Matthew BauerBlogRSS

20 Nov 2017

Why Nix?

THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS ESSAY

To someone new to it, Nix may not stand out as a package manager. We’re all used to how the average package manager works. You expect it to be able to install and uninstall apps and services and then mostly get out of the way. With that in mind, you look for ease-of-use, community support, and number of packages in your package manager. These are all important in any package manager and Nix compares well in some of these metrics1. But just looking at this, you’ll miss what makes Nix useful.

Nix isn’t just a package manager. It’s a functional programming language that just happens to also be a really good package manager. At first, it might not make sense to have a programming language just for your package manager. The Nix model of package management takes some getting used to.

Packages are represented in Nix as a special data type called a derivation. The name derivation comes from the idea that each package is derived from some inputs like source code, libraries, and build tools2. Each derivation has its own directory, unique to every unique derivation written in code.

Together, these ideas make Nix really useful. To demonstrate its usefulness, I’ve outlined three points where Nix is much better than an ordinary package manager. There are many others3 but these are the ones that I think are most convincing.

1 TODO Building

Package managers like RPM or Homebrew think of packages as tables.

2 TODO Using packages without installing

We are so used to installing software to use it. The Nix model gives you

3 TODO Rollbacks

4 Comments

Thanks for reading! I’ve been trying to improve my writing skills. This blog post is part of that effort. Feedback on this is welcome. My email is mjbauer95@gmail.com.

Footnotes:

1

Not all, but we’re improving every day. Usability is still a major issue.

2
3

For more features of Nix, you can checkout the Nix website.

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