Installing Steam on NixOS in 50 simple steps

I just dropped my partner and my son off at the airport, so the dog and I are on our own for the next 10 days. This will give me plenty of time to do some reading (finishing up "Foundation and Empire" then starting on a Nixon biography that my friend Simon loaded me), some writing (part 2 of "Story of a mediocre fan" as well as on this here blog), and some exercising (tennis, running, swimming–that is as soon as my bloody rib stops hurting). Ah, improving the mind and body!

So naturally, as I'm eating breakfast, I get the bright idea to install Steam so I can play some Civ V. And since I'm on NixOS, this is gonna be easy, right?


At least I had the discipline to start my blog entry before trying to install Steam.

But here we go, installing Steam on NixOS in 50 simple steps!

  1. See if there's already a package for Steam:
       [jmglov@laurana:~]$ nix repl '<nixpkgs>'
       Welcome to Nix 2.8.1. Type :? for help.
       Loading '<nixpkgs>'...
       Added 16468 variables.
       nix-repl> steam
       error: Package ‘steam’ in /nix/var/nix/profiles/per-user/root/channels/nixos/pkgs/games/steam/steam.nix:43 has an unfree license (‘unfreeRedistributable’), refusing to evaluate.
    Hell yeah! Don't worry about that unfree stuff; you've already got that sorted in your home.nix:
       nixpkgs.config.allowUnfree = true;
  2. Before naively adding steam to home.packages, do a little searching and find an entry in the NixOS Wiki for Steam!
  3. Naively copy and paste the incantation from that page into home.nix:
       programs.steam = {
         enable = true;
         remotePlay.openFirewall = true; # Open ports in the firewall for Steam Remote Play
         dedicatedServer.openFirewall = true; # Open ports in the firewall for Source Dedicated Server
  4. Try it out!
       [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ sudo nixos-rebuild switch
       building Nix...
       building the system configuration...
       error: The option `home-manager.users.jmglov.programs.steam' does not exist. Definition values:
              - In `/etc/nixos/configuration.nix':
                    dedicatedServer = {
                      openFirewall = true;
                    enable = true;
       (use '--show-trace' to show detailed location information)
    Oh you poor sweet child, thinking things would be that simple.
  5. Search for "nix home-manager steam" and find a nice blog entry: "How to Install Steam on NixOS?". Despite this blog entry not containing the word "home-manager" (wtf, Google? also, why have you not configured Firefox to use DuckDuckGo?)...
  6. Get distracted by this aside and configure Firefox to use DuckDuckGo as your primary search engine to keep them Google cookies from leaving crumbs all over the internet.
  7. Remember that oh yeah, you were reading some blog entry on installing Steam on Nix.
  8. Despite this blog entry not containing the word "home-manager", it does make it obvious that programs.steam is a NixOS module, not a Home Manager one. Grumble about having to install Steam system-wide, but then give in and move the Steam incantation to your /etc/nixos/configuration.nix, then rebuild NixOS:
       [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ sudo nixos-rebuild switch
       building Nix...
       building the system configuration...
       these 47 derivations will be built:
         # ...
  9. Wait for awhile for Nix to download some paths from the cache and then compile some C (don't worry about all those gcc warnings; real C programmers know what they're doing, damnit!), but then finally read these sweet sweet words:
       building '/nix/store/6mzdfasrx16l5zbdks6qpn98fbgyvw15-nixos-system-laurana-22.05.751.8b66e3f2ebc.drv'...
       updating GRUB 2 menu...
       stopping the following units: accounts-daemon.service, systemd-modules-load.service, systemd-udevd-control.socket, systemd-udevd-kernel.socket, systemd-udevd.service
       NOT restarting the following changed units: systemd-fsck@dev-disk-by\x2duuid-1495\x2d2D9B.service
       activating the configuration...
       setting up /etc...
       reloading user units for jmglov...
       setting up tmpfiles
       reloading the following units: dbus.service, firewall.service
       restarting the following units: polkit.service
       starting the following units: accounts-daemon.service, systemd-modules-load.service, systemd-udevd-control.socket, systemd-udevd-kernel.socket
  10. Revel in the fact that you have installed some stuff, then grit your teeth and try to login to Steam:
        [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ steamcmd
        steamcmd: command not found
  11. Oh ffs! Apparently you forgot to install steamcmd. OK, no matter, you can just add that to your home.nix (might as well install steam-tui, which you assume is some sort of UI?):
        home.packages = with pkgs; [
          # ...
          # ...
  12. Run sudo nixos-rebuild switch to apply the changes, then quickly leave the room so you don't have to watch gcc warnings scroll by.
  13. Start a load of laundry.
  14. Feel like a responsible steward of the household!
  15. Remember to give the dog his arthritis medication and feel even prouder of yourself.
  16. Become briefly overwhelmed by melancholy at the thought of your dog's mortality.
  17. Remember that you were in the process of installing Steam on NixOS and liveblogging the whole thing like a boss!
  18. Come back to your computer and see that not only has stuff been installed, but there were also no gcc warnings, so you could have just sat here and missed out on that whole emotional roller coaster.
  19. Try steamcmd again:
        [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ steamcmd 
        bwrap: Can't chdir to /etc/nixos/jmglov: No such file or directory
    WTF? Who told you to change to that directory, steamcmd?
  20. Have a look at the steamcmd script to see what in the ever-loving frack is going on around here:
        [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ cat $(which steamcmd)
        #!/nix/store/40iwnlr30ykqm5ynm0bbk6bsjjc750ad-bash-5.1-p16/bin/bash -e
        # Always run steamcmd in the user's Steam root.
        # Add coreutils to PATH for mkdir, ln and cp used below
        # Create a facsimile Steam root if it doesn't exist.
        if [ ! -e "$STEAMROOT" ]; then
          mkdir -p "$STEAMROOT"/{appcache,config,logs,Steamapps/common}
          mkdir -p ~/.steam
          ln -sf "$STEAMROOT" ~/.steam/root
          ln -sf "$STEAMROOT" ~/.steam/steam
        # Copy the system steamcmd install to the Steam root. If we don't do
        # this, steamcmd assumes the path to `steamcmd` is the Steam root.
        # Note that symlinks don't work here.
        if [ ! -e "$STEAMROOT/" ]; then
          mkdir -p "$STEAMROOT/linux32"
          # will replace these on first use
          cp /nix/store/4qbs47jafxn30v18kx6z8584s44g7djk-steamcmd-20180104/share/steamcmd/ "$STEAMROOT/."
          cp /nix/store/4qbs47jafxn30v18kx6z8584s44g7djk-steamcmd-20180104/share/steamcmd/linux32/* "$STEAMROOT/linux32/."
        /nix/store/vp2njgh5r7j7vs8691bp87apii754mna-steam-run/bin/steam-run "$STEAMROOT/" "$@"
  21. Check out $STEAMROOT to see what's up:
        [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ find ~/.local/share/Steam/
  22. Scratch your cheek in that way people do that signifies deep puzzlement.
  23. Have that "aha!" moment as you realise that obviously something weird is happening in that script and then check it out:
        [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ cat /home/jmglov/.local/share/Steam/
        STEAMROOT="$(cd "${0%/*}" && echo $PWD)"
        STEAMCMD=`basename "$0" .sh`
        if [ "$UNAME" == "Linux" ]; then
        else # if [ "$UNAME" == "Darwin" ]; then
          if [ ! -x ${STEAMEXE} ]; then
        ulimit -n 2048
        if [ "$DEBUGGER" == "gdb" ] || [ "$DEBUGGER" == "cgdb" ]; then
          ARGSFILE=$(mktemp $USER.steam.gdb.XXXX)
          # Set the LD_PRELOAD varname in the debugger, and unset the global version.
          if [ "$LD_PRELOAD" ]; then
            echo set env LD_PRELOAD=$LD_PRELOAD >> "$ARGSFILE"
            echo show env LD_PRELOAD >> "$ARGSFILE"
            unset LD_PRELOAD
          $DEBUGGER -x "$ARGSFILE" "$STEAMEXE" "$@"
          rm "$ARGSFILE"
          $DEBUGGER "$STEAMEXE" "$@"
        if [ $STATUS -eq $MAGIC_RESTART_EXITCODE ]; then
            exec "$0" "$@"
        exit $STATUS
  24. Spend some time scratching your head, because that cheek thing apparently didn't cut it.
  25. Have a look at /run/current-system/sw/bin/steam-run, then scratch your head some more.
  26. Realise that /etc/nixos/jmglov is where you keep your Home Manager config, then guess that since you're installing Steam as an os-wide package, maybe you should do the same with steamcmd and steam-tui.
  27. Realise that blergh! the channel being used by Home Manager is probably not the same one being used by NixOS.
  28. Confirm this:
        [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ nix-channel --list
  29. Swear in whatever way you see fit.
  30. Promise yourself to upgrade Home Manager to 21.11 someday (but not this day).
  31. Move the bloody packages to bloody /etc/nixos/configuration.nix and `sudo nixos-rebuild switch` again.
  32. Hold your breath and try steamcmd again:
        [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ steamcmd 
        bwrap: Can't chdir to /etc/nixos/jmglov: No such file or directory
  33. Swear at greater length than you previously did.
  34. Realise something about your prompt and slowly turn red with embarrassment.
  35. Type a command so your readers can see why you're embarrassed if they didn't already catch it somewhere around step 19:
        [jmglov@laurana:/etc/nixos/jmglov]$ pwd
  36. Change to your actual home directory obv.
  37. Run steamcmd and watch as stuff actually happens!
        [jmglov@laurana:~]$ steamcmd 
        Redirecting stderr to '/home/jmglov/.local/share/Steam/logs/stderr.txt'
        ILocalize::AddFile() failed to load file "public/steambootstrapper_english.txt".
        [  0%] Checking for available update...
        [----] Downloading update (0 of 54,952 KB)...
        [  0%] Downloading update (642 of 54,952 KB)...
        [  1%] Downloading update (1,326 of 54,952 KB)...
        [  2%] Downloading update (2,236 of 54,952 KB)...
        [----] Installing update...
        [----] Cleaning up...
        [----] Update complete, launching Steamcmd...
        Redirecting stderr to '/home/jmglov/.local/share/Steam/logs/stderr.txt'
        [  0%] Checking for available updates...
        [----] Verifying installation...
        Steam Console Client (c) Valve Corporation - version 1654574676
        -- type 'quit' to exit --
        Loading Steam API...OK
  38. Swear again, but this time in celebration of the great victory you just achieved!
  39. Login to Steam, as soon as you remember your username and password:
        Steam>login jmglov "This is not actually a password; nice try!"
        Logging in user 'jmglov' to Steam Public...
        This computer has not been authenticated for your account using Steam Guard.
        Please check your email for the message from Steam, and enter the Steam Guard
         code from that message.
        You can also enter this code at any time using 'set_steam_guard_code'
         at the console.
        Steam Guard code:H4X0R                              
        Waiting for client config...OK
        Waiting for user info...OK
  40. Get distracted by an email from your new boss whilst you're looking for your Steam Guard code. Reply, because that's your boss writing!
  41. According to the NixOS Wiki article, steam-tui "should start just fine" after logging into Steam using steamcmd, so give it a whirl!
  42. Realise that steam-tui obviously stands for Steam Terminal User Interface, and get a little sad that you're not looking at the awesome Steam UI that they have on standard Linux.
  43. Press on and login.
  44. OMG check out your games menu! They're all there (plus some ones that your son apparently bought on your account; hrm, gonna have to talk to that dude when he gets back from Bulgaria).
  45. Realise that steam-tui won't let you select text on your terminal to paste here, so you'll need to take a screenshot.
  46. Research a screenshot utility, discover Xfce comes with one, and add some stuff to your i3 config to bind the appropriate keys:
        # You gotta have screenshots!
        bindsym Print exec xfce4-screenshooter -f
        bindsym Shift+Print exec xfce4-screenshooter -r
        bindsym Control+Print exec xfce4-screenshooter -w
  47. Take a screenshot and put it in the appropriate place to show up on your blog as soon as you fix the Markdown rendering of images.
  48. Leave a placeholder here to display your games menu (and ask yourself if it was really worth it): List of Steam games
  49. Try to download Sid Meier's Civilization V and tug on your chin in puzzlement as nothing seems to happen. Oh wait! Now the state has changed from "uninstalled" to "Update Required".
  50. Realise it's nearly lunchtime and ragequit steam-tui and this blog post!

Update from 2022-07-09

It turns out that I was missing something incredibly simple. Thanks to an article entitled "How to Install Steam on NixOS?", I realised that the Steam module that I installed by adding programs.steam.enable = true; to my /etc/nixos/configuration.nix installed the steam executable, which is the official Steam client for Linux. Starting that (from my home directory, as I discovered in steps 19-36) updated the client to the latest version, then I could browse to my library and install Civ V. Hurrah!

Screenshot of my Steam library, with Civ V finally downloading

There was of course one last hurdle before I could actually play. When I clicked the play button, nothing seemed to happen, until I looked at the terminal window where I had run steam and saw some helpful errors:

/bin/sh\0-c\0/home/jmglov/.local/share/Steam/ubuntu12_32/reaper SteamLaunch AppId=8930 -- '/home/jmglov/.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Sid Meier'\''s Civilization V/./Civ5XP'\0
Game process added : AppID 8930 "/home/jmglov/.local/share/Steam/ubuntu12_32/reaper SteamLaunch AppId=8930 -- '/home/jmglov/.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Sid Meier'\''s Civilization V/./Civ5XP'", ProcID 600547, IP
SpawnProcessInternal: chdir /home/jmglov/.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common/Sid Meier's Civilization V failed, errno 2

It turned out that there was both a ~/.local/share/Steam/steamapps and a ~/.local/share/Steam/Steamapps directory, and of course the Steam client was looking in little-s steamapps, and Civ V was installed in big-S Steamapps. 🤦🏼

Ah well, easy enough to fix:

cd ~/.local/share/Steam/steamapps/common
ln -s ../../Steamapps/common/Sid\ Meier\'s\ Civilization\ V

And Robert is indeed your mother's brother.

Screenshot of the Civ V opening screen, playing as Darius I of Persia

🏷 50-simple-steps games nix
📝 Published: 2022-06-20