A Calustra - Eloy Coto Pereiro Home About Books

Simplifying Rust Kernel Module Development with Nix


Writing a kernel module is something "almost" straightforward, it has been in there for years, and it's generally easy to work with. However, with the recent addition of Rust support in the kernel, crafting Rust modules can become a bit more challenging.

Recently, while exploring Rust kernel modules, I found myself in trouble to set custom flags and specialized tooling. While starting out is still accessible, the process can be a bit slow. Typically, I rely on building the image with packer - as we did at Cilium -, but this time, I wanted to try something new.

Nix is a ephimeral package manager. While I've used Nix-shell for some validations in the past, I haven't explored all its features. With Nix, creating a custom VM takes only a matter of minutes, making it the perfect tool for this project.

However, starting with Nix is not easy! It has its own custom functional language, which comes with its own learning curve. Additionally, some definitions can be a bit tricky to work with.

Nix flake

The main entry for Nix is a flake.nix config,which defines two primary components: inputs and outputs. Inputs specify where the packages will be located, essentially serving as the repository at its most basic level. Outputs determine what we aim to build, whether it's a filename, a binary, or a virtual machine (VM).

  inputs = {
    nixpkgs.url = "github:NixOS/nixpkgs/nixos-unstable";

  outputs = inputs@{ self, nixpkgs, ... }: {
    nixosConfigurations.vm = nixpkgs.lib.nixosSystem {
      system = "x86_64-linux";
      specialArgs = { inherit inputs; };
      modules = [

Here, the inputs specify our usage of the Nix unstable repository, while the output indicates the construction of a new VM using the configuration.nix file.

Building this flake is as easy as running:

nix build -L --show-trace ./#nixosConfigurations.vm.config.system.build.vm

Still, the real magic lies within the configuration.nix file, which resembles to something like this:

{ config, pkgs, inputs, ... }:
  environment.systemPackages = with pkgs; [

  users.users.alice = {
    isNormalUser = true;
    extraGroups = [ "wheel" ];
    packages = with pkgs; [
    initialPassword = "test";

  security.sudo.wheelNeedsPassword = false;
  services.sshd.enable = true;

  system.stateVersion = "24.05";

This straightforward config file installs some essential packages like git and vim and predefines a user named alice. Starting the VM is as simple as:

QEMU_KERNEL_PARAMS=console=ttyS0 ./result/bin/run-nixos-vm -nographic; reset]

This command fires up a VM equipped with the basic tools.

Rust kernel Support

For writing kernel modules in Rust, you need to follow specific guidelines:

Additionally, you must enable certain configurations in the kernel

$ zcat /proc/config.gz | grep -e "RUST[_=]"

Compiling the kernel can be time-consuming. Thankfully, Nix offers a way to use a precompiled kernel with Rust support by adding the following config to configuration.nix:

boot.kernelPatches = [
    name = "Rust Support";
    patch = null;
    features = { rust = true; };

With Rust enabled in the kernel, the next step is building our module. Let's delve into the mkDerivation from Nix:


stdenv.mkDerivation {
  pname = "debugdriver";
  version = "1";

  src = ./src;

  nativeBuildInputs = kernel.moduleBuildDependencies;
  makeFlags = kernel.makeFlags ++ [ "KDIR=${kernel.dev}/lib/modules/${kernel.modDirVersion}/build" ];

  installFlags = [ "INSTALL_MOD_PATH=${placeholder "out"}" ];
  installTargets = [ "modules_install" ];

  meta = {
    broken = !kernel.withRust;
    description = "A basic example of rust module";
    platforms = lib.platforms.linux;

This configuration builds the debugdriver module located in the src folder. Additionally, It's crucial to ensure that the correct patched kernel is specified in the configuration.nix file.

debugdriver = pkgs.callPackage ./module.nix {
  kernel = config.boot.kernelPackages.kernel;

Note that it utilizes config.boot.kernelPackages instead of pkgs.linuxPackages, which lacks Rust support.

Finally, we need to specify the compilation of the kernel module, we can follow the official Nix guide:

boot.extraModulePackages = [
boot.kernelModules = [ "debugdriver" ];

After the build, we can verify that the debugdriver module is present and ready to be used.

This approach significantly simplifies my workflow. With a custom kernel available in a fast VM, debugging and making changes becomes a breeze without risking my host system.

You can find my test example here.

Before wrapping up, I'd like to extend a special acknowledgment to Julian Stecklina for the incredible work he's been doing on the Nix packages. His dedication and contributions have undoubtedly made the journey of Rust kernel module development with Nix smoother and more enjoyable for many developers. Kudos, Julian!


Related articles: