Guix Packaging by Example

Jethro Cao
Dec 25, 2019 · 7 min read

A key design principle behind GNU Guix as a package manager is its extensibility, i.e. allowing users to easily write their own package definitions. Thus this post aims to serve as a starting reference for doing precisely that.

The package I’ll be using for this demonstration is LÖVE-Nuklear, which provide bindings to the immediate mode GUI library, Nuklear for the Lua game engine, LÖVE.

Load Required Modules

All Guix packages are defined in source files written in Guile Scheme, with each source corresponding to a single module that contains packages related along a common theme. For example, libraries for specific programming languages like Golang or Rust, end user applications for music or games, implementations of particular protocols like FTP or IPFS, and so on.

My example module shall only contain a single package, but in general there can be many. To begin, we first load the modules required to define the package:

(define-module (love-nuklear)
#:use-module (guix packages)
#:use-module (guix git-download)
#:use-module (guix build-system cmake)
#:use-module (guix licenses)
#:use-module (gnu packages lua))

All package definitions require at least 4 modules, which are all located in the guix namespace:

  1. packages, this module exports the <package> record type, of which your package definition shall become an instance of
  2. source code retrieval module, typically download (for downloading sources over HTTP(S)) or git-download (as shall be seen in this example); other methods such as hg-download and svn-download are also available
  3. build-system, such as gnu (GNU Make being its core), meson with its ninja backend for C/C++, dune (for OCaml), cmake (used for this example), etc.
  4. licenses, which is self-explanatory

Of course in practice, the vast majority of software contain dependencies that must also be loaded. And if these dependencies are already packaged, then they can be found under the gnu packages namespace. For my example of love-nuklear, the only dependency is the luajit package from the lua module.

Fill Basic Info & Metadata

Now it’s time to define the actual package, starting with its basic information and metadata:

(define-public love-nuklear
(let ((version "v2.6")
(commit "fef4e00a602efb16c57ae962850b6e7a01f7a29a"))
(name "love-nuklear")
(version (git-version version "+4commits" commit))
;; ...
;; ...
;; ...
(synopsis "Lightweight immediate mode GUI for LÖVE games")
(description "LÖVE is a Lua framework for making 2D games. Nuklear
is a minimal state immediate mode graphical user interface toolkit. This
package is the Nuklear bindings for LÖVE created by Kevin Harrison.")
(home-page "")
(license expat))))

A few points worth mentioning:

  • Guix packages are defined via define-public by convention. This eliminates having to manually declare the package definition for export as part of the module's public interface.
  • The version field can be any string, so a simple "v2.6" string literal would be equally valid in the above. But since I'll be using git-download, I wanted to provide maximum versioning info for the sake of reproduciblity. Thus the git-version procedure was used, which takes 3 arguments: version, revision, commit hash, and evaluates to an informative yet succinct string to be used as the version ID of the package.
  • If the software being packaged is multi-licensed, the license field can be set to a list representing such.

Fetch Source

As briefly mentioned earlier, although Guix supports several source fetching methods, in practice you’ll mostly be using either url-fetch from the download module, or git-fetch from the git-download module. Whenever possible, you should prefer the former, since it is more efficient.

For LÖVE-Nuklear however, git-fetch was needed because the source code of Nuklear, which is not bundled in the tarball release, but is instead tracked as a git-submodule, is required to build the final shared object. So to do this, we use git-fetch with (recursive? #t), as shown below:

(source (origin
(method git-fetch)
(uri (git-reference
(url "")
(commit commit)
(recursive? #t)))
(file-name (git-file-name name version))

Before building from the source, Guix checks that the hash of the downloaded files is the same as that supplied by you, the packager. When using url-fetch, the base32 hash of the project's source will be directly computed by Guix and displayed for your convenience after you execute$ guix download <https://url-package-source>. When using git-fetch however, you must first git clone the repository (including the submodules if applicable), then invoke$ guix hash -xr <path/to/git/source>, where the -x flag tells Guix to ignore VCS files and-r tells Guix to compute the hash recursively.

Specify Dependencies

Guix differentiates between 3 types of dependencies:

  • native-inputs: build but not runtime dependencies
  • inputs: runtime dependencies
  • propagated-inputs: similar to inputs, but can also be useful for specifying packages that should be installed alongside your main package. You might want this when for example, header files from another library are required to compile the package in question, or to gain access to runtime libraries in languages that lack the facility to record runtime search paths.

As already stated, the only runtime dependency, and thus inputs of love-nuklear is luajit:

`(("luajit" ,luajit)))

Fine-Tune Build Procedure

At the time of writing, Guix provides modules for 30+ build systems. From the foundational gnu-build-system, which all other build systems inherit from to one degree or another, to language specific ones like cargo-build-system for Rust, dune-build-system for OCaml, python-build-system, etc., to build script generators like meson-build-system and cmake-build-system.

Note that in addition to representing the build procedure to be used, the build-system field also implicitly specify dependencies of said build procedure. Thus it is unnecessary to manually specify these build dependencies as native-inputs.

The following snippet shows the first build procedure that was successful in installing the love-nuklear package:

(build-system cmake-build-system)
`(#:build-type "Release"
#:tests? #f
(modify-phases %standard-phases
(replace 'install
(lambda* (#:key outputs #:allow-other-keys)
(let* ((out (assoc-ref outputs "out"))
(share (string-append out "/share")))
(install-file "" share)
  • The #:build-type argument is specific to the cmake-build-system, which can also accommodate other build flags typically passed on the command line to cmake.
  • All build systems accept the #:tests? argument, which indicates whether tests should be run after your package has been successfully built (#t by default).
  • The phases of the build procedure itself are modifiable. And quite often, one may find oneself needing to do just that, since not all software fully adhere to standarized build procedures.
  • This was the case for LÖVE-Nuklear when I began my attempt in packaging it. Its CMake file did not generate an install target for the output Therefore the standard install phase of the build procedure was replaced by a custom one defined by the lambda expression seen above.
  • out represents the location of the output directory, which is obtained by Guix via a getenv call under-the-hood during runtime, as it cannot be known beforehand due to it depending on all the inputs of the package definition.

In the end though, I decided it was better to make the change upstream, i.e. add an install target to the CMake build procedure of LÖVE-Nuklear. After this change was kindly merged by its author, love-nuklear was then able to be built and installed smoothly with zero modifications to the standard phases of the cmake-build-system, resulting in the cleaner snippet shown below:

(build-system cmake-build-system)
`(#:build-type "Release"
#:tests? #f))

But just keep in mind that, in order to produce a successful package build, sometimes the only option is to modify the standard phases of one’s build system.

Test Package Definition

Once the first draft of your package definition is complete, you are then ready to test out its correctness by attempting to build it locally.

To do so, just run $ guix build -K --file=<path/to/package/def>. Make sure to add a line at the end of your package module to actually evaluate the package definition ( love-nuklear for my example), as the--file flag tells Guix to build the package that the source within<path/to/package/def> evaluates to. The -K flag is short for--keep-failed, thus failed partial build results will be left in your/tmp directory instead of being removed.

Another source of useful debugging information is the build log, which in addition to being printed to STDIN on each build, is also written to an appropriate directory identified by its build hash in /var/guix/.

Through the iterative process of fixing errors reported in the build log, and occasionally inspecting the contents of failed partial builds, I was able to quickly bring the package definition of LÖVE-Nuklear to a successful state, whose constituent components are exactly the snippets already showcased earlier. But for viewing convenience, here’s the finalized package definition in its totality:

Contribute to Guix

If you’d like to submit your package definition upstream, i.e. have it added to the GNU Guix ecosystem, then it’s important to run $ guix lint before submitting it to the project as a patch. This command performs useful checks on your package definition, ensuring it conforms to the GNU Guix standard. All available checkers can be listed with$ guix lint --list-checkers. Here are what some of them do:

  • Provide basic validations, such as checking the formatting of your package’s synopsis and description, the existence of the project’s home-page URL, and validity of the license(s)
  • Offer technical suggestions, such as the appropriateness of the categorizations of your specified inputs, the success or failure of compiling a package to its derivation (which of course should succeed if you were able to run guix build successfully)

Lastly, I’m pleased to inform that my package definition for LÖVE-Nuklear has been accepted into the GNU Guix project. So if you’d like to check out this cool GUI module for the LÖVE game engine on Guix yourself, then it’s as simple as:

  1. $ guix pull to get the latest updates for Guix
  2. $ guix package --install love-nuklear

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Jethro Cao

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