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[WIP Patch] Adding an FHS container to guix shell

From: John Kehayias
Subject: [WIP Patch] Adding an FHS container to guix shell
Date: Tue, 12 Jul 2022 15:59:14 +0000

Hi Guixers,

Apologies for the long email, so let me start with the punchline: attached is a 
diff which adds an '--fhs-container' (or -F) option to guix shell/environment 
to set up an FHS-like container. This includes the usual /lib directory and a 
glibc which loads (a generated in the container) /etc/ This should 
allow running most things that expect a more "typical" Linux environment. Give 
it a try!

First, I wanted to ask how people feel about such a feature. Obviously, one use 
is to run pre-built binaries (isolated!), but this is also handy for setting up 
development environments when not able (or wanting) to with Guix packages only. 
For example, using the rustup [0] scripts, pretty much anything JS, or just 
following typical Readme instructions to try out something new before 
packaging. I won't debate the details here other than to say this topic comes 
up with Guix and I think it is yet another useful tool for guix shell and 

Nix, which I know almost nothing about, does have some FHS 
container/environment options as well.

Next, some technical points about implementation, which I hope will be informed 
by the first question and what we want from this tool. There are two main 
things needed for the FHS-container:

1. Set up directories like /lib. This is easy enough and can be done currently, 
like in roptat's response here [1] by building the profile first to know where 
to link to. Note that it is easier to do it within the environment code since 
we have access to the profile even if it is being built for the first time. 
There are some wrinkles with linking something like /bin since we currently add 
a link for sh; see the comments in my diff.

Right now I did not handle a multi-arch setup, though that shouldn't be too 
difficult. This would probably require an option to build either all or 
specified packages for an additional arch, like 32bit in a 64bit system, and 
make the libraries available (/lib32 or something). Though may run into a 
union-build bug [2]?

2. Typically binaries will expect the ld loader to use /etc/ for 
finding libraries. So, I made a glibc package that removes our dl cache patch 
to restore this behavior. It seems enough to add this as a default package to 
the container, though I commented out an option to automatically graft 
everything with this glibc. Both worked for me, but grafting didn't seem 

The second step is to generate the ld cache, which is done with a simple 
startup script in the container, after creating a temporary (our 
ldconfig doesn't use the usual default directories?). I'm sure I found the 
hackiest way to do this, but it works :) Again, this could be possible without 
modifying guix containers, but this is easier. (For example, you can see work 
done by myself and others at a certain non-free channel to do exactly this.)

Some questions going forward, besides overall cleanup and tweaking of the code 
(which I provided comments in for some details, please see there). It might be 
nice to be able to extend containers more easily with setup scripts, though 
again this can be done by making some Guile scripts to wrap a container and 
making a package around that (e.g. from the non-free channel). What kind of 
extensions would be useful to expose? I think I saw some talk on IRC recently 
about how to manage env variables when using guix shell. Perhaps an extended 
manifest format for shell?

Relatedly and more generally, perhaps it would be good to have somewhere 
(cookbook?) some recipes of useful guix shell container incantations. Sharing 
what you need from the host for graphical programs can be a little tricky to 
figure out. We have the --network option, maybe others would be useful? Or some 
base package lists for development: just like we have our various 
-build-system's, a package list with typical library sets might be a nice 

What about other uses for this container, like providing an isolated 
environment to build and run software we can't do fully with bootstrap and 
sources (like JS)? Could this become some stop-gap to allow people to work with 
these ecosystems in a more controlled way within Guix? Or an alternative build 
environment? Not entirely sure what this could mean, just thinking out loud.

Okay, let me end by bringing it back to what we can currently do with this code 
I whipped up (and many thanks to [1] and efforts in a non-free channel for 
doing the work that I drew upon).

I don't know any Rust, so I figured trying out what I read on the internet 
about "just use rustup" and follow a readme is a good test case. So I did that 
and compiled something that looked hefty, a graphical widget system [3]. Here's 
the command I used and everything just worked: the rustup script ran and 
downloaded the rust tools, the cargo build command worked to build everything. 
I couldn't run the actual widgets as I am within a pure shell for my guix 
checkout (but have done this with similar code and it fully worked once sharing 
the right host env variables/directories). I used a directory as my container 
home to keep everything.

./pre-inst-env guix shell --network --fhs-container bash coreutils curl grep 
nss-certs gcc:lib gcc-toolchain pkg-config glib cairo atk pango@1.48.10 
gdk-pixbuf gtk+ --share=$HOME/temp/fhs-home=$HOME

On IRC, apteryx mentioned wanting to try buildroot [4] as a use-case. This 
worked for me after setting TERM=xterm in the container (I think I run the 
shell not quite correctly right now, or because it is already with in a guix 
shell --pure). Unfortunately make failed with some broken URLs, but so far 
didn't need any tweaks.

./pre-inst-env guix shell --network --fhs-container bash coreutils grep make 
nss-certs diffutils findutils ncurses which sed unzip gzip bzip2 wget perl cpio 
bc patch rsync tar file python gawk util-linux-with-udev gcc:lib pkg-config 
gcc-toolchain --share=$HOME/temp/fhs-home=$HOME

So, things should work as long as you provide the necessary packages. There may 
be some tweaks needed with some symlinks or env variables, but I think the 
basics are there.

Happy to hear everyone's thoughts! And sorry for the long email, but the code 
is pretty short and straightforward.


PS: Is there an easy way to use the modified environment scripts outside of a 
guix checkout shell?






Attachment: fhs-container.diff
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