Discover, install and try a new Linux distribution: archlinux

25 Dec 2009 at 00:00:00 - 4 comment(s)

You are not using Linux yet or maybe you are but a different linux distribution. Maybe you are using ubuntu? This post is done for you. You are about to discover and learn about the best linux distribution ever. Archlinux might not be the easiest distribution to install but with this complete guide, it will. Archlinux let you have the entire control on every part of your system.

Install archlinux

Let's start with the beginning, the first thing you need to do is to get archlinux and so you have to download archlinux on the official website.

Some difficulty to choose what you should download? No problem, I am here to help. I personally choose a 32 bits version. The reason is that proprietary graphic cards drivers were available only for 32 bits but not 64bits. This is not the case anymore so you can choose 64bits. In the HTTP/FTP Download section click on http next to (in Any) or follow this link. Click on latest. If you need to boot on a usb key, choose a .img and on a CD, choose .iso. I'd take the netinstall which means you'll pretty much download everything from internet. As I write these lines, the latest version available is 2009.08 which means, as you can guess, that it has been released in August 2009. I'd go for an iso which you burn on a CD if you want to boot from a USB key then I invite you to visit the archlinux wiki on how to install from a USB flash drive. If you've followed what I said you should have downloaded archlinux-2009.08-netinstall-i686.iso (if this link doesn't work then go here)

That's the last time you'll need to do this as in the future you'll just do an update to get the latest stuff. So now you've downloaded archlinux, you put it on your USB key or you burnt a CD, restart your computer and boot the installation (don't forget to make sure your BIOS is configured to boot from the CD).

You get the grub boot screen

You need to choose Boot Arch Linux Live CD (if it doesn't work you reboot and next time you choose the second one: Boot Arch Linux Live CD [Legacy IDE, no SATA])

At the end of the boot, you'll get this screen:

You type root and press Enter

If your keyboard is not english and you wish to change the layout

loadkeys fr

To start the installation:


You get a welcome screen

Press Enter to get to the next step, you get to a menu where you can see all the different step of the installation process

Select Source

So press Enter to choose Select Source. If you've chosen the netinstall as I said earlier, select:


It's telling you that you can load your ethernet module manually in an other terminal, you probably don't need to to that so just press Enter (if you need to meaning the next step is not working and you don't know how, leave a comment and I'll tell you).

Press Enter again to choose Setup Network, you'll see something like the following

You might have more than eth0 if you have more than 1 network interface. It's easier to use your ethernet rather than the wireless as you'd have to configure it manually something I'll explain in an other post. After you've selected the interface that connects you to internet you press Enter. You are asked if you want to use DHCP so you probably answer Yes here. It means that your router will give you an ip address automatically which is the case for most of the people and if it's not then you probably know about this stuff and I don't need to explain :-). You get the following message: The network is configured and you press Enter. You then do step 2: Choose Mirror. Your choice should depend on where you live. For people from UK, I personally use because it's pretty fast. If you are from Belgium you'd use and from France (note that the don't work anymore). Anyway you can visit the different address in a web browser to check if the mirror you select is working. If it's not then choose an other one and if you don't try in a web browser you'll see in a next step that the mirror doesn't work so you'll come back to this step to choose an other one.

Set clock

The next step is Set clock (you could skip this step), nothing really to say there as it's pretty obvious what to do.

Prepare Hard Drive(s)

Now you have to Prepare Hard Drive(s). Choose 2. Manually Partition Hard Drives. If you have more than 1 available disk you need to choose the one you want to do the installation on otherwise you'll have the following and you'll just press Enter:

You'll then choose the disk you do the installation so in my case /dev/sda and I just have to press Enter. You get into cfdisk, pretty austere isn't it?

No rocket science there, you just go on New, choose Primary then the size of the partition. I personally never create a swap partition but I will for this post as most of people do. So this first creation we create will be the swap. That's what is used when your system doesn't have any more memory available meaning you're using all the RAM. That's why I don't create swap because with 2Gb of RAM I never run out of memory and nowadays you'd get 3Gb or 4Gb when you buy a new computer so even less chance you run out of memory. Anyway let's choose 1Gb there so type 1000. Then press Enter to choose Beginning (beginning of the hard drive is faster than the rest). Select Free Space and go on New to create the partition where the system will be. A good size is in my opinion 10-15Gb so you'll type 15000. Finally I create a partition where I will have my data (pictures, music, movies, games stuff like that). You can create an other partition if you plan to have Windows. For the first partition we created (for the SWAP), you need to change the filesystem type so after selecting the first one you go on Type in the menu and press enter then press enter again, you have to put a number, you put 82 (it's 82 by default so you probably just have to press Enter again). Finally you select Write and press Enter. You need to type yes and press Enter. I end up with the following:

You choose Quit, choose DONE, press Enter and we go for the next step: Manually Configure block devices, filesystems and mountpoints. You'll select each partition one after each other and answer Yes to the following: Do you want to have this filesystem re(created)? If not make sure there is already a filesystem!

Here is the list of the filesystem you can choose from:

So for the swap partition (/dev/sda1 in my case), you choose swap obviously and for the 2 others I'll choose ext3 (if you want to use windows, I'd do the same as with a little software, windows can read/write it which is useful for your data partition). No need to enter additional opts so just choose OK. For the 2nd one you'll be asked to choose a mount point so you select / and press Enter. For the 3rd one choose custom and type:


Finally choose DONE, you'll get a Warning message telling you that you didn't choose a separate /boot filesystem so you select continue, ignoring the issues. Filesystems are then created so you wait for a little while until you get: Partitions were successfully created. We finish this step by choosing 5 Return to Main Menu

Select Packages

This step will be quick as I am not going to go into details, just keep what's selected by default and press Enter. What's selected by default is pretty much the bare minimum. If something is missing, you'll add it later.

Install Packages

Same thing, nothing to do there, you just wait until all the packages are downloaded and installed. It can take a while depending on your internet connection. If you didn't choose the netinstall, it will be quicker obviously. If ever the download/install fails, you can go in a new console by pressing alt+f2 then you login with root and you type ps ax, find pacman and kill the process by typing kill 123 (123 is the number in the left column, the process id). If it failed it's probably because the mirror you've chosen has got some problem so you should go back to Select Source and then do the Select Packages and Install Packages again. Once you're done, you are back on the menu for the next step.

Configure System

You are asked if you want to keep the network settings you've used during the installation so you can say Yes as it works. You have to choose a text editor, I use vi but it might be bit difficult if you don't know it and as you probably want to finish the install rather than learning how to use vi, you can use nano.

You can go through each file to configure different things. In rc.conf, you can change the timezone (which you don't have to do if you already did that in the Set Clock step). You can modify the keymap, the hostname and what daemons is launched at startup. You don't need to modify any of this now. We'll come back to rc.conf to add some stuff we want to run at startup.

You have to press ctrl+x to exit a file. If you modified it, it will ask you to save it. You normally don't need to modify any of the other files. Just choose Root-Password to choose a password for the root account (it's the administrator account). Finally choose Done. You have to wait for a little while. You're back on the main menu for the last step.

Install Bootloader

There is only grub if you've chosen to keep the default selection of packages. It will ask you to review the configuration of grub but what has been generated automatically is fine so you can just exit by pressing ctrl+x. Then keep /dev/sda as the boot device where the GRUB bootloader will be installed (it's the MBR not a partition). That's it, you're done.

Exit Install

Just press Enter, type reboot and press Enter. The computer restarts and will boot archlinux. Don't forget to remove the CD or the USB key. You get on grub first, you just go for the first one called simply: Arch Linux.

Install a desktop manager and essential applications

So you get there:

And now what? You probably want to use your linux as a Desktop so you'll need a lot more than a command line interface. First thing is to login with the user root and the password you've chosen earlier.

Create a new user

So far, we just have a root account on the machine and it's not good to use the root account for using the machine. It should be used only for administrative task. Conclusion: first thing to do is to create a user with the following command:

useradd -m marc

Set the password of the user:

passwd marc

You need your user to be able to do different things such as connect to the wireless, listen music, use the webcam and for all this, your user needs to belong to different groups that give it more rights on the machine, so to make your new user belongs to more groups you type:

usermod -G users,audio,video,network,optical,storage,marc marc

optical is for being able to use the CD-ROM drive, storage is for when you plug USB devices, video is for the webcam. We'll use this user later on. Now we need to continue with the installation of our system.


The package manager of archlinux is called pacman, you can use it through command line only. You use it to install, update, remove your different softwares. Here are the essential commands you need to use pacman.

To update your system (you can do it now), y is to synchronize the package databases and u is to update so to do both in the same time you use the option -yu, S stands for sync:

pacman -Syu

To search for something in the package databases, you will do for example:

pacman -Ss gdm

To install a new package:

pacman -S gdm

To remove a package:

pacman -R gdm

To remove a package and its dependencies:

pacman -Rc gdm

To get help:

pacman -help
pacman -S -help

One last thing, you can change the mirrors used by pacman by editing the file /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist
On top you have the mirror used during the installation. I don't like this much personally so I remove this line and uncomment the mirrors I want to use.

We're now ready to continue.

Install all the essentials/must have

I am using Gnome so we'll install gnome here and the things I believe essential that comes with gnome. If you want more information on what I make you install, use pacman -Ss. You might find I'm bit hardcore because I choose myself exactly what I want to install but I'm not using this distribution for no reason. I do it in multiple steps but you'll probably want to install all of them anyway.

Install vim (vi improved)

pacman -S vim

So to have a usable desktop manager, you type (xf86-video-vesa is temporary, it's just to get things running then you'll get the right stuff for you graphic card):

pacman -S gnome-session gnome-desktop gdm gnome-panel metacity xorg-utils xf86-input-mouse xf86-video-vesa xf86-input-keyboard gnome-utils xorg-server xorg-fonts-100dpi xorg-fonts-75dpi gnome-themes gnome-icon-theme gnome-terminal gnome-control-center

To get the networkmanager (to choose a wireless network easily in gnome)

pacman -S networkmanager network-manager-applet

You need to edit your rc.conf in order it works fine next time you restart so with nano or vi

vi /etc/rc.conf

Few things about vi because I think vi is great and if you don't know how to use it, you can learn quickly. To insert something you press i to be in insertion mode, escape to exit it. You can use x to remove a character. Press 2 times d to delete a line. You can select by pressing v and then copy by pressing y or cut by pressing x. You paste by pressing p, you can paste before the current position by pressing shift + p. I think that's pretty much all you need to be comfortable. To go at the line 25 you type :25 and press enter. You can try ctrl+v it's pretty useful and shift+i after you've used ctrl+v on mutliple lines. Let's continue in the installation

So in this rc.conf file you should have the following at the end of the file:

DAEMONS=(syslog-ng dbus hal networkmanager fam alsa)

You don't have alsa installed yet (it's for the sound) so install it (the fashion is PulseAudio nowadays but I'm old fashion in regards of this :-)):

pacman -S alsa-utils gnome-alsamixer alsa-lib

After you've installed this, you can run the following to store the parameter of your sound (what's the volume you set so it keeps it when you restart the computer)

alsactl store

To start gnome now without restarting you need to run this commands (you actually only need dbus but you'll want to have hal, networkmanager and fam):

/etc/rc.d/dbus start
/etc/rc.d/hal start
/etc/rc.d/fam start
/etc/rc.d/networkmanager start

Finally run gdm


You'll get to this screen:


You click on your user, enter your password and log in. You've got the essential running, now you want the extra stuff.

If the keyboard is not in your language, you can change it when asked for your password on the bottom. Once you're in gnome you can go in the menu on top: System -> Preferences -> Keyboard and in the Layouts tab you click on Add to add your Layout then you select it as default and you can remove the one already there and finally click on Close.

Install the extra softwares

You probably want a web browser, an email client, skype, a file manager, an instant messaging client, a ftp client, a picture viewer, an image editor, a text editor, an office suite, a tool for easily compress/decompress files, a software to listen music and watch videos/movies. So here we go, all the stuff I personally use and I think are the best. Launch a terminal (in the menu on top: Applications -> Accesories -> Terminal or alt+f2 and type gnome-terminal) and identify as root:



pacman -S go-openoffice firefox evolution empathy gthumb gimp filezilla gedit file-roller rar zip unzip unrar bzip2 banshee mplayer gnome-mplayer

empathy is an instant messaging client that supports a lot of protocol. You need to install the protocol you want to use. You can do pacman -Ss telepathy to see what's available. For msn it's telepathy-butterfly.

Installing the graphic card

Probably the last difficult thing you need to get to work. I personally compile my kernel myself and I have a nvidia graphic card so I download the driver from nvidia website and install it manually. You need to exit gnome so restart your computer or type killall gdm-binary. Archlinux makes things easy for you and everything should work out of the box so if you have a nvidia graphic card you will do:

pacman -S nvidia

Or if you you have a ATI:

pacman -S xf86-video-radeonhd ati-dri

For Intel graphics chipsets

pacman -S intel-dri xf86-video-intel

Now you can launch gdm again and hopefully you'll have hardware acceleration working. If not leave me a comment and I'll solve the problem with you and add more things to this part.

Make it look pretty

So now you've got all the things installed but it doesn't look that great. For example the fonts look pretty bad so let's start by installing better ones:

pacman -S gsfonts ttf-msfonts freetype2 xorg-fonts-type1 xorg-fonts-misc ttf-bitstream-vera ttf-dejavu

Things will look better already. You can modify the look'n feel of your desktop by going in System -> Preferences -> Appearance. I let you discover by yourself what you can do there.

If you want to find themes, icons, backgrounds, vist

Add fancy stuff

Today linux offers great UI software such as compiz, avant-window-navigator or docky, screenlets, gnome-do. Let's install 2 of them: compiz and avant-window-navigator. I am currently no big fan of docky or gnome-do or screenlets but you can do some research on google to find more about them.

To install compiz

pacman -S compiz-core compiz-decorator-gtk fusion-icon ccsm compiz-fusion-plugins-main compiz-fusion-plugins-extra

You then start fusion icon (alt + f2 and you type fusion-icon) and you will see a new icon in the taskbar, right click on it and choose Settings manager. You can configure compiz the way you want. You can access this straight away by launching ccsm (alt+f2 and type ccsm)

You'll probably want to start this automatically when you start gnome. To do so System -> Preferences -> Startup applications

Click on the Add button and then complete as following:

To install avant-window-navigator

pacman -S avant-window-navigator

avant-window-navigator or in short awn, it's this:

About GDM

You probably want to start GDM at startup, to do so you need to edit /etc/inittab and need to have

x:5:once:/usr/sbin/gdm -nodaemon


That's it, you've installed archlinux and essential softwares for a Desktop computer. I hope this guide will help you to discover, install and try archlinux. To me, it is the best distribution out there as it gives you a total control over what you have on your computer plus scripts are easy to modify. Boot is fast. Packages are up to date, it is the first distribution to release the latest gnome all the time. There is nothing such as a new major version every 6 months. When a new version of a software is released it is packaged and you can get an update so you all the time have the latest.

If you need information about other things you can have a look at the archlinux wiki:

If there are software you don't find with pacman you can check to see if it's available.

Don't hesitate to ask questions in the comments


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