Existing package and system configuration management tools suffer from an imperative model, where system administration actions such as package upgrades or changes to system configuration files are stateful: they destructively update the state of the system. This leads to many problems, such as the inability to roll back changes easily, to deploy multiple versions of a package side-by-side, to reproduce a configuration deterministically on another machine, or to reliably upgrade a system. In this paper we show that we can overcome these problems by moving to a purely functional system configuration model. This means that all static parts of a system (such as software packages, configuration files and system startup scripts) are built by pure functions and are immutable, stored in a way analogous to a heap in a purely functional language. We have implemented this model in NixOS, a non-trivial Linux distribution that uses the Nix package manager to build the entire system configuration from a modular, purely functional specification.
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