Nixpkgs User’s Guide

How to install Haskell packages

Nixpkgs distributes build instructions for all Haskell packages registered on Hackage, but strangely enough normal Nix package lookups don’t seem to discover any of them, except for the default version of ghc, cabal-install, and stack:

$ nix-env -i alex
error: selector ‘alex’ matches no derivations
$ nix-env -qa ghc

The Haskell package set is not registered in the top-level namespace because it is huge. If all Haskell packages were visible to these commands, then name-based search/install operations would be much slower than they are now. We avoided that by keeping all Haskell-related packages in a separate attribute set called haskellPackages, which the following command will list:

$ nix-env -f "<nixpkgs>" -qaP -A haskellPackages
haskellPackages.a50              a50-0.5
haskellPackages.AAI              AAI-
haskellPackages.abacate          abacate-       abc-puzzle-0.2.1
haskellPackages.abcBridge        abcBridge-0.15
haskellPackages.abcnotation      abcnotation-1.9.0
haskellPackages.abeson           abeson-
[... some 14000 entries omitted  ...]

To install any of those packages into your profile, refer to them by their attribute path (first column):

nix-env -f "<nixpkgs>" -iA haskellPackages.Allure ...

The attribute path of any Haskell packages corresponds to the name of that particular package on Hackage: the package cabal-install has the attribute haskellPackages.cabal-install, and so on. (Actually, this convention causes trouble with packages like 3dmodels and 4Blocks, because these names are invalid identifiers in the Nix language. The issue of how to deal with these rare corner cases is currently unresolved.)

Haskell packages whose Nix name (second column) begins with a haskell- prefix are packages that provide a library whereas packages without that prefix provide just executables. Libraries may provide executables too, though: the package haskell-pandoc, for example, installs both a library and an application. You can install and use Haskell executables just like any other program in Nixpkgs, but using Haskell libraries for development is a bit trickier and we’ll address that subject in great detail in section How to create a development environment.

Attribute paths are deterministic inside of Nixpkgs, but the path necessary to reach Nixpkgs varies from system to system. We dodged that problem by giving nix-env an explicit -f "<nixpkgs>" parameter, but if you call nix-env without that flag, then chances are the invocation fails:

$ nix-env -iA haskellPackages.cabal-install
error: attribute ‘haskellPackages’ in selection path
       ‘haskellPackages.cabal-install’ not found

On NixOS, for example, Nixpkgs does not exist in the top-level namespace by default. To figure out the proper attribute path, it’s easiest to query for the path of a well-known Nixpkgs package, i.e.:

$ nix-env -qaP coreutils
nixos.coreutils  coreutils-8.23

If your system responds like that (most NixOS installations will), then the attribute path to haskellPackages is nixos.haskellPackages. Thus, if you want to use nix-env without giving an explicit -f flag, then that’s the way to do it:

nix-env -qaP -A nixos.haskellPackages
nix-env -iA nixos.haskellPackages.cabal-install

Our current default compiler is GHC 8.10.x and the haskellPackages set contains packages built with that particular version. Nixpkgs contains the last three major releases of GHC and there is a whole family of package sets available that defines Hackage packages built with each of those compilers, too:

nix-env -f "<nixpkgs>" -qaP -A haskell.packages.ghc8104
nix-env -f "<nixpkgs>" -qaP -A haskell.packages.ghc901

The name haskellPackages is really just a synonym for haskell.packages.ghcXYZ (where XYZ is current default GHC version in Nixpkgs), because we prefer that package set internally and recommend it to our users as their default choice, but ultimately you are free to compile your Haskell packages with any GHC version you please. The following command displays the complete list of available compilers:

$ nix-env -f "<nixpkgs>" -qaP -A haskell.compiler
haskell.compiler.ghc8102Binary           ghc-8.10.2-binary
haskell.compiler.ghc8102BinaryMinimal    ghc-8.10.2-binary
haskell.compiler.ghc8104                 ghc-8.10.4
haskell.compiler.integer-simple.ghc8104  ghc-8.10.4
haskell.compiler.ghcHEAD                 ghc-8.11.20200824
haskell.compiler.native-bignum.ghcHEAD   ghc-8.11.20200824
haskell.compiler.ghc865Binary            ghc-8.6.5-binary
haskell.compiler.ghc884                  ghc-8.8.4
haskell.compiler.integer-simple.ghc884   ghc-8.8.4
haskell.compiler.ghc901                  ghc-9.0.1
haskell.compiler.integer-simple.ghc901   ghc-9.0.1

We have no package sets for jhc or uhc yet, unfortunately, but for every version of GHC listed above, there exists a package set based on that compiler. Also, the attributes haskell.compiler.ghcXYZ and haskell.packages.ghcXYZ.ghc are synonymous for the sake of convenience.

How to install a branch of a package

One of the nice things about Nix is that nixpkgs contains all information needed to build a package. This makes it easy to point a package to a different branch of the source and have Nix build a package for that branch.

Even though Haskell packages are typically generated based on the hackage releases, because hackage contains source packages this is still possible for hackage. You can use overrideSrc to override the source, for example:

my-hledger-lib = (haskell.lib.overrideSrc haskellPackages.hledger-lib {
  src = /home/aengelen/dev/hledger/hledger-lib;
my-hledger = (haskell.lib.overrideSrc haskellPackages.hledger {
  src = /home/aengelen/dev/hledger/hledger;
}).override {
  hledger-lib = my-hledger-lib;
hledger-web = haskell.lib.justStaticExecutables ((haskell.lib.overrideSrc haskellPackages.hledger-web {
    src = /home/aengelen/dev/hledger/hledger-web;
  .override {
    hledger = my-hledger;
    hledger-lib = my-hledger-lib;

How to create a development environment

How to install a compiler

A simple development environment consists of a Haskell compiler and one or both of the tools cabal-install and stack. We saw in section How to install Haskell packages how you can install those programs into your user profile:

nix-env -f "<nixpkgs>" -iA haskellPackages.ghc haskellPackages.cabal-install

Instead of the default package set haskellPackages, you can also use the more precise name haskell.compiler.ghc7102, which has the advantage that it refers to the same GHC version regardless of what Nixpkgs considers “default” at any given time.

Once you’ve made those tools available in $PATH, it’s possible to build Hackage packages the same way people without access to Nix do it all the time:

cabal get lens-4.11 && cd lens-4.11
cabal install -j --dependencies-only
cabal configure
cabal build

If you enjoy working with Cabal sandboxes, then that’s entirely possible too: just execute the command

cabal sandbox init

before installing the required dependencies.

The nix-shell utility makes it easy to switch to a different compiler version; just enter the Nix shell environment with the command

nix-shell -p haskell.compiler.ghc784

to bring GHC 7.8.4 into $PATH. Alternatively, you can use Stack instead of nix-shell directly to select compiler versions and other build tools per-project. It uses nix-shell under the hood when Nix support is turned on. See How to build a Haskell project using Stack.

If you’re using cabal-install, re-running cabal configure inside the spawned shell switches your build to use that compiler instead. If you’re working on a project that doesn’t depend on any additional system libraries outside of GHC, then it’s even sufficient to just run the cabal configure command inside of the shell:

nix-shell -p haskell.compiler.ghc784 --command "cabal configure"

Afterwards, all other commands like cabal build work just fine in any shell environment, because the configure phase recorded the absolute paths to all required tools like GHC in its build configuration inside of the dist/ directory. Please note, however, that nix-collect-garbage can break such an environment because the Nix store paths created by nix-shell aren’t “alive” anymore once nix-shell has terminated. If you find that your Haskell builds no longer work after garbage collection, then you’ll have to re-run cabal configure inside of a new nix-shell environment.

How to install a compiler with libraries

GHC expects to find all installed libraries inside of its own lib directory. This approach works fine on traditional Unix systems, but it doesn’t work for Nix, because GHC’s store path is immutable once it’s built. We cannot install additional libraries into that location. As a consequence, our copies of GHC don’t know any packages except their own core libraries, like base, containers, Cabal, etc.

We can register additional libraries to GHC, however, using a special build function called ghcWithPackages. That function expects one argument: a function that maps from an attribute set of Haskell packages to a list of packages, which determines the libraries known to that particular version of GHC. For example, the Nix expression ghcWithPackages (pkgs: [pkgs.mtl]) generates a copy of GHC that has the mtl library registered in addition to its normal core packages:

$ nix-shell -p "haskellPackages.ghcWithPackages (pkgs: [pkgs.mtl])"

[nix-shell:~]$ ghc-pkg list mtl

This function allows users to define their own development environment by means of an override. After adding the following snippet to ~/.config/nixpkgs/config.nix,

  packageOverrides = super: let self = super.pkgs; in
    myHaskellEnv = self.haskell.packages.ghc7102.ghcWithPackages
                     (haskellPackages: with haskellPackages; [
                       # libraries
                       arrows async cgi criterion
                       # tools
                       cabal-install haskintex

it’s possible to install that compiler with nix-env -f "<nixpkgs>" -iA myHaskellEnv. If you’d like to switch that development environment to a different version of GHC, just replace the ghc7102 bit in the previous definition with the appropriate name. Of course, it’s also possible to define any number of these development environments! (You can’t install two of them into the same profile at the same time, though, because that would result in file conflicts.)

The generated ghc program is a wrapper script that re-directs the real GHC executable to use a new lib directory — one that we specifically constructed to contain all those packages the user requested:

$ cat $(type -p ghc)
#! /nix/store/xlxj...-bash-4.3-p33/bin/bash -e
export NIX_GHC=/nix/store/19sm...-ghc-7.10.2/bin/ghc
export NIX_GHCPKG=/nix/store/19sm...-ghc-7.10.2/bin/ghc-pkg
export NIX_GHC_DOCDIR=/nix/store/19sm...-ghc-7.10.2/share/doc/ghc/html
export NIX_GHC_LIBDIR=/nix/store/19sm...-ghc-7.10.2/lib/ghc-7.10.2
exec /nix/store/j50p...-ghc-7.10.2/bin/ghc "-B$NIX_GHC_LIBDIR" "$@"

The variables $NIX_GHC, $NIX_GHCPKG, etc. point to the new store path ghcWithPackages constructed specifically for this environment. The last line of the wrapper script then executes the real ghc, but passes the path to the new lib directory using GHC’s -B flag.

The purpose of those environment variables is to work around an impurity in the popular ghc-paths library. That library promises to give its users access to GHC’s installation paths. Only, the library can’t possible know that path when it’s compiled, because the path GHC considers its own is determined only much later, when the user configures it through ghcWithPackages. So we patched ghc-paths to return the paths found in those environment variables at run-time rather than trying to guess them at compile-time.

To make sure that mechanism works properly all the time, we recommend that you set those variables to meaningful values in your shell environment, too, i.e. by adding the following code to your ~/.bashrc:

if type >/dev/null 2>&1 -p ghc; then
  eval "$(egrep ^export "$(type -p ghc)")"

If you are certain that you’ll use only one GHC environment which is located in your user profile, then you can use the following code, too, which has the advantage that it doesn’t contain any paths from the Nix store, i.e. those settings always remain valid even if a nix-env -u operation updates the GHC environment in your profile:

if [ -e ~/.nix-profile/bin/ghc ]; then
  export NIX_GHC="$HOME/.nix-profile/bin/ghc"
  export NIX_GHCPKG="$HOME/.nix-profile/bin/ghc-pkg"
  export NIX_GHC_DOCDIR="$HOME/.nix-profile/share/doc/ghc/html"
  export NIX_GHC_LIBDIR="$HOME/.nix-profile/lib/ghc-$($NIX_GHC --numeric-version)"

How to install a compiler with libraries, hoogle and documentation indexes

If you plan to use your environment for interactive programming, not just compiling random Haskell code, you might want to replace ghcWithPackages in all the listings above with ghcWithHoogle.

This environment generator not only produces an environment with GHC and all the specified libraries, but also generates a hoogle and haddock indexes for all the packages, and provides a wrapper script around hoogle binary that uses all those things. A precise name for this thing would be “ghcWithPackagesAndHoogleAndDocumentationIndexes”, which is, regrettably, too long and scary.

For example, installing the following environment

  packageOverrides = super: let self = super.pkgs; in
    myHaskellEnv = self.haskellPackages.ghcWithHoogle
                     (haskellPackages: with haskellPackages; [
                       # libraries
                       arrows async cgi criterion
                       # tools
                       cabal-install haskintex

allows one to browse module documentation index not too dissimilar to this for all the specified packages and their dependencies by directing a browser of choice to ~/.nix-profile/share/doc/hoogle/index.html (or /run/current-system/sw/share/doc/hoogle/index.html in case you put it in environment.systemPackages in NixOS).

After you’ve marveled enough at that try adding the following to your ~/.ghc/ghci.conf

:def hoogle \s -> return $ ":! hoogle search -cl --count=15 \"" ++ s ++ "\""
:def doc \s -> return $ ":! hoogle search -cl --info \"" ++ s ++ "\""

and test it by typing into ghci:

:hoogle a -> a
:doc a -> a

Be sure to note the links to haddock files in the output. With any modern and properly configured terminal emulator you can just click those links to navigate there.

Finally, you can run

hoogle server --local -p 8080

and navigate to http://localhost:8080/ for your own local Hoogle. The --local flag makes the hoogle server serve files from your nix store over http, without the flag it will use file:// URIs. Note, however, that Firefox and possibly other browsers disallow navigation from http:// to file:// URIs for security reasons, which might be quite an inconvenience. Versions before v5 did not have this flag. See this page for workarounds.

For NixOS users there’s a service which runs this exact command for you. Specify the packages you want documentation for and the haskellPackages set you want them to come from. Add the following to configuration.nix.

services.hoogle = {
  enable = true;
  packages = (hpkgs: with hpkgs; [text cryptonite]);
  haskellPackages = pkgs.haskellPackages;

How to install haskell-language-server

In short: Install pkgs.haskell-language-server and use the haskell-language-server-wrapper command to run it. See the hls user guide on how to configure your text editor to use hls and how to test your setup.

Hls needs to be compiled with the ghc version of the project you use it on.

pkgs.haskell-language-server provides haskell-language-server-wrapper, haskell-language-server and haskell-language-server-x.x.x binaries, where x.x.x is the ghc version for which it is compiled. By default it includes binaries for all ghc versions that are provided in the binary caches. You can override that list with e.g.

pkgs.haskell-language-server.override { supportedGhcVersions = [ "884" "901" ]; }

When you run haskell-language-server-wrapper it will detect the ghc version used by the project you are working on (by asking e.g. cabal or stack) and pick the appropriate above mentioned binary from your path.

Be careful when installing hls globally and using a pinned nixpkgs for a Haskell project in a nix-shell. If the nixpkgs versions deviate to much (e.g. use different glibc versions) hls might fail. It is recommended to then install hls in the nix-shell from the nixpkgs version pinned in there.

If you know, that you only use one ghc version, e.g. in a project specific nix-shell You can either use an override as given above or simply install pkgs.haskellPackages.haskell-language-server instead of the top-level attribute pkgs.haskell-language-server.

How to make haskell-language-server find a GHC from nix-shell

If you use nix-shell for your development environments then haskell-language-server will not find an installed GHC or will find a GHC with an installed package set different from what your project uses.

The simplest solution to this problem is to launch your editor from within the nix-shell environment:

$ nix-shell
[nix-shell] $ code .

However, launching a nix-shell every time you want to edit a file is somewhat tedious, so an alternative is to use direnv. There are several solutions that will propagate information from a nix-shell to a direnv envrc file. You can then use a direnv support plugin in your editor (emacs has one, vscode has one) to get the right environment for the server launch.

Yet another solution is to use a plugin that loads the nix-shell directly in the editor, such as Nix Environment Selector for VSCode.

How to build a Haskell project using Stack

Stack is a popular build tool for Haskell projects. It has first-class support for Nix. Stack can optionally use Nix to automatically select the right version of GHC and other build tools to build, test and execute apps in an existing project downloaded from somewhere on the Internet. Pass the --nix flag to any stack command to do so, e.g.

git clone --recurse-submodules
cd wai
stack --nix build

If you want stack to use Nix by default, you can add a nix section to the stack.yaml file, as explained in the Stack documentation. For example:

  enable: true
  packages: [pkgconfig zeromq zlib]

The example configuration snippet above tells Stack to create an ad hoc environment for nix-shell as in the below section, in which the pkgconfig, zeromq and zlib packages from Nixpkgs are available. All stack commands will implicitly be executed inside this ad hoc environment.

Some projects have more sophisticated needs. For examples, some ad hoc environments might need to expose Nixpkgs packages compiled in a certain way, or with extra environment variables. In these cases, you’ll need a shell field instead of packages:

  enable: true
  shell-file: shell.nix

For more on how to write a shell.nix file see the below section. You’ll need to express a derivation. Note that Nixpkgs ships with a convenience wrapper function around mkDerivation called haskell.lib.buildStackProject to help you create this derivation in exactly the way Stack expects. However for this to work you need to disable the sandbox, which you can do by using --option sandbox relaxed or --option sandbox false to the Nix command. All of the same inputs as mkDerivation can be provided. For example, to build a Stack project that including packages that link against a version of the R library compiled with special options turned on:

with (import <nixpkgs> { });

let R = pkgs.R.override { enableStrictBarrier = true; };
haskell.lib.buildStackProject {
  name = "HaskellR";
  buildInputs = [ R zeromq zlib ];

You can select a particular GHC version to compile with by setting the ghc attribute as an argument to buildStackProject. Better yet, let Stack choose what GHC version it wants based on the snapshot specified in stack.yaml (only works with Stack >= 1.1.3):

{nixpkgs ? import <nixpkgs> { }, ghc ? nixpkgs.ghc}:

with nixpkgs;

let R = pkgs.R.override { enableStrictBarrier = true; };
haskell.lib.buildStackProject {
  name = "HaskellR";
  buildInputs = [ R zeromq zlib ];
  inherit ghc;

How to create ad hoc environments for nix-shell

The easiest way to create an ad hoc development environment is to run nix-shell with the appropriate GHC environment given on the command-line:

nix-shell -p "haskellPackages.ghcWithPackages (pkgs: with pkgs; [mtl pandoc])"

For more sophisticated use-cases, however, it’s more convenient to save the desired configuration in a file called shell.nix that looks like this:

{ nixpkgs ? import <nixpkgs> {}, compiler ? "ghc7102" }:
  inherit (nixpkgs) pkgs;
  ghc = pkgs.haskell.packages.${compiler}.ghcWithPackages (ps: with ps; [
          monad-par mtl
pkgs.stdenv.mkDerivation {
  name = "my-haskell-env-0";
  buildInputs = [ ghc ];
  shellHook = "eval $(egrep ^export ${ghc}/bin/ghc)";

Now run nix-shell — or even nix-shell --pure — to enter a shell environment that has the appropriate compiler in $PATH. If you use --pure, then add all other packages that your development environment needs into the buildInputs attribute. If you’d like to switch to a different compiler version, then pass an appropriate compiler argument to the expression, i.e. nix-shell --argstr compiler ghc784.

If you need such an environment because you’d like to compile a Hackage package outside of Nix — i.e. because you’re hacking on the latest version from Git —, then the package set provides suitable nix-shell environments for you already! Every Haskell package has an env attribute that provides a shell environment suitable for compiling that particular package. If you’d like to hack the lens library, for example, then you just have to check out the source code and enter the appropriate environment:

$ cabal get lens-4.11 && cd lens-4.11
Downloading lens-4.11...
Unpacking to lens-4.11/

$ nix-shell "<nixpkgs>" -A haskellPackages.lens.env

At point, you can run cabal configure, cabal build, and all the other development commands. Note that you need cabal-install installed in your $PATH already to use it here — the nix-shell environment does not provide it.

How to create Nix builds for your own private Haskell packages

If your own Haskell packages have build instructions for Cabal, then you can convert those automatically into build instructions for Nix using the cabal2nix utility, which you can install into your profile by running nix-env -i cabal2nix.

How to build a stand-alone project

For example, let’s assume that you’re working on a private project called foo. To generate a Nix build expression for it, change into the project’s top-level directory and run the command:

cabal2nix . > foo.nix

Then write the following snippet into a file called default.nix:

{ nixpkgs ? import <nixpkgs> {}, compiler ? "ghc7102" }:
nixpkgs.pkgs.haskell.packages.${compiler}.callPackage ./foo.nix { }

Finally, store the following code in a file called shell.nix:

{ nixpkgs ? import <nixpkgs> {}, compiler ? "ghc7102" }:
(import ./default.nix { inherit nixpkgs compiler; }).env

At this point, you can run nix-build to have Nix compile your project and install it into a Nix store path. The local directory will contain a symlink called result after nix-build returns that points into that location. Of course, passing the flag --argstr compiler ghc763 allows switching the build to any version of GHC currently supported.

Furthermore, you can call nix-shell to enter an interactive development environment in which you can use cabal configure and cabal build to develop your code. That environment will automatically contain a proper GHC derivation with all the required libraries registered as well as all the system-level libraries your package might need.

If your package does not depend on any system-level libraries, then it’s sufficient to run

nix-shell --command "cabal configure"

once to set up your build. cabal-install determines the absolute paths to all resources required for the build and writes them into a config file in the dist/ directory. Once that’s done, you can run cabal build and any other command for that project even outside of the nix-shell environment. This feature is particularly nice for those of us who like to edit their code with an IDE, like Emacs’ haskell-mode, because it’s not necessary to start Emacs inside of nix-shell just to make it find out the necessary settings for building the project; cabal-install has already done that for us.

If you want to do some quick-and-dirty hacking and don’t want to bother setting up a default.nix and shell.nix file manually, then you can use the --shell flag offered by cabal2nix to have it generate a stand-alone nix-shell environment for you. With that feature, running

cabal2nix --shell . > shell.nix
nix-shell --command "cabal configure"

is usually enough to set up a build environment for any given Haskell package. You can even use that generated file to run nix-build, too:

nix-build shell.nix

How to build projects that depend on each other

If you have multiple private Haskell packages that depend on each other, then you’ll have to register those packages in the Nixpkgs set to make them visible for the dependency resolution performed by callPackage. First of all, change into each of your projects top-level directories and generate a default.nix file with cabal2nix:

cd ~/src/foo && cabal2nix . > default.nix
cd ~/src/bar && cabal2nix . > default.nix

Then edit your ~/.config/nixpkgs/config.nix file to register those builds in the default Haskell package set:

  packageOverrides = super:
    haskellPackages = super.haskellPackages.override {
      overrides = self: super: {
        foo = self.callPackage ../src/foo {};
        bar = self.callPackage ../src/bar {};

Once that’s accomplished, nix-env -f "<nixpkgs>" -qA haskellPackages will show your packages like any other package from Hackage, and you can build them

nix-build "<nixpkgs>" -A

or enter an interactive shell environment suitable for building them:

nix-shell "<nixpkgs>" -A