My little and short experience with Nix

Wed Dec 28 2022

NixOS has somehow slowly gotten into all my feeds. So, after getting a new AMD GPU (Radeon 7900 XTX), I took the opportunity to install NixOS on my main desktop PC. This blog is to share how it played out.

After creating the USB installation media and installing NixOS, I quicly ran into the first issue. The new GPU is too recent for drivers to be available so… a black screen is all I got. In Arch Linux, I had to upgrade to linux-firmware-git and compile mesa-git against the llvm-git package. I spent a couple of afternoons trying to figure out how to do the same on NixOS unsuccessfully. After all, I had no idea about Nix the language (only skimmed the manual) or NixOS the OS besides a couple of trivial configuration.nix changes.

I decided to pivot and focus on learning Nix. The plan was to slowly migrate my dotfiles repository to be fully managed by Home Manager and Nix Flakes. Tried to read a bit about how these two tools work but the documentation and wiki weren’t as helpful as I was expecting. I started reading open source GitHub nixos-config repositories (1, 2, 3) to get a sense of the language syntax and some best common practices.

Without much hassle and a helpful template I used as inspiration, figured out how to setup a Nix Flake taking care of these things:

my nix setup

I was very excited about the progress. I briefly explored devenv and direnv with VS Code but couldn’t figure out how to integrate devenv with the Flake I was creating and wasn’t sure it would be much better.

Christmas came though. Didn’t touch Nix in a couple of days and… my motivation faded away. That’s it. I couldn’t get myself into tinker with Nix. This are the reasons I came up to justify it:

  1. Development environments are moving to Docker. I’ve been a power user of .devcontainers and Dockerfile based development environments (which they can also be generated with Nix). They’re not perfect but works week for 95% of the projects I work on. Also, other people in my organization can understand them.
  2. My dotfiles are already somewhat declarative. Take a look at my vscode configuration; all the required bits to reproduce the state I like vscode to be are there. For this use case, I don’t think I need another leaky (and probably not as complete as the tool defaults) abstraction.
  3. I work as a data engineer. Only have 2 machines. Perhaps Nix is overkill for someone in my position?

On the other hand, Nix did something to my brain. I can’t stop thinking about how elegant the idea is. Replace Docker, npn, conda, Make, and every other tool. Let it all be in Nix, the one tool to rule them all. I’m sure I’ll come back to it in the future and, meanwhile, I’ll be following the development up close!

For now, this was a fun time-constrained skirmish with it. Lessons learned!

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