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4.1.4 The benefits of manifests

Manifests are a convenient way to keep your package lists around and, say, to synchronize them across multiple machines using a version control system.

A common complaint about manifests is that they can be slow to install when they contain large number of packages. This is especially cumbersome when you just want get an upgrade for one package within a big manifest.

This is one more reason to use multiple profiles, which happen to be just perfect to break down manifests into multiple sets of semantically connected packages. Using multiple, small profiles provides more flexibility and usability.

Manifests come with multiple benefits. In particular, they ease maintenance:

It’s important to understand that while manifests can be used to declare profiles, they are not strictly equivalent: profiles have the side effect that they “pin” packages in the store, which prevents them from being garbage-collected (see Invoking guix gc in GNU Guix Reference Manual) and ensures that they will still be available at any point in the future.

Let’s take an example:

  1. We have an environment for hacking on a project for which there isn’t a Guix package yet. We build the environment using a manifest, and then run guix environment -m manifest.scm. So far so good.
  2. Many weeks pass and we have run a couple of guix pull in the mean time. Maybe a dependency from our manifest has been updated; or we may have run guix gc and some packages needed by our manifest have been garbage-collected.
  3. Eventually, we set to work on that project again, so we run guix environment -m manifest.scm. But now we have to wait for Guix to build and install stuff!

Ideally, we could spare the rebuild time. And indeed we can, all we need is to install the manifest to a profile and use GUIX_PROFILE=/the/profile; . "$GUIX_PROFILE"/etc/profile as explained above: this guarantees that our hacking environment will be available at all times.

Security warning: While keeping old profiles around can be convenient, keep in mind that outdated packages may not have received the latest security fixes.

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