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NixOS + 9Front

I, along with seemingly others, have recently discovered the NixOS linux distribution and have been having a lot of fun with it. A lot of discussion I see on NixOS tries to answer more pragmatic questions about its use. Topics such as it's feasibility as a daily driver and the learning curve of the nix language itself. While these topics are definitely worth talking about, I feel like they don't address what I consider to be the reasons for why I've been enjoying my time with it.

Its all one hackable monorepo

NixOS is entirely contained in the one NixOS/nixpkgs github repo. This design choice has made the world of difference in both how I think about using my linux system and how I am able to become an active participant.

The git repo part has some real nice aspects to it, some quick ones include:

To add a bit of narrative to that, using NixOS has been the first time where I felt like knew where to look for figuring out how the sasuage was made. I can learn and study the system, both for figuring out perhaps why something acts the way that it does or just to read to see how things click together. The fork-ability adds a lot to this as well, you are not "sitting on top of" the bespoke system setup. If you want something done differently on your system you have all the tools and access to do it in the same structured way as the OS maintainers themselves use. Having come over from arch, where each pacman -Syu was a hail mary of broken mesa or weird xwayland bugs, this has felt quite refreshing.

I find these benefits to be common for any sort of OS project that prefers to keep everything in one monorepo. With 9Front being perhaps the example I am most fond off, and an honorable mention to the BSDs in this regard. I could award full points if parts of ports didn't feel like it was about to atrophy.

Talk's cheap

It sure is. To "walk the walk" on my feelings about this, and for some of my own fun I began to slowly port over utilities that I, along with others in the 9front space, have built for use on linux. The goal being to see how nicely I could integrate my NixOS install in to my existing 9Front system.

I started first with drawterm, the "9front rdp" so to say. Nixpkgs had it already but there were a couple issues, the audio didn't work and there was no package for building the wayland graphical backend variant. Read some docs, learned some nix, and got that taken care of. Once it had been merged I had a desire to use it within my existing setup but didn't quite want to switch over to the unstable channel. Instead I just cherry-pick'd the commit over my own copy of the nixos-23.05 release branch. With flakes this was as easy as just changing the nixpkgs input to point to my own github repo. (Its worth noting that there is a process for backporting to the release branch officially).

With that done I moved on to adding my own new package, tlsclient. Tlsclient has become a bit of a swiss army knife for 9front related authentication tools on linux and as such includes a PAM module for authenticating against a 9front authentication server. Now this is something that I never really had packaged in the past, having some script to automatically modify and otherwise mess with peoples pam.d/ never felt right to me. However with the entirety of the pam config being generated as part of nixpkgs, it was quite easy to just add in the NixOS module configuration options and the corresponding PAM configuration generation based on those. The result is quite nice to use I think, here is the related excerpt from my configuration.nix:

security.pam.dp9ik = {
    enable = true;
    authserver = "flan";

I continued then with writing and integrating a new utility from tlsclient, a "mount helper", that wraps the linux kernel's native 9p filesystem in a dp9ik authenticated tls tunnel. After packaging this up I was able to add the following to my configuration.nix as well:

system.fsPackages = [ pkgs._9ptls ];
fileSystems."/n/flan" = {
    device = "flan";
    fsType = "9ptls";
    options = [

And just like that I had my NixOS box mounting and authenticating like a 9front machine, all without too much fuss. The only logical next step was to make it look like a 9front machines as well, to which I think I did a pretty convincing job:

Wrap up

I had some good fun, was able to port over my existing linux tools without much fuss, and even got them upstreamed for once. I will likely continue to use NixOS in to the near future as my linux of choice.

If you want to look at my nix stuff you can find my personal nixpkgs development branch here, and my configurations and overlays here.