stdenv provides a foundation for building C/C++ software with nixpkgs. It includes, but is not limited to containing tools such as: a c compiler and related tools, GNU coreutils, GNU awk, GNU sed, findutils, strip, bash, GNUmake, bzip2, gzip, and many more tools. Stdenv also provides a default "" script which will perform the build of a package. The default builder script is comprised of many smaller "phases" which package maintainers can alter slightly as needed. The goal of stdenv is to enable most C/C++ + Makefile workflows; in theory, if a software package has these installation:

./configure # configurePhase, optional
make # buildPhase
make install # installPhase

Then the only necessary changes for it to work with stdenv.mkDerivation would be the inclusion of installFlags = [ "PREFIX=$(out)" ]; to communicate where the package should be installed with nix.

Unique qualities of Nixpkgs' Stdenv

Wrapped C Compiler

stdenv exposes a wrapped compiler to help communicate nix-specific to the compiler without having to rely on the upstream maintainer to expose such allowances in configuration. For example, let's assume that a package doesn't officially support MacOS, so all testing and building occurs with Linux + GCC. Trying to package this for MacOS might be difficult because the logic may call gcc directly, and assume