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cruft on the PATH

Nix only manages the PATH that they are aware of, e.g. /nix/store.

Nix shell only adds things to the PATH by default.

If another tool adds binaries to the path then standard operating system precedence rules apply.

Known common tooling conflicts:

  • cargo install is known to override binaries in the nix store
  • rustup is known to override cargo and nightly versions of rust

cargo installed binaries

Use which to see where a binary is currently located.

For anything installed with cargo the easiest thing is to simply delete the binary.

Any path starting with /nix/store should be correctly managed by nix.

Nix shell tries to mitigate the risk of cargo compiling binaries to a global location by setting $CARGO_HOME and $CARGO_INSTALL_ROOT to the current directory (at the time of building the shell) and places this at the start of $PATH (for the duration of the nix shell).


For rustup, depending on the nature of the conflict it may be necessary to uninstall cargo versions or rustup itself.

Shell isolation

As the nix shell mostly adds to the shell environment it is possible for existing environment state to bleed into the nix environment.

Usually this is the behaviour we want, e.g. sourcing our .bashrc files etc. so that the shell still feels familiar.

In some cases, such as the $PATH conflicts discussed above, we want a more aggressively isolated shell environment.

There are three levels of nix-shell that are used commonly for everyday usage and debugging.

  • nix-shell is the standard isolation level
  • nix-shell --pure means the environment “is almost entirely cleared” but $HOME, $USER and $DISPLAY are retained as well as ~/.bashrc
  • PS1="" nix-shell --pure --keep PS1 is a pure environment with all environment variables cleared

If you are seeing an issue in the nix-shell that you cannot reproduce on another machine try increasing the shell isolation to debug.