Travis Horn
Travis Horn

Travis Horn

Installing Arch Linux

Installing Arch Linux

Travis Horn's photo
Travis Horn
·Dec 27, 2021·

14 min read

Lately I've been experimenting with more customizable distributions of Linux. My only previous experience with Linux was Ubuntu. It's a nice distribution for new users. The installation is incredibly easy to follow nowadays. It comes with a lot of cool features and utilities and basically works "out-of-the-box." However, not everyone needs those nice features and built-in tools. For power users who want a more customizable experience with less bloat, a smaller and more configurable distribution can be a better choice.

That's where I was when I started to look at Arch. From the very beginning, everything is under your control. You get to decide everything about the installation. You get to decide what tools to install. The features you install are so much more configurable than the more mainstream defaults in Ubuntu.

To be clear, there are many distributions that have similar levels of control. Gentoo is another one that comes to mind. But Arch is the one I landed on.

However, all of that control comes at the cost of a more difficult installation and setup. I'm going to document everything I've done to install and set up Arch to my needs. If you're new to this like I was, follow along and see how I did it. I hope that, along the way, you'll discover the basics and start to customize your installation like I did.

In this article, I'll go through the whole installation process. In future articles, I'll talk about installing and using a window manager, status bar, terminal, and Vim.

A big thanks goes to DistroTube on YouTube. I actually started by following his Arch Linux Installation Guide 2020. This article follows that guide pretty closely. Some of the steps are modified to match my experience with the process.

Download the ISO

You will need to download a copy of Arch Linux first so you can load it onto some media and install it.

Go to archlinux.org/download

Downloading via BitTorrent is recommended as it spreads the data transfer across multiple peers. It can also be faster. If you have a client like qBittorrent installed, consider downloading via BitTorrent and keeping the torrent seeded for a while after downloading so you can help others just like you download it in the future.

To download via BitTorrent, click Magnet link for 2021.12.01. The version might be different if you are reading this a little later after this article was published. That's okay.

If you aren't able or don't want to download via BitTorrent, scroll down to the HTTP Direct Downloads section and find a mirror in your geographical location. Once you find it, click on it.

Click on archlinux-2021.12.01-x86_64.iso to download the ISO. Again, the version number might be different if you're reading this a little later after this article was published. That's okay.

Prepare the installation media

If you only want to run Arch inside a virtual machine on your existing host machine, you can skip this section. Otherwise, keep reading to learn how to create a bootable flash drive with the Arch ISO loaded.

Go to rufus.ie

Under the Download section, click Rufus 3.17 (the version number might be different).

Once the download completes, run the installer and follow its instructions to install Rufus.

Plug a USB flash drive into your machine. Warning: The contents of this flash drive will be erased in the next few steps. Make a copy if you don't want to lose anything.

Start Rufus

Under Device, select the flash drive you want to use.

Under Boot selection, click SELECT. Navigate to the Arch ISO you downloaded in the last section and click Open.

Click START

Once Rufus is finished, remove the flash drive from your machine and plug it into the target machine on which you want to install Arch. Make sure the machine is off.

Set up a virtual machine

If you are installing Arch to a physical machine, you can skip this step. Otherwise, keep reading to learn how to set up a virtual machine using VirtualBox.

If you don't already have VirtualBox installed, go to virtualbox.org and click on Download VirtualBox 6.1 (the version number might be different).

Click on Windows hosts. If you're not using Windows, you can probably still follow this guide, but you'll probably have to change a few steps.

Once the download finishes, run the installer and follow its instructions to install VirtualBox.

Start VirtualBox

Click New to create a new virtual machine

Give it any name you like. For example, Arch Linux.

Under Type, choose Linux

Under Version, choose Arch Linux (64-bit) and click Next

For Memory size, enter 4096 MB or more and click Next

Under Hard disk, leave Create a virtual hard disk now selected and click Create

Under Hard disk file type, leave VDI selected and click Next

Under Storage on physical hard disk, leave Dynamically allocated selected and click Next

Under File location and size, select where you want the hard disk file to be stored on your physical machine. The default may be fine.

For the size, enter 10 GB or more. You'll probably be okay will less, but I like to be safe. If you plan to actually use this machine instead of just testing it out, you'll probably want much more.

Click Create

With the new virtual machine selected, click Settings

Click System

On the Motherboard tab, check the box for Enable EFI

Go to the Processor tab

Change Processor(s) to 2 or more. You might be fine with 1, but I like to be safe.

Click Display

Under Video Memory, enter 128 MB

Click Storage

Select the empty optical drive. The icon looks like a CD

Under Attributes, click the CD icon next to Optical Drive

Click Choose a disk file...

image.png

Select the Arch ISO you downloaded earlier and click Open

Click OK

Install the Operating System

Once you have a machine (physical or virtual) ready to go with the installation media inserted, you're ready to boot it up and start installing.

Boot up the machine. In VirtualBox, you can do this by making sure the virtual machine is selected and clicking Start

On a physical machine, you may need to press a specific key on the keyboard to access the boot menu. Watch your screen for instructions. If you miss it, you can restart the machine and try again. The goal is to get to the boot menu and boot from the inserted USB drive that has the Arch installation ISO loaded.

On VirtualBox, the virtual machine will automatically boot into the Arch installation.

Make sure Arch Linux install medium (x86_64, UEFI) is selected and press Enter. This option is also selected automatically if you don't make a selection with 15 seconds.

Once the machine is booted, you'll see a prompt labeled root@archiso ~#

Set the keymap

The default keymap is us and is probably the correct choice if you use a keyboard made for use in the United States. If you use that, you can skip this step. Otherwise keep reading to learn how to change your keymap.

List available keymaps

ls /usr/share/kbd/keymaps/**/*.map.gz | less

Keep pressing Enter to scroll through the list. When you find your keymap, write down its name. For example, if you use a German keymap, it's labeled de-latin1. Once you have your keymap written down, press q to get back to a prompt.

Load your keymap (replace de-latin1 with your actual keymap)

loadkeys de-latin1

Check internet access and time

Make sure you have internet access by pinging a highly available domain like Google

ping google.com

As long as some bytes are returned, you have internet access. Press Ctrl + c to stop pinging.

Synchronize your system clock

timedatectl set-ntp true
timedatectl status

Check that NTP service is active and System clock synchronized is yes

Partition the disk and generate the filesystem

View disk information

fdisk -l

If you're installing on a physical machine with your own setup of hard disks, you'll have to use your own judgement on how to partition the disk(s). If you're following along with this guide on VirtualBox, you'll most likely have two disks listed:

  • The 10 GiB disk (or whatever size you set it to during virtual machine setup)
  • The "loop" disk. Arch sets this up automatically. It's not a "real" disk. You can ignore it.

Make a note of the path of the 10 GiB disk. It's probably /dev/sda

image.png

Start fdisk to partition that disk. (replace /dev/sda with the path to your 10 GiB disk, or the disk you on which you want to install Arch)

fdisk /dev/sda

Type g and press Enter to create a new GPT disklabel

Add an EFI partition

Type n and press Enter to add a new partition

Press Enter to accept the default partition number of 1

Press Enter to accept the default first sector of 2048

Type +550M and press Enter to set the new partition's size to 550 MiB. This will be your EFI partition and is recommended to be this exact size.

Type t and press Enter to change the partition's type

Type 1 and press Enter to select EFI System as the type

Add a swap partition

Type n and press Enter to add a new partition

Press Enter to accept the default partition number

Press Enter to accept the default first sector

Type +2G and press Enter to set the new partition's size to 2 GiB. This is the swap partition and 2 GiB is a good size.

Type t and press Enter to change the partition's type

Press Enter to select the default partition number of 2

Type 19 and press Enter to select Linux swap as the type

Add the main partition

Type n and press Enter to add a new partition

Press Enter to accept the default partition number

Press Enter to accept the default first sector

Press Enter to select the default last sector. This will make the partition take up all the remaining space on the disk. Since this is the main filesystem partition, we don't need to change the partition type because it's already Linux filesystem

With all the partitions configured, type w and press Enter to write the partition table information to the disk and exit.

Make a FAT32 filesystem on the first partition (your EFI partition)

mkfs.fat -F32 /dev/sda1

Set up a swap partition on the second partition

mkswap /dev/sda2
swapon /dev/sda2

Make an EXT4 filesystem on the third (main) partition

mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda3

Mount the new partition

mount /dev/sda3 /mnt

Use pacstrap to install the base Arch operating system, the Linux kernel, and the firmware for Linux onto the mounted partition

pacstrap /mnt base linux linux-firmware

Generate the filesystem table

genfstab -U /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab

Change into the root directory of your new installation.

arch-chroot /mnt

The prompt should change to [root@archiso /]# to indicate you are now on the root of the mounted filesystem.

Install a text editor

Some of the next steps require editing text files. You'll have to install a text editor. This guide will use Nano but feel free to use another editor if you're more comfortable with one. I highly recommend Vim, but it can be tricky to use for a first-timer.

Install Nano

pacman -S nano

When asked to proceed with the installation, press Enter to accept the default of Y. pacman will always ask this. For the remainder of this guide, just press Enter each time you're presented with that question.

Set timezone, clock, locale, and hostname

List all available timezone regions

ls /usr/share/zoneinfo

Find the one that matches your region and write it down for later. For example, mine is America

List timezone cities in your region (replace America with your region)

ls /usr/share/zoneinfo/America

Find the city that matches your timezone. It may not be the actual city you live in. Instead, try to find a city that is in the same timezone and follows the same timezone rules as you. For example, mine is Chicago. Write this down for the next step

Create a link between your timezone and the localtime file. This sets your timezone. Replace America/Chicago with the region and city that you wrote down earlier

ln -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/Chicago /etc/localtime

Set the hardware clock to the system time

hwclock -w

Edit the locale generator file

nano /etc/locale.gen

Scroll down and find the line with your locale. For example, #en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8

The # indicates that this line is a "comment" that should be ignored. Since we want to actually use that locale, delete the # to "un-comment" the line.

Repeat for all locales you will use. Most people will probably only use one. Most US English speakers will use en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8

image.png

Press Ctrl + x to exit Nano. It will ask you if you want to save the file. Press y for Yes. It will ask for the file name. Press Enter to accept the default of /etc/locale.gen

Generate locales

locale-gen

Edit the hostname file. It probably doesn't exist, yet. That's okay.

nano /etc/hostname

Type the hostname you want to use for this machine. For example, arch

Exit and save the file

Edit the hosts file

nano /etc/hosts

There are already two lines in this file. Add the following three lines below them. Make sure to change arch to whatever hostname you saved in the steps earlier

127.0.0.1 localhost
::1       localhost
127.0.1.1 arch.localdomain arch

image.png

Exit and save the file

Create users, set passwords and privileges

Change the root user's password

passwd

Enter a strong and memorable password. For security reasons it won't appear like you're typing anything on screen. Simply press Enter when you're finished typing the password. Arch will ask you to type the password again for confirmation.

Create a new user. Replace travis below with your name or whatever username you want to primarily use

useradd -m travis

Change the new user's password

passwd travis

Again, choose a strong and memorable password. It should be different than the root user's password.

Add the user to specific groups with special privileges

usermod -aG wheel,audio,video,optical,storage travis

Repeat for as many users as you'd like to enable on this machine. You may consider leaving wheel off of the list for some users. Anyone added to the wheel group will essentially have system administrator privileges.

When you want to have root-level access while logged in as a non-root user, you'll use the sudo command. That command is not installed yet.

Install sudo

pacman -S sudo

Edit the sudoers file

EDITOR=nano visudo

Scroll down and find the following line

# %wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL

Un-comment that line by deleting the # at the beginning. Exit and save the file.

Install the boot manager

Install the GRUB boot manager installer and other necessary tools for booting

pacman -S grub efibootmgr

Make a new EFI boot directory and mount your EFI partition to it

mkdir /boot/EFI
mount /dev/sda1 /boot/EFI

Install GRUB

grub-install --target=x86_64-efi --bootloader-id=grub_uefi --recheck

Generate the GRUB configuration file

grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

Install other utilities

Install network manager and enable it

pacman -S networkmanager
systemctl enable NetworkManager

If you're using VirtualBox, install and enable the VirtualBox guest utilities

pacman -S virtualbox-guest-utils
systemctl enable vboxservice.service

Exit and shut down

Exit out of arch-chroot

exit

Unmount the live image

umount -l /mnt

Shut the machine down

shutdown now

If installing on a physical machine, unplug the USB flash drive and skip to the next section. Otherwise, keep reading to learn how to eject the Arch ISO in VirtualBox.

In VirtualBox, click Settings

Click Storage

Click to select the optical drive. It has the icon of a CD and may be named something like archlinux-2021.12.01-x86_64.iso

Under Attributes, click the icon of a CD and then click Remove Disc from Virtual Drive

image.png

Click OK

Boot up

Turn on the machine. If you're using VirtualBox, make sure the virtual machine is selected and click Start

In the GNU GRUB menu, make sure Arch Linux is selected and press Enter. If you don't make a selection within 5 seconds, this option will be selected automatically

Once you get to the login screen, enter the username and password you chose when installing the operating system.

Congratulations! You have a bare minimum installation of Arch Linux.

There's no GUI and almost no tools to use right now. That's what makes Arch great. From here, this machine can become anything. It doesn't assume anything. In the next few articles, I'll talk about installing, configuring, and using a window manager, status bar, terminal, and Vim.

If you're done with the machine for the day, you can shut it down with the same command we used earlier. But since you're not logged in as root, you'll need to use sudo

sudo shutdown now

As stated earlier, sudo lets a non-root user run root-level commands as long as they're part of the wheel group. Each session, sudo will ask you to re-enter your password as a security measure.


Keep an eye out for future articles in this series where I'll talk about installing and using a window manager, status bar, terminal, and Vim.

 
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