Shortcut your Arch installation with Architect Linux or Arch Anywhere

Set 'em UP

Article from Issue 185/2016
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Arch's manual installation maximizes flexibility and teaches you about your system, but if you're in a hurry, you might want to try a Live installer like Architect Linux or Arch Anywhere.

Arch deliberately does without a graphical installation routine [1] in order to provide maximum flexibility and ensure a learning experience for the user. Arch derivatives like Antergos and Manjaro take a more user-friendly approach, but they have their own quirks: Antergos comes with additional repositories, through which it provides its own themes, as well as the package management front end Pamac, whereas Manjaro replaces the official repositories entirely with its own sources.

The best way to get a completely clean Arch base is to use the manual installation, which takes several steps but is certainly possible for most experienced Linux users, thanks to the good documentation [2]. If you're looking for an easier path, the Live installer systems Architect and Arch Anywhere offer a menu-driven installation option.

Setting Up Arch

Arch is known for its tech-heavy "manual" installation, and if you're accustomed to the latest generation of GUI installers, Arch will certainly seem rustic. However, with the help of the thorough Arch wiki and the elegant Pacman package manager, you just might find that setting up Arch is easier than you thought it would be.

The Arch project provides a 701MB bootable image you can use to jump-start the installation process [3]. The boot image does not provide a full version of Arch, but it contains a minimal system you can use to launch the installation.

The Arch wiki offers four suggestions for how to start the installation process:

  • Write the image on flash media or optical disc, then boot from it.
  • Mount the image on a server machine and have clients boot it over the network.
  • Mount the image in a running Linux system and install Arch from a chroot environment.
  • Set up a virtual machine and install Arch as a guest system.

After you boot the Live system, the Arch project recommends you take care of a few details before you install. The process reveals the Arch aesthetic: These pre-installation items are routine tasks for experienced Linux users, although a beginner will find them perplexing. These tasks are treated as separate configuration duties and are not considered part of the installation:

  • Set the keyboard layout (if it is different from the US)
  • Connect to the Internet (Pacman grabs packages from Internet repositories, so you'll need an Internet connection to proceed)
  • Update the system clock
  • Partition the disks
  • Format the partitions
  • Mount the partitions

If you are not familiar with these pre-installation tasks, consult the Arch wiki. Separating these items from the installer and including them as manual tasks adds steps for the user, but notice how it also brings a kind of technical clarity to the process – everything you do has a single, specific purpose, and the installation itself is distilled to the very simple task of installing the packages.

Edit the /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist file and select a download mirror. The Arch developers recommend using a regional mirror for more efficient download.

Arch provides the pacstrap script to install the Arch base packages on the system. Enter the command

# pacstrap /mnt base

to launch the installation. According to the Arch wiki, you can add other packages or package groups to the installation by appending their names to the pacstrap command.

Configuring

Arch also has a post-installation to-do list that includes many items that most installers performed automatically. Again, the user takes more steps but stays close to the system and maximizes control.

The configuration steps outlined in the wiki include more tasks that will be familiar to experienced Linux users and possibly intimidating to beginners. You'll need to generate an fstab file using Arch's own genfstab command:

# genfstab -p /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab

Then chroot into the new system:

# arch-chroot /mnt

Additional tasks include:

  • setting the hostname
  • setting the time zone
  • defining the locale and setting locale preferences
  • adding console keymap and font preferences

You'll also need to configure networking for the new system, set a root password, configure an initial ramdisk in /etc/mkinitcpio.conf, and install a bootloader.

Exit the chroot environment and reboot. Remember to remove the installation medium, and use the root account to log in to the new system.

Alternative Installers

As you can imagine, more than a few Arch developers have considered the question of how to make Arch a bit more convenient. One option, of course, is to use a more user friendly Arch derivative such as Manjaro or Antergos.

Another option is to use a Live system with an on-board installer. The Live Linux Evo/Lution used to provide an installer for Arch that included a graphical installation routine. However, the Evo/Lution development lost some steam and interest dwindled [4]. Luckily, other contenders arrived to fill the void, including Architect Linux and Arch Anywhere.

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