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3.4 Substitutes

Guix supports transparent source/binary deployment, which means that it can either build things locally, or download pre-built items from a server. We call these pre-built items substitutes—they are substitutes for local build results. In many cases, downloading a substitute is much faster than building things locally.

Substitutes can be anything resulting from a derivation build (see Derivations). Of course, in the common case, they are pre-built package binaries, but source tarballs, for instance, which also result from derivation builds, can be available as substitutes.

The hydra.gnu.org server is a front-end to a build farm that builds packages from the GNU distribution continuously for some architectures, and makes them available as substitutes. This is the default source of substitutes; it can be overridden by passing guix-daemon the --substitute-urls option (see Invoking guix-daemon).

To allow Guix to download substitutes from hydra.gnu.org, you must add its public key to the access control list (ACL) of archive imports, using the guix archive command (see Invoking guix archive). Doing so implies that you trust hydra.gnu.org to not be compromised and to serve genuine substitutes.

This public key is installed along with Guix, in prefix/share/guix/hydra.gnu.org.pub, where prefix is the installation prefix of Guix. If you installed Guix from source, make sure you checked the GPG signature of guix-0.8.tar.gz, which contains this public key file. Then, you can run something like this:

# guix archive --authorize < hydra.gnu.org.pub

Once this is in place, the output of a command like guix build should change from something like:

$ guix build emacs --dry-run
The following derivations would be built:
   /gnu/store/yr7bnx8xwcayd6j95r2clmkdl1qh688w-emacs-24.3.drv
   /gnu/store/x8qsh1hlhgjx6cwsjyvybnfv2i37z23w-dbus-1.6.4.tar.gz.drv
   /gnu/store/1ixwp12fl950d15h2cj11c73733jay0z-alsa-lib-1.0.27.1.tar.bz2.drv
   /gnu/store/nlma1pw0p603fpfiqy7kn4zm105r5dmw-util-linux-2.21.drv
…

to something like:

$ guix build emacs --dry-run
The following files would be downloaded:
   /gnu/store/pk3n22lbq6ydamyymqkkz7i69wiwjiwi-emacs-24.3
   /gnu/store/2ygn4ncnhrpr61rssa6z0d9x22si0va3-libjpeg-8d
   /gnu/store/71yz6lgx4dazma9dwn2mcjxaah9w77jq-cairo-1.12.16
   /gnu/store/7zdhgp0n1518lvfn8mb96sxqfmvqrl7v-libxrender-0.9.7
…

This indicates that substitutes from hydra.gnu.org are usable and will be downloaded, when possible, for future builds.

Guix ignores substitutes that are not signed, or that are not signed by one of the keys listed in the ACL. It also detects and raises an error when attempting to use a substitute that has been tampered with.

The substitute mechanism can be disabled globally by running guix-daemon with --no-substitutes (see Invoking guix-daemon). It can also be disabled temporarily by passing the --no-substitutes option to guix package, guix build, and other command-line tools.

Today, each individual’s control over their own computing is at the mercy of institutions, corporations, and groups with enough power and determination to subvert the computing infrastructure and exploit its weaknesses. While using hydra.gnu.org substitutes can be convenient, we encourage users to also build on their own, or even run their own build farm, such that hydra.gnu.org is less of an interesting target.

Guix has the foundations to maximize build reproducibility (see Features). In most cases, independent builds of a given package or derivation should yield bit-identical results. Thus, through a diverse set of independent package builds, we can strengthen the integrity of our systems.

In the future, we want Guix to have support to publish and retrieve binaries to/from other users, in a peer-to-peer fashion. If you would like to discuss this project, join us on guix-devel@gnu.org.


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