Local mariadb server with nix-shell

Nix is a great technology. If you don’t know what it is I urge you to stop what you’re doing now and start reading a bit about it.

It tries to bring FP concepts, such as purity, to package management. It makes you think of a package as the result of a function which takes dependencies and some configuration as inputs. The results of this function is stored in a path which contains a unique hash computed with the inputs. Referential transparency should be preserved: same inputs would produce the same outputs. That’s for the basics.

As a result, it completely messes up the FHS. And so it can feels very weird at first. But once I adopted it every other package management system felt completely wrong. Also nix shines when it goes to reproducibility.

One thing that nix is notoriously lacking is good and usable documentation. Additionally its learning curve is very steep. That’s why I intend to share now and then some simple tricks that, I hope, will contribute to make this great technology more approachable.

Today, I’ll show you how I start a local mariadb server when I develop web services.

Assuming you have a working nix installation, save this snippet in a nix-shell.nix file and start nix-shell. Nix will starts start a local server one can connect locally with the command mysql.

let pkgs = import <nixpkgs> {};
in pkgs.mkShell {
  buildInputs = [ pkgs.mariadb ];
  shellHook = ''
    export MYSQL_UNIX_PORT=$MYSQL_HOME/mysql.sock
    alias mysql='mysql -u root'

    if [ ! -d "$MYSQL_HOME" ]; then
      # Make sure to use normal authentication method otherwise we can only
      # connect with unix account. But users do not actually exists in nix.
      mysql_install_db --auth-root-authentication-method=normal \
        --datadir=$MYSQL_DATADIR --basedir=$MYSQL_BASEDIR \

    # Starts the daemon
    mysqld --datadir=$MYSQL_DATADIR --pid-file=$MYSQL_PID_FILE \
      --socket=$MYSQL_UNIX_PORT 2> $MYSQL_HOME/mysql.log &

      mysqladmin -u root --socket=$MYSQL_UNIX_PORT shutdown
      kill $MYSQL_PID
      wait $MYSQL_PID
    trap finish EXIT

The script itself is not very complicated to understand.

First it creates a shell with mariadb as a dependency. The buildInputs attribute is a list of packages that needs to be brought in scope for the shell. Here, any package available in nixpkgs can be added to this list. Once started, the shell will thus have the mariadb binaries in its path.

Then it executes the shellHook: a bash script. This script initializes the mariadb data directory in $(pwd)/mariadb/data then starts the server and stores its PID in an environment variable.

When the shell ends the server is shutdown. If nix-shell it started again, the previous database will be reused.

That’s it for this simple trick. That pattern can easily be reused. Using a shellHook with some dependencies is incredibly handy and can have a lot of usages.

January 30, 2022