Running NixOS on a NanoPi R5S

I managed to get NixOS running on my NanoPi R5S (FriendlyElec Wiki).

Firstly, I flashed a pre-built stock Debian image from inindev to an SD card. This can be used as a rescue system later on.

From that SD card, I then flashed the same system onto the internal eMMC Storage. I only really needed to this to ensure UBoot was correctly installed; I think there will be an easier way to do it.

I had nix already installed on the NVMe SSD along with a home directory. I bind-mounted /nix and /home following the fstab I had previously set up:

UUID=replaceme  /mnt    ext4    relatime,lazytime   0 2
/mnt/nix        /nix    none    defaults,bind       0 0
/mnt/srv        /srv    none    defaults,bind       0 0
/mnt/home       /home   none    defaults,bind       0 0

I then created a user for myself using that home directory, I had full access to nix in the new Debian environment. This meant I had access to nixos-install.

I wanted to use the extlinux support in UBoot, so I made /mnt/boot point to /boot on the eMMC:

mkdir /mnt/{emmc,boot}
mount LABEL=rootfs /mnt/emmc
mount --bind /mnt/emmc /mnt/boot

I ran nixos-generate-config as usual, which set up the mount points in hardware-configuration.nix correctly. configuration.nix needed a bit of tweaking. My first booting configuration was something like this, mostly borrowed from Artem Boldariev’s comment:

{ config
, pkgs
, lib
, ...
  fsTypes = [ "f2fs" "ext" "exfat" "vfat" ];
  imports = [ ./hardware-configuration.nix ];
  boot = {
    kernelPackages = pkgs.linuxKernel.packages.linux_6_4;

    # partial Rockchip related changes from Debian 12 kernel version 6.1
    # Also, see here:
    kernelPatches = [
        name = "rockchip-config.patch";
        patch = null;
        extraConfig = ''
          PCIE_ROCKCHIP_EP y
          ROCKCHIP_VOP2 y
        name = "status-leds.patch";
        patch = null;
        # old:
        extraConfig = ''
          LED_TRIGGER_PHY y
          USB_LED_TRIG y
          LEDS_TRIGGER_MTD y
    supportedFilesystems = fsTypes;
    initrd.supportedFilesystems = fsTypes;

    initrd.availableKernelModules = [
      ## Rockchip
      ## Storage

    loader = {
      timeout = 3;
      grub.enable = false;
      generic-extlinux-compatible = {
        enable = true;
        useGenerationDeviceTree = true;
  # this file is from debian and should be in /boot/ = "../../rk3568-nanopi-r5s.dtb";
  # Most Rockchip CPUs (especially with hybrid cores) work best with "schedutil"
  powerManagement.cpuFreqGovernor = "schedutil";
  boot.kernelParams = [
  # Let's blacklist the Rockchips RTC module so that the
  # battery-powered HYM8563 (rtc_hym8563 kernel module) will be used
  # by default
  boot.blacklistedKernelModules = [ "rtc_rk808" ];

  # ... typical config omitted for brevity

Due to the custom kernel configuration, building takes a while. I set up a distributed build to speed things up, using a Hetzner Cloud CAX21 ARM64 instance (although I could have used an x86_64 system with one of the methods mentioned on the NixOS on ARM NixOS wiki page). This made for a very long nixos-install command line:

sudo env PATH=$PATH =nixos-install --root /mnt --no-channel-copy --channel --option builders'ssh://my-host aarch64-linux /root/.ssh/id_pappel_nixpkgs 4 2 big-parallel' --option builders-use-substitutes true --max-jobs 0

I added setenv bootmeths "extlinux" to /boot/boot.txt and ran /boot/ as root to ensure that UBoot would search for the extlinux.conf file