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Arch Linux is Tops In the Server Room

Playing Pacman with Arch Linux

  • January 13, 2011
  • By Akkana Peck
Linux server admins prefer lean, reliable, manageable Linux distributions, and Arch Linux is one of the best.
Seems like everybody's running Ubuntu these days. It's become the default Linux distribution. I run it myself on several machines.

But it's not perfect for everything. Linux is all about choice, and if you want something besides a standard system bogged down with all the bells and whistles, there are lots of choices.

For a straightforward, lightweight, command-line based Linux -- whether a server, an older desktop or laptop, or if you just want to learn the Linux command-line better -- it's hard to beat Arch Linux.

Installing

You can download an installer from ArchLinux.org. The "netinstall" image is the preferred route if you have a fast network connection. You can opt for "core image" if you need to be able to install offline and update your packages later.

The Arch CD or USB stick is a "live" version of Arch -- but with a minimal command-line system, not a full desktop. Log in as root (no password) to run an install. Then run /arch/setup, which will walk you through a basic install.

If you downloaded the net install version of Arch, be alert in Step 1, "Select Source": it will offer you the choice of using the CD, but don't choose it: it will fail with "/src/core/pkg is missing".

The next few steps let you partition the disk with cfdisk, if you don't already have partitions set up; if you do, you can skip this step and jump to "Manage filesystems", where you'll choose which partition to use. When you're done, arrow down to DONE and hit return.

After that you get to choose packages. Don't stress too much over this stage; you can always add more after you're up and running.

Configuration

After the base packages are installed, you'll have a chance to edit your system configuration files. One of the joys of administering Arch is that most of the important configuration is centralized in a single file: /etc/rc.conf. From here you can set details like hostname, time zone, network configuration, and what services you want to run. The syntax is very simple, and there are examples for almost everything.

Once you're done configuring, it's time to reboot into your new system.

Unlike an Ubuntu, Redhat or SuSE install, Arch installs only a very basic Linux: no desktop, no X, no Gnome. It's your choice whether to install any of those.

What that means in practice is that once you get done installing, you'll be presented with a console login prompt. So how do you get all that other stuff installed?

Before you do anything else, refresh the package manager:

# pacman -Sy

Pacman

Okay, I admit it -- one of the things that I love about Arch Linux is that its packaging program has such a great name: pacman.

Pacman is as easy to use as apt-get or yum once you learn the important flags:

  • pacman -Ss packagename searches for a package.
  • pacman -S packagename installs it.
  • pacman -Syu pulls in any updates or bug fixes you need -- it's like apt-get update followed by apt-get dist-upgrade.

If you need to find individual files, you can install the pkgfile program, similar to Ubuntu's apt-file.

Installing X

If you want to run a desktop, you'll need the xorg package:

# pacman -S xorg
You'll also need a window manager or desktop. There are gnome and kde packages, of course, plus an assortment of lightweight window managers, including my favorite, openbox (a popular choice among the Arch community). Whatever you choose, install it the same way you installed xorg, with pacman -S.

Then start X with startx ... or follow examples on the Arch wiki Xorg page.

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