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My first arch install

With Antergos gone, it's time to install arch from scratch!

2019-05-29 4 minutes


I've been an arch user for many years, and a linux user for even longer, but I've never installed arch from scratch. I was an Antergos user for many years, but after its demise, I needed an alternative. In a previous post, I spoke of attempting to install vanilla arch from scratch on my laptop. As I write this, it works well, really well. Everything installed correctly, complete with EFI boot, encrypted partitions and sleep state.

Speaking to those who have installed arch before, they say "oh, it's simple" and "it only takes like 20 minutes". Both those statements are wrong! To go from booting into an arch ISO to a login shell of a remotely usable system took around 3 hours, and countless browser tabs. I hit a lot of hurdles which, in hindsight, I definitely should have seen coming, and almost certainly already knew. But if they tripped me up, they'll almost certainly have tripped someone else up.

Gotchas

So here's my 1 stop shop of the things which caught me up during the install and setup process. Whilst I did this install on my [XPS 15], it's all pretty generic.

Use a wired network

For someone who's never had to configure a network interface manually from the terminal, it's quite a scary thing to get a wireless network working. In contrast, a wired network just worked (once the dhcpcd service is started), even using a sketchy type-c adapter.

The wired network was both more stable, came up faster, and had a faster network speed than a wireless one, which is critical when doing an OS install. Network cutting out basically means restarting the pacstrap step again, which can be annoying on a 3MB/s connection.

Set your keyboard layout

I use a standard UK-ISO layout, which isn't the default on the arch installer. If you're like me, and don't use US-ANSI, you'll need to change it. For me it was as simple as loadkeys uk, but consult the arch wiki for details.

Your AUR helper may need to be manually installed

Many applications I use are installed from the AUR, it's the main reason I switched to arch in the first place. To my knowledge, there are no AUR helpers available in any of the default repos. Antergos provided yay, my AUR tool of choice, in their additional repo. Because Antergos is no more, and I don't want to install a package from a deprecated repo, I had to install it manually using makepkg.

The yay git repository has instructions on how to do this, but it's quite literally 3 commands!

After this, yay will update itself from the AUR package once an update is available.

Set your root password

The arch installer doesn't have a root password, and is set to auto-login. The resulting arch install also doesn't have a root password by default, but won't automatically log you in, for obvious reasons. Before rebooting, set a root password, just in case!

Fortunately, if you do forget to set a password, you can just reboot into the arch ISO, re-mount your partitions, and use arch-chroot to enter your install, and set a password from there. The installation process just taught you how to mount the partitions properly, so you should be well versed at it!

base-devel

Most of the guides I saw for installing arch simply said to install the base package group. Originally I took this advise, thinking base-devel contained things I didn't need to do kernel-level development on the OS. I was wrong.

Whilst base-devel does contain many developer-related packages, such as gcc and make, it also contains some important system utilities, namely sudo, file, which and grep. You can see the full list of packages here, but changes are you want most of these, so just install it.

Antergos tweaks

Antergos makes many tweaks compared to a standard arch installation. Not only do many of the packages in the antergos repo contain patched versions with modified default configurations and code, but many of the default configuration files are modified to yield a better user experience.

Xsession was a particularly painful example. The Antergos patched version of Xsession forcefully set the value of $QT_QPA_PLATFORM, which interfered with my styling changes. My dotfiles now contain a patch to remove this. You can read more about how I style QT here.

Useful references

If you're going to install arch for yourself, I highly recommend reading up on how the installation works. If there's a guide on how to do it for your device, even better!

For my install, there were a couple of sites I used in particular which were useful in installing:

Next

Once the installation was complete, it was as simple as cloning my dotfiles, and waiting for a complete system. There were a couple of issues with that, but mostly because of packages previously installed with Antergos, which I now had to explicitly install.

1 machine down, 3 to go...

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