Guix package manager without "make install"

By Christopher Allan Webber on Sun 08 February 2015

I've been interested in Guix, the GNU functional package manager based on Guile and drawing much from Nix (though, I think, as a complete system, Guix is much more interesting... maybe a topic of its own post). After a great FOSDEM 2015, where amongst other things I got to speak to and hear from the super nice Guix developers (and even communicated much about the challenges with deploying libre webapps, a topic of one of the presentations I gave), I decided to finally install the thing.

Trouble is, if I'm mostly interested in playing with the package manager (there's now a complete Guix distro called the "Guix System Distribution", but it's a bit too alpha yet, and I'd like to play around in the system first anyhow), and I run Debian... but Guix isn't yet packaged for Debian (though I would like it to be!) But I hate... hate hate hate... doing a make install of a package to my system. make uninstall is so unreliable, and I like to keep my system as a combination of system packages (so, stuff through apt/dpkg) and stuff I've built but keep in my user's home directory. (Though, adding Guix to the mix now adds a third middle ground!) Plus, what if I want to hack on Guix, it seems like being able to have Guix use the code straight from my dev checkout is best, right?

Dave Thompson suggested that I do what he do: run Guix on top of Debian without a make install, straight from the git repo. This was indeed what I wanted to do, but it took me a while to figure out the exact process to get that to work (especially in getting the emacs mode to work with this), so I'm documenting that here... maybe it can be helpful to someone else as well?

So we're mostly going to follow the install docs up until the point where we do a make install, where we obviously won't. So:

# git clone the repo and cd into it
$ git clone git://
$ cd guix

# Install appropriate dependencies... insert your distro package manager here
# Not actually sure if -dev needed on libgcrypt20 or not :)
$ sudo apt-get install guile-2.0 libgcrypt20 libgcrypt20-dev build-essential \
    guile-gnutls guile-2.0-dev libsqlite3-dev pkg-config

# Build the package
$ ./bootstrap && ./configure && make

# Make the "worker users" and their group... this allows the daemon
# to offload package building while keeping things nicely contained
$ sudo groupadd guix-builder
$ for i in `seq 1 10`; do
    sudo useradd -g guix-builder -G guix-builder           \
                 -d /var/empty -s `sudo which nologin`          \
                 -c "Guix build user $i" --system          \

# Make the /gnu/store directory, where packages are kept/built
$ sudo mkdir -p /gnu/store
$ sudo chgrp guix-builder /gnu/store
$ sudo chmod 1775 /gnu/store

(Supposedly there's a way to run things without the extra users and /gnu/store, but you lose a lot of benefits... personally it seems to me that having the store and the daemon is worth it.)

Okay, you're done! Now you should be able to run guix straight from your checkout. But you can't run it directly, you need to use the ./pre-inst-env script which has many environment variables set... after all, we aren't doing a make install, but guix needs to know where all our stuff is! First let's start the daemon... it runs as root, but don't worry, all package building happens as the guix-builder users we set up above:

$ sudo ./pre-inst-env guix-daemon --build-users-group=guix-builder

So, maybe leave that running in a screen session, or daemonize it, or something, but leave it running. For now we're just testing, so whatever.

This is optional, but you may want to "authorize" the Guix substitutes repository. (Thanks to mthl in #guix on freenode for pointing this out!) Otherwise, Guix will spend a lot of time rebuilding things itself that have already been built elsewhere:

$ sudo ./pre-inst-env guix archive --authorize <

Now we can actually run guix! (Maybe from another terminal?):

# a bunch of stuff should run by... but the package will install
$ ./pre-inst-env guix package -i hello

$ ~/.guix-profile/bin/hello
Hello, world!

Great! It ran. But okay... all three of the last commands were annoying. We probably want a way to launch these much more easily, so let's add aliases for guix-daemon and guix, as well as putting our user's guix profile on our PATH. (Yes, that's right... different users can have different packages installed with guix pretty easily.) So, let's edit our ~/.bashrc and add the following lines:

function guix-enable() {
    # Guix stuff

    alias guix="~/devel/guix/pre-inst-env guix"
    alias guix-daemon="sudo ~/devel/guix/pre-inst-env guix-daemon --build-users-group=guix-builder"

    # add guix's bin to the path
    export PATH=$HOME/.guix-profile/bin:$PATH
    # and others
    export PYTHONPATH="$HOME/.guix-profile/lib/python3.4/site-packages"
    export GUILE_LOAD_PATH="$GUILE_LOAD_PATH:$HOME/.guix-profile/share/guile/site/2.0/"
    export GUILE_LOAD_COMPILED_PATH="$GUILE_LOAD_PATH:$HOME/.guix-profile/share/guile/site/2.0/"

You can source ~/.bashrc if you have existing terminals open, or start new terminals / bash sessions... whatever. :) Anyway, it should now be much easier to run things:

$ guix-enable   # run this whenever you want to play with guix things
$ guix package -i xeyes
$ xeyes

Okay, great! So, now we have a reasonable hacking setup, right?

Well, assuming you want to be using Guix as the emacs of distros, you probably want to take advantage of Guix's great emacs integration.

Unfortunately, I found the docs on this subject frustratingly did not work with the method used above. Luckily, I got some help on IRC, and with the following additions to my ~/.emacs, things work:

(add-to-list 'load-path "/home/cwebber/devel/guix/emacs")

(setq guix-guile-program '("/home/cwebber/devel/guix/pre-inst-env" "guile"))

(setq guix-load-path "/home/cwebber/devel/guix/emacs")

(require 'guix-init)

Obviously, change directory names as appropriate.

Now M-x guix-all-available-packages should work!

Hopefully I'll have more to say on why I think Guix is pretty interesting, but at the very least, it might be compelling to hear that Guix can be used as a sort of language-agnostic virtualenv. Pretty cool!

Hopefully that helps someone else out there!