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NixOS deployment tool

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Build Status

Morph is a tool for managing existing NixOS hosts - basically a fancy wrapper around

nix copy
and more. Morph supports updating multiple hosts in a row, and with support for health checks makes it fairly safe to do so.

Notable features

  • multi host support
  • health checks
  • no state

Installation and prerequisites

Morph requires

(at least v2),
to be available on
. It should work on any modern Linux distribution, but NixOS is the only one we test on.

Pre-built binaries are not provided, since we install morph through an overlay.

The easiest way to get morph up and running is to fork this repository and run

nix-shell --command make-build
, which should result in a store path containing the morph binary. Consider checking out a specific tag, or at least pin the version of morph you're using somehow.

Using morph

All commands support a

morph --help
as of v1.0.0: ``` $ morph --help usage: morph [] [ ...]

NixOS host manager

Flags: --help Show context-sensitive help (also try --help-long and --help-man). --version Show application version. --dry-run Don't do anything, just eval and print changes

Commands: help [...] Show help.

build [] Evaluate and build deployment configuration to the local Nix store

push [] Build and transfer items from the local Nix store to target machines

deploy [] Build, push and activate new configuration on machines according to switch-action

check-health [] Run health checks

upload-secrets [] Upload secrets

exec [] ... Execute arbitrary commands on machines ```


morph deploy
requires a
The switch-action must be one of 
corresponding to
arguments of the same name. Refer to the NixOS manual for a detailed description of switch-actions.

For help on this and other commands, run

morph  --help

Example deployments can be found in the

directory, and built as follows: ``` $ morph build examples/simple.nix Selected 2/2 hosts (name filter:-0, limits:-0): 0: (secrets: 0, health checks: 0) 1: (secrets: 0, health checks: 0)

/nix/store/grvny5ga2i6jdxjjbh2ipdz7h50swi1n-morph nix result path: /nix/store/grvny5ga2i6jdxjjbh2ipdz7h50swi1n-morph ```

The result path is written twice, which is a bit silly, but the reason is that only the result path is written to stdout, and everything else (including

output) is redirected to stderr. This makes it easy to use morph for scripting, e.g. if one want to build using morph and then
nix copy
the result path somewhere else.

Note that

contain two different hosts definitions, and a lot of copy paste. All the usual nix tricks can of course be used to avoid duplication.

Hosts can be deployed with the

command as follows:
morph deploy examples/simple.nix
(this will fail without modifying

Selecting/filtering hosts to build and deploy

All hosts defined in a deployment file is returned to morph as a list of hosts, which can be manipulated with the following flags:

  • --on glob
    can be used to select hosts by name, with support for glob patterns
  • --limit n
    puts an upper limit on the number of hosts
  • --skip n
    ignore the first
  • --every n
    selects every n'th host, useful for e.g. selecting all even (or odd) numbered hosts

(all relevant commands should already support these flags.)

The ordering currently can't be changed, but should be deterministic because of nix.

Most commands output a header like this:

Selected 4/17 hosts (name filter:-6, limits:-7):
      0: foo-p02 (secrets: 0, health checks: 1)
      1: foo-p05 (secrets: 0, health checks: 1)
      2: foo-p08 (secrets: 0, health checks: 1)
      3: foo-p11 (secrets: 0, health checks: 1)

The output is pretty self explanatory, except probably for the last bit of the first line.

name filter
shows the change in number of hosts after glob matching on the hosts name, and
shows the change after applying

Tagging hosts

Each host can be tagged with an arbitrary amount of tags, which can be used to select and sort hosts.

To tag a host, use the

option, e.g.
deployment.tags = [ "prod" "master" "rack-17" ]
. Hosts can now be selected with the
option, e.g.
will only select hosts tagged both

To sort hosts based on tags, use the

option, e.g.
network.ordering.tags = [ "master" "slave"]
. This ordering can be changed at runtime using the
option, eg.
(this also works when
isn't defined). Hosts without matching tags will end up at the end of the list.

Environment Variables

Morph supports the following (optional) environment variables:

    the (local) path to the SSH private key file that should be used
    specifies the user that should be used to connect to the remote system
    if set disables host key verification
    allows to change the location of the ~/.ssh/config file


Files can be uploaded without ever ending up in the nix store, by specifying each file as a secret. This will use scp for copying a local file to the remote host.


or the type definitions in

To upload secrets, use the

morph upload-secrets
subcommand, or pass
morph deploy

Note: Morph will automatically create directories parent to

if they don't exist. New dirs will be owned by root:root and have mode 755 (drwxr-xr-x). Automatic directory creation can be disabled by setting
secret.mkDirs = false

Health checks

Morph has support for two types of health checks:

  • command based health checks, which are run on the target host (success defined as exit code == 0)
  • HTTP based health checks, which are run from the host Morph is running on (success defined as HTTP response codes in the 2xx range)


for an example.

There are no guarantees about the order health checks are run in, so if you need something complex you should write a script for it (e.g. using

). Health checks will be repeated until success, and the interval can be configured with the
option (see
for details).

It is currently possible to have expressions like

"test \"$(systemctl list-units --failed --no-legend --no-pager |wc -l)\" -eq 0"
(count number of failed systemd units, fail if non-zero) as the first argument in a cmd-healthcheck. This works, but is discouraged, and might break at any time.

Advanced configuration

nix.conf-options: The "network"-attrset supports a sub-attrset named "nixConfig". Options configured here will pass

to all nix commands. Note: these options apply to an entire deployment and are not configurable on per-host basis. The default is an empty set, meaning that the nix configuration is inherited from the build environment. See
man nix.conf

network.buildShell By passing

and setting
to a nix-shell compatible derivation (eg.
pkgs.mkShell ...
), it's possible to make morph execute builds from within the defined shell. This makes it possible to have arbitrary dependencies available during the build, say for use with nix build hooks. Be aware that the shell can potentially execute any command on the local system.

special deployment options:

(per-host granularity)

makes morph skip the "push" and "switch" steps for the given host, even if "morph deploy" or "morph push" is executed. (default: false)

Sets the
flag on nix copy, allowing for the deployment target to use substitutes. See
nix copy --help
. (default: false)

Example usage of

and deployment module options: ``` network = { nixConfig = { "extra-sandbox-paths" = "/foo/bar"; }; };

machine1 = { ... }: { deployment.buildOnly = true; };

machine2 = { ... }: { deployment.substituteOnDestination = true; }; ```

mutually recursive configurations Each host's configuration has access to a

argument, which contains the compiled configurations of all hosts.
machine1 = { nodes, ... }: {
    hostnames.machine2 = 
        (builtins.head; = [
            address = "";
            prefixLength = 32;

machine2 = { nodes, ... }: { hostnames.machine1 = (builtins.head; = [ { address = ""; prefixLength = 32; } ]; }

Hacking morph

All commands mentioned below is available in the nix-shell, if you run

with working dir = project root. The included
uses the latest
from GitHub by default, but you can override this by passing in another, eg.
nix-shell --arg nixpkgs ''
for your

Go dependency management

From within

go get -u
updates all go modules. Remember to update the

Building the project with pinned dependencies


nix-build --arg nixpkgs "builtins.fetchTarball"

About the project

We needed a tool for managing our NixOS servers, and ended up writing one ourself. This is it. We use it on a daily basis to build and deploy our NixOS fleet, and when we need a feature we add it.

Morph is by no means done. The CLI UI might (and probably will) change once in a while. The code is written by humans with an itch to scratch, and we're discussing a complete rewrite (so feel free to complain about the source code since we don't like it either). It probably wont accidentally switch your local machine, so you should totally try it out, but do consider pinning to a specific git revision.

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