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Created November 13, 2022 18:18
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NixOS install with encrypted /boot /root with single password unlock


  1. Encrypt everthing including /boot and /root
  2. Enter password once
  3. Support UEFI

Installation media setup

Download NixOS minimal iso and copy to USB stick. For example on Mac OSX

$ diskutil list
$ diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk1 # Make sure you got right device
$ dd if=nixos-minimal-20.09.2405.e065200fc90-x86_64-linux.iso of=/dev/disk1

NixOS install

Boot from the USB stick and setup networking. (optionally setup SSH if you want to complete the install from another computer)

$ wpa_passphrase SSID 'PASSWORD' > /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf
$ systemctl start wpa_supplicant
$ systemctl start sshd
$ passwd # So we can login via SSH


I have 2 drives on my system: NVME SSD and a regular SATA drive. This is what the drives should look like after install. I use NVME SSD for booting and SATA drive as a /data mount.

sda                8:0    0 931.5G  0 disk
└─sda1             8:1    0 931.5G  0 part
  └─crypted-data 254:3    0 931.5G  0 crypt /data
nvme0n1          259:0    0 465.8G  0 disk
├─nvme0n1p1      259:1    0   549M  0 part  /boot/efi
└─nvme0n1p2      259:2    0 465.2G  0 part
  └─root         254:0    0 465.2G  0 crypt
    ├─vg-swap    254:1    0     4G  0 lvm   [SWAP]
    └─vg-root    254:2    0 461.2G  0 lvm   /

The only unecrypted partition is nvme0n1p1, which is mounted on /boot/efi. But rest of /boot is encrypted along with swap and root. /dev/sda1 is also encrypted and mounted as /data (Note: If you plan on extending /data with more drives, you should do LUKS-on-LVM )

Use Use gdisk to partition the drives

$ gdisk /dev/nvme0n1
  • o Create partition table
  • n Create new partition of size 550M and of type ef00
  • n Create another partition of type 8300 and use remainig space
  • p Show what gdisk will write
  • w Write to disk an exit
$ gdisk /dev/sda
  • o Create partition table
  • n Create another partition of type 8300 and use all space
  • p Show what gdisk will write
  • w Write to disk an exit

Generate keys for single password unlock

$ dd if=/dev/urandom of=./keyfile0.bin bs=1024 count=4
$ dd if=/dev/urandom of=./keyfile1.bin bs=1024 count=4

Setup LUKS and add the keys

# Enter the passphrase which is used to unlock disk. You will enter this in grub on every boot
$ cryptsetup luksFormat --type luks1 -c aes-xts-plain64 -s 256 -h sha512 /dev/nvme0n1p2

# Add a second key which will be used by nixos. You will need to enter the pasphrase from previous step
$ cryptsetup luksAddKey /dev/nvme0n1p2 keyfile0.bin
$ cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/nvme0n1p2 crypted-nixos -d keyfile0.bin

# For /data just the second random generated key
$ cryptsetup luksFormat -c aes-xts-plain64 -s 256 -h sha512 /dev/sda1 -d keyfile1.bin
$ cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sda1 crypted-data -d keyfile1.bin

Setup LVM

$ pvcreate /dev/mapper/crypted-nixos
$ vgcreate vg /dev/mapper/crypted-nixos
$ lvcreate -L 4G -n swap vg
$ lvcreate -l '100%FREE' -n root vg

Format the partitions and mount

$ mkfs.fat -F 32 /dev/nvme0n1p1
$ mkswap -L swap /dev/vg/swap
$ mkfs.ext4 -L root /dev/vg/root
$ mkfs.ext4 -L data /dev/mapper/crypted-data
$ mount /dev/vg/root /mnt
$ mkdir -p /mnt/boot/efi
$ mount /dev/nvme0n1p1 /mnt/boot/efi
$ swapon /dev/vg/swap

Copy the keys

$ mkdir -p /mnt/etc/secrets/initrd/
$ cp keyfile0.bin keyfile1.bin /mnt/etc/secrets/initrd
$ chmod 000 /mnt/etc/secrets/initrd/keyfile*.bin

Generate and edit configuration

$ nixos-generate-config --root /mnt

Add the following to /mnt/etc/nixos/configuration.nix

  boot.loader.efi.canTouchEfiVariables = true;
  boot.loader.efi.efiSysMountPoint = "/boot/efi";
  boot.loader.grub = {
    enable = true;
    device = "nodev";
    version = 2;
    efiSupport = true;
    enableCryptodisk = true;
  boot.initrd = {
    luks.devices."root" = {
      device = "/dev/disk/by-uuid/a8b302cf-5296-4a2e-a7ba-707e6fa75123"; # UUID for /dev/nvme01np2 
      preLVM = true;
      keyFile = "/keyfile0.bin";
      allowDiscards = true;
    secrets = {
      # Create /mnt/etc/secrets/initrd directory and copy keys to it
      "keyfile0.bin" = "/etc/secrets/initrd/keyfile0.bin";
      "keyfile1.bin" = "/etc/secrets/initrd/keyfile1.bin";

# Data mount
fileSystems."/data" = {
  device = "/dev/disk/by-uuid/79630267-5766-4c7d-85a5-1d5f1dcd58ad"; # UUID for /dev/mapper/crypted-data
  encrypted = {
    enable = true;
    label = "crypted-data";
    blkDev = "/dev/disk/by-uuid/3476cb09-b3c4-4301-9ec9-84f60f32828a"; # UUID for /dev/sda1
    keyFile = "/keyfile1.bin";

You can get the UUIDs by running

$ blkid

Install NixOS and reboot

$ nixos-install
$ reboot

Thats it! Once you reboot, GRUB will ask for the password. If password is correct, GRUB will show you the NixOS system profiles menu. After that, your system will boot without asking for the disk password.

Future work

If I enter an incorrect disk password, GRUB does not handle it gracefully. It will drop me into a shell without re-prompting for a password. I have to run the following commands for it to prompt again. Need to figure out if GRUB has an option for it to re-prompt.

cryptomount hdX,gptY    # Device to mount: drive X, GPT partition Y, this forces the re-prompt.
insmod normal           # Load the normal mode boot module.
normal                  # Enter normal mode and display the GRUB menu.


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