Running Remote Build on NixOS

To set up a remote build on NixOS:

  1. Identify required SSH keys for remote SSH connection.
  2. Set up configurations.

If you hit an issue, check Troubleshooting.

1. Configuring SSH Keys

This step assumes that public SSH keys were generated and copied (ssh-copy-id) both for normal and root users. For more information, see Setting up public key authentication.

Before you begin, make sure an SSH connection is established to the remote host for both normal and root users:

nix store ping --store ssh://USER@REMOTE_IP_ADDRESS

1.1. [Local Machine] Configuring SSH Keys

Do the following on a local machine:

  1. Change directory to Home Directory with SSH:

    cd .ssh

    The public keys of the remote machine are located in the known_hosts file. These keys are created and configured after the ssh-copy-id command. Make sure the keys are there. If they are not there:

    1. Access the remote machine.
    2. Run cd /etc/ssh.
    3. Retrieve and copy the public keys.
    4. Go back to the local machine and paste them into known_hosts.
  2. Navigate to the /etc/ssh/ directory:

    cd /etc/ssh

    Make sure the ssh_known_hosts file contains the same public keys as the remote machine (same as .ssh/knwon_hosts). Otherwise, specify it in the configuration.nix file.

  3. Use CMD as the root user:

    sudo -i
  4. Make sure the root user’s keys are different from the user’s keys:

    cd .ssh

    TIP:.ssh is a user-level access and /etc/ssh is system-wide.

1.2. Accessing Remote Machine Using SSH

Do the following:

  1. Navigate the authorized_keys file:

    cd .ssh
    sudo nano authorized_keys
  2. Make sure that both user and root public keys for the local machine are located there:

    • The user’s public key can be obtained from /home/username/.ssh/
    • The root user's public key can be obtained from /root/.ssh/

2. Setting Up Configuration Files

2.1. [Local Machine] Setting Up Configuration Files

Do the following on a local machine:

  1. Set configuration variables in configuration.nix and nix.conf:
    1. Use the following commands:
      cd /etc/nixos
      sudo nano configuration.nix 
    2. Add lib in the header like so: { config, pkgs, lib, ... }:.
    3. Edit the nix.conf file:
      environment.etc."nix/nix.conf".text = lib.mkForce ''
          # Your custom nix.conf content here
          builders = @/etc/nix/machines
          require-sigs = false
          max-jobs = 0 # to use remote build by default not local
          substituters =
          trusted-public-keys = cache.farah:STwtDRDeIDa...
          build-users-group = nixbld
          trusted-users = root farahayyad
          experimental-features = nix-command flakes
      For more information, see the nix.conf section of the Nix Reference Manual.
    4. Rebuild NixOS by running:
      sudo nixos-rebuild switch
  2. Create or set the machines file:
    1. Use the following commands:

      cd /etc/nixos
      sudo nano machines 
    2. Specify the SSH settings:

      [ssh://]USER@HOST target-spec [SSH identity file] [max-jobs] [speed factor]
      [supported-features] [mandatory-features] [ssh-public-key-encoded]
      • Parameters inside ‘[ ]’ are optional.
      • The ssh-public-key-encoded is the base-64 encoded public key of the remote machine. Get the encoding using:
        echo -n "your_public_key_here" | base64
      • If omitted, SSH will use its regular known_hosts file.

      For more information, see the Remote Builds section of the Nix Reference Manual.

2.2. [Remote Machine] Setting Up Configuration Files

Do the following on a remote machine:

  1. Specify the sshd_config settings:
    1. Use the following commands:
      cd /etc/ssh
      sudo nano sshd_config
    2. Make sure PubkeyAuthentication is set as yes.
  2. Specify the /etc/nix/nix.conf settings:
    1. Use the following commands:
      cd /etc/nix
      sudo nano nix.conf
    2. Edit the nix.conf file:
      trusted-public-keys =
      build-users-group = nixbld
      require-sigs = false
      trusted-users = root farahayyad jk
      binary-caches =
      substituters =
      system-features = nixos-test benchmark big-parallel kvm
      binary-cache-public-keys =
      experimental-features = nix-command flakes
    3. Run the following command to restart daemon and update all the preceding changes:
      systemctl restart nix-daemon.service


Single-User Nix Installation Issues

This issue typically arises when Nix is installed in a single-user mode on the remote machine, which can create permission issues during multi-user operations.

If an operation fails with the following error message:

could not set permissions on '/nix/var/nix/profiles/per-user' to 755: Operation not permitted

reinstall Nix in a multi-user setup:

  • Uninstall Nix using a single-user mode:

    rm -rf /nix
  • Install Nix in a multi-user mode:

    sh <(curl -L --daemon

For more information about Nix security modes, see the Security section of the Nix Reference Manual.

VPN Setup for Remote Access

A VPN is needed, if the local machine is not on the same local network as your remote build machine.

To set up a VPN using OpenConnect, do the following:

  • Install OpenConnect:
nix-env -iA nixos.openconnect
  • Establish a VPN connection:
sudo openconnect --protocol=gp -b
  • Once authenticated, you establish a secure connection to your network. Use ssh USER@IP_ADDRESS_OF_REMOTE_MACHINE to check if it is possible to connect to the remote machine.

Private Key on Local Machine Not Matching Public Key on Remote Machine

Using mismatched key pairs could result in the Permission denied error.

Ensure and double-check that you are using the right key pairs.

If you choose to use/present your local’s RSA private key, make sure that it is the corresponding RSA public key that is in the remote’s authorized_file, not the ED25519 or ECDSA public keys.