Arch Linux Install for Beginners (Guide)

Arch Linux is notorious for being difficult to install and use, so here’s an install guide for beginners!

This video will show you how to install Arch Linux in a virtual machine.

Introduction

This guide is meant to be as simple as it technically can be so that beginners can understand the basic process as deeply as possible. Once you understand everything in this guide, you should graduate to the Arch Wiki‘s guide for a more complete process.

There are many reasons why a person might want to use Arch as a Linux distribution. Personally, I use it because I like to know exactly what is on my system and where for performance reasons. This is much easier on a lightweight distro like Arch, rather than something that would come with lots of software that I don’t use (aka. bloatware), like most installations of Ubuntu. Don’t get me wrong, Ubuntu is great for beginners and I use it often too, but for different reasons.

Another great reason to experiment with Arch is the fact that it is so hands-on. The installation process is, for the most part, manual. Doing these kinds of things, difficult as they may be, can give the user a greater understanding of how their computer and operating system work.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll just be installing Arch on a virtual machine. This is much easier because it rules out any hardware related troubleshooting that we might have to do on a real computer. I’m using a basic, default VM configuration with 8GB of storage in VirtualBox.

We won’t check the signature of the download, configure swap space, etc. for the sake of simplicity. These measures are HIGHLY recommended if you are installing a system for the purposes of about anything beyond testing or messing around.

Boot the Arch Linux Install Image

Here is the Arch Linux boot menu, as you should see it from your VM or screen.

Boot up the Arch Linux Image and hit enter to select “Boot Arch Linux.”

You might notice here that there is no menu entry for “Install OS” like there would be for most Linux distributions like Ubuntu or CentOS. The installation for this distribution is manual, for the most part. There will be no clicking through menus or looking at fancy graphics, at least for now.

Creating the Disk Partition

It is crucial for this part of the installation that you accurately identify the disks connected to your device. The easiest way to do this is by disk space. For example, I would not write to a device with 1.5gb of space when I intend to write to my virtual SSD, which, in this case, has a capacity of exactly 8gb. Any changes you make could be permanent, so double or triple check that you know what you’re doing as you do it.

If possible, you should also disconnect any storage devices that aren’t needed. This way, the only devices connected will be the disk used to install Arch and the hard drive. You can always reconnect other devices to configure them once the main installation has finished. This is just good policy in general, if you ask me.

Use the following cfdisk command to begin configuring the main storage device.

root@archiso ~ # cfdisk /dev/sda

Seeing as this device has not been previously configured, cfdisk prompts us to select a disk label type. We will select the “dos” label option and continue.

This part is easy. Just create a new partition, going through all of the default options by pressing enter. This should leave you with one partition, /dev/sda1. Last, select the bootable option and write all changes to the disk.

Most guides on installing Arch will tell you to create a partition for swap space. This, essentially, provides a safety net for you if you run out of RAM. This is not technically a requirement for installing Arch, however, so we will skip it purely for the sake of simplicity. Please, keep in mind that this would be totally unacceptable for any enterprise environment. Instead, we’ll opt to create one single partition for the disk.

Configuring the Partition

Next, we create a filesystem on our new partition and mount it to /mnt.

root@archiso ~ # mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda1
root@archiso ~ # mount /dev/sda1 /mnt

Package Installation

Once the filesystem is mounted, we can install the base components of Arch and the Grub bootloader. We do this with pacstrap.

root@archiso ~ # pacstrap /mnt base grub

Once the base packages have been installed on /mnt, we can continue. Generate an fstab file based on the current mount configuration with this genfstab command.

root@archiso ~ # genfstab -U /mnt > /mnt/etc/fstab

Now we can install and configure grub, but not before changing the root directory.

root@archiso ~ # arch-chroot /mnt
root@archiso ~ # grub-install /dev/sda
root@archiso ~ # grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

Congratulations! Your virtual, minimal Arch installation is complete. You may now reboot your system and select “Boot existing OS” and run Arch. Note that the only user that exists currently is root, with no password.

Additional Actions

While your new Arch installation may technically be considered complete, there are a number of actions that you may want to take in order to build a workable system. Here are a few ideas.