buildFHSUserEnv provides a way to build and run FHS-compatible lightweight sandboxes. It creates an isolated root with bound /nix/store, so its footprint in terms of disk space needed is quite small. This allows one to run software which is hard or unfeasible to patch for NixOS -- 3rd-party source trees with FHS assumptions, games distributed as tarballs, software with integrity checking and/or external self-updated binaries. It uses Linux namespaces feature to create temporary lightweight environments which are destroyed after all child processes exit, without root user rights requirement. Accepted arguments are:

  • name Environment name.
  • targetPkgs Packages to be installed for the main host's architecture (i.e. x86_64 on x86_64 installations). Along with libraries binaries are also installed.
  • multiPkgs Packages to be installed for all architectures supported by a host (i.e. i686 and x86_64 on x86_64 installations). Only libraries are installed by default.
  • extraBuildCommands Additional commands to be executed for finalizing the directory structure.
  • extraBuildCommandsMulti Like extraBuildCommands, but executed only on multilib architectures.
  • extraOutputsToInstall Additional derivation outputs to be linked for both target and multi-architecture packages.
  • extraInstallCommands Additional commands to be executed for finalizing the derivation with runner script.
  • runScript A command that would be executed inside the sandbox and passed all the command line arguments. It defaults to bash.
  • profile Optional script for /etc/profile within the sandbox.

One can create a simple environment using a shell.nix like that:

{ pkgs ? import <nixpkgs> {} }:

(pkgs.buildFHSUserEnv {
  name = "simple-x11-env";
  targetPkgs = pkgs: (with pkgs;
    [ udev
    ]) ++ (with pkgs.xorg;
    [ libX11
  multiPkgs = pkgs: (with pkgs;
    [ udev
  runScript = "bash";

Running nix-shell would then drop you into a shell with these libraries and binaries available. You can use this to run closed-source applications which expect FHS structure without hassles: simply change runScript to the application path, e.g. ./bin/ -- relative paths are supported.

Additionally, the FHS builder links all relocated gsettings-schemas (the glib setup-hook moves them to share/gsettings-schemas/${name}/glib-2.0/schemas) to their standard FHS location. This means you don't need to wrap binaries with wrapGAppsHook.