How to install Arch Linux

On top of a suitable computer, a stable internet connection is required to install Arch Linux. Setup can be achieved by following prompts and is made somewhat more difficult by a lack of graphic aids. A desktop environment can be optionally added after installing Arch Linux.

Once installed and figured out, Arch Linux offers users more possibilities than many other Linux server distributions. Although the system has a very minimalist structure, it can be used with numerous extensions and therefore customized and individualized as desired. There remains a somewhat larger hurdle to overcome before reaching this point, however. The minimalist approach also means Arch Linux does not have any graphic installation and configurations aids. For inexperienced users in particular, this makes the first steps quite complicated at first glance. Here, we explain all the steps required to install Arch Linux from preparation to final setup.

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The requirements for installing Arch Linux

Before you get started, it is worth taking a look at the system requirements needed to install Arch Linux. Your computer must be x86-64 compatible, have a secure and stable internet connection, and have a USB drive with a storage capacity of at least 2 GB. You will also need at least 512 MB of RAM and 1 GB of storage. However, 2 GB of RAM and at least 20 GB of memory are recommended to install Arch Linux smoothly and for regular use later on.

Create a backup before installing Arch Linux

Installing Arch Linux will delete all the data on your computer and on the current operating system. For this reason, you should either use a computer where this won’t be a problem, use a virtual machine, or create a backup for Linux or Windows. Use an external hard disk for this. Get started only when you are sure that installing Arch Linux can’t lead to any loss of sensitive data.

Arch Linux download

The first step is to download the installation image. On the Linux Arch download page you will find an ISO file which you should save on a bootable USB stick. Alternatively, you can burn the file onto a blank DVD. Make sure you download the latest version and only download it from the official site.

Then, restart your computer and select the stick in the BIOS as the boot drive. How you get into the BIOS depends on the computer’s manufacturer. In many cases, the [F2] key is the button to press. Otherwise, you can find the right key or combination of keys in the manufacturer’s manual. In the BIOS, access the boot menu, select “Boot Arch Linux (x86_64)”, save this change and then boot the program from the USB stick. You are now ready to install Arch Linux.

Create partitions and delete the hard disk

To install the system properly, you first need to create partitions and then embed them. At the outset you have two drives: on the one hand, your computer’s hard disk and, on the other hand, the Arch Linux installation medium. To partition, proceed as follows:

  1. First, select “Boot Arch Linux (x86_64)”.
  2. The easiest way to create partitions is to use a program like cfdisk. Start by entering the name as a command.
  3. Now select “dos” for the MBR partition style. Alternatively, you can select “gpt”, “sgi” or “sun” under “Select label type”. If you have several hard disks, you need to choose the right one.
  4. Now start cfdisk via “cfdisk /dev/sda”. If your hard disk has a different name, you need to replace the part “/dev/sda” accordingly. This stands for the name of your hard disk.
  5. Now you can see whether the hard disk is empty. If it isn’t, you can delete it by clicking “Delete”.

Create a swap partition

If the hard disk is empty, first create a swap partition that will be used as RAM for Arch Linux.

  1. To do this, go to “New” at the bottom left and press [Enter].
  2. Then select “Primary” and, again, confirm with [Enter].
  3. Now type a number in MB and confirm that too – 1024 corresponds to 1 GB, 2048 2 GB and so on. Your swap partition should be twice, or even three times, the size of your RAM. With 2 GB RAM, you would choose 4096 MB (equivalent to 4 x 1024).
  4. Now select “Quit” to end the process.

Create the main partition

The main partition will later become the storage space for your actual operating system and other data. Create it as follows:

  1. Select the “Pri/Log Free Space” partition.
  2. Go back to “New” and press [Enter].
  3. Now select “Primary” and confirm your selection.
  4. Check the size of the partition under “Size type”. This value should correspond to your total memory minus the swap partition.
  5. Now go to “Bootable” at the bottom left and confirm the selection.
  6. Then select “Write” (second option from the right), then “yes” and press [Enter].
  7. Now quit cfdisk by clicking on “Quit”.

Create the file system and embed the partitions

Finally, create the file system and embed the two partitions. To do this, first format your primary partition with the following command:

mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda2

If you have chosen a different name for your primary partition, change the entry accordingly.

Now embed the formatted partition. The command for this is:

mount /dev/sda2 /mnt

This way you can use the partition as a drive.

For the next step, insert a swap file in the swap partition. To do this, use the following commands and confirm each with [Enter]:

mkswap /dev/sda1
swapon /dev/sda1

Install Arch Linux: Basic System and Settings

Now you can get started with actually installing Arch Linux. To load the base system, you must be connected to the internet. Although this can also be done using WLAN, an Ethernet connection is more secure and therefore recommended in this case.

Install the base system

To install Arch Linux, enter the following:

pacstrap /mnt base base-devel

Confirm. The Arch Linux installation will now be carried out. This can take up to 30 minutes depending on your internet connection.

Create an fstab

Create an fstab with UUIDs so you can specify where drives are mounted in the directory. The right command is:

genfstab -UP /mnt > /mnt/etc/fstab

Set the root password

Now open the chroot access to make further settings. The appropriate command is this one:

arch-chroot /mnt

Here you can now change your root password, for example.

Change the language, keyboard layout, and time zone

You can also set the language at this point via the system configuration. This is the correct command for American English:

echo LANG=en_US.UTF-8 > /etc/locale.conf

The right commands for keyboard layout and local time zone are:

echo KEYMAP=en-latin1 > /etc/vconsole.conf
In -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/Chicago /etc/localtime

Create archive

You need an archive for all files that are used when starting the system. You create these initramfs like this:

mkinitcpio -p linux

Install bootloader

You need a boot loader to install Arch Linux. A popular and secure variant is the Grand Unified Bootloader (GRUB). You can get this by using this command:

pacman -S grub os-prober

To install, type this the next time you boot:

grub-install /dev/sda

Then create a configuration file:

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

Complete the Arch Linux installation

You have now successfully completed the Arch Linux installation and can use the base system by entering this command:

exit > umount /dev/sda2 > reboot

If you want to continue using the system via the command line, this is not an issue and – at this point – you have finished installing Arch Linux. You can also set up another desktop environment, however. There are various options for this – other than Gnome, LXDE, and Budgie are supported.

Conclusion: Installing Arch Linux is easier than expected

Linux certainly knows simpler systems than Arch Linux. However, once the installation is done, you get a system that gives you a lot of possibilities to customize. For beginners, other distributions may be more suitable at first glance, but once you have familiarized yourself and understood Arch Linux from installation to configuration to regular maintenance, this will also help you with other distributions. A large community is also available for all questions about Arch Linux.