check that you have indeed the specific version of these programs provided by Nix, even if you had any of them already installed on your machine.
[nix-shell:~]$ which git /nix/store/3cdi52xh6lk3h1fb51jkxs3p561p37wg-git-2.38.3/bin/git [nix-shell:~]$ git --version git version 2.38.3 [nix-shell:~]$ which nvim /nix/store/ynskzgkf07lmrrs3cl2kzr9ah487lwab-neovim-0.8.1/bin/nvim [nix-shell:~]$ nvim --version | head -1 NVIM v0.8.1 [nix-shell:~]$ which npm /nix/store/q12w83z0i5pi1y0m6am7qmw1r73228sh-nodejs-18.12.1/bin/npm [nix-shell:~]$ npm --version 8.19.2
Nested shell sessions¶
If you need an additional program temporarily, you can run a nested Nix shell. The programs provided by the specified packages will be added to the current environment.
[nix-shell:~]$ nix-shell -p python3 this path will be fetched (11.42 MiB download, 62.64 MiB unpacked): /nix/store/pwy30a7siqrkki9r7xd1lksyv9fg4l1r-python3-3.10.11 copying path '/nix/store/pwy30a7siqrkki9r7xd1lksyv9fg4l1r-python3-3.10.11' from 'https://cache.nixos.org'... [nix-shell:~]$ python --version Python 3.10.11
Exit the shell as usual to return to the previous environment.
These shell environments are very convenient, but the examples so far are not reproducible yet. Running these commands on another machine may fetch different versions of packages, depending on when Nix was installed there.
What do we mean by reproducible? A fully reproducible example would give exactly the same results no matter when or where you run the command. The environment provided would be identical each time.
The following example creates a fully reproducible environment.
You can run it anywhere, anytime to obtain the exact same version of the
$ nix-shell -p git --run "git --version" --pure -I nixpkgs=https://github.com/NixOS/nixpkgs/archive/2a601aafdc5605a5133a2ca506a34a3a73377247.tar.gz ... git version 2.33.1
There are three things going on here:
--runexecutes the given Bash command within the Nix shell and exits when it’s done.
You can use this with
nix-shellwhenever you want to quickly run a program you don’t have installed on your machine.
--purediscards most environment variables set on your your system when running the shell.
It means that only the
gitprovided by Nix is available inside that shell. This is useful for simple one-liners such as in the example. While developing, however, you will usually want to have your editor and other tools around. Therefore we recommend to omit
--purefor development environments, and to add it only when the extra isolation is needed.
-Idetermines what to use as a source of package declarations.
Here we provided a specific Git revision of
nixpkgs, leaving no doubt about which version of the packages in that collection will be used.
Reproducible interpreted scripts – use Nix for reproducible scripts
Nix language basics – learn reading the Nix language, which is used to declare packages and configurations
Declarative and reproducible developer environments – create reproducible shell environments with a declarative configuration file
Towards reproducibility: pinning Nixpkgs – learn different ways of specifying exact versions of package sources
If you’re done trying out Nix for now, you may want to free up some disk space occupied by the different versions of programs you downloaded by running the examples:
Not all packages are supported for both Linux and macOS. Especially support for graphical programs may vary.
A package name is not the same as a program name. Many packges provide multiple programs, or no programs at all if they are libraries. Even for packages that provide exactly one program, the package and progam name are not necessarily the same.