The Arch Way

You love tinkering with your computer. You've tried Ubuntu and Fedora, and they're good, but you feel something is not quite right. Maybe you don't like all those daemons loading on boot, or maybe you want to build your Linux desktop stack just how you want it? Perhaps you're completely new to Linux and want to learn exactly what makes a Linux workstation tick? It's time for you to try Arch Linux. Arch Linux is often called the binary Gentoo—an appropriate description. Arch gives you a full but simple command-line base to build on, but unlike Gentoo, Arch uses i686 or x86_64 optimized binary packages instead of source code.

This will not be a step-by-step guide on getting an Arch Linux desktop up and running. You can find that on Arch's fabulous wiki. Instead I'll share with you what separates Arch from other Linux distributions and what makes Arch one of the best distributions for a personal workstation.


Arch development is guided by simplicity. The Arch wiki states, "Simplicity is absolutely the principal objective behind Arch development."  Most system configuration is done via text files, which may seem complex at first, but is much easier in practice than searching visually through a menu tree. For example, daemons, kernel modules, and networking are all configured in a single text file, rc.conf. GNU text parsing tools included in every version of Linux make finding and editing configuration files a breeze. It's much faster to search for and edit a text string in Vim than to click through endless GUI tabs looking for a radio button.

Rolling Release

Arch uses a rolling release model. This means that the repositories are updated frequently with the latest stable packages from upstream developers. The advantage here is that you don't need to reinstall or do a complex upgrade procedure every six months. Do a pacman -Syu (more on the gloriousness that is Pacman below) every few days to keep your entire system updated. This is not to say that an update will never cause problems, but if you encounter problems, in all likelihood there will be a fix posted on the forums or the Arch front page.

The Wickedly Good Arch Wiki

Speaking of documentation, the Arch Wiki is the most comprehensive repository of Linux information out there. Back when I used Ubuntu, I often found the answer to a tough configuration issue on The Arch Wiki. Yes, the Arch Wiki is tailored to Arch, but it can often help you solve problems with other distributions as well.

BSD Style init

Say bye-bye to complicated System V runlevels and their associated symlinks. Most distributions use a System V style init, which has a separate directory for each of its eight runlevels. Arch uses a BSD-style init system, which accomplishes much the same with a simple set of scripts. Need to add CUPS to start at boot? Simply add CUPS to the daemons list in /etc/rc.conf. Done.


I've used many different Linux package managers: pacman, aptitude, yum, zypper, and netpkg. Pacman is hands down my favorite.  It's fast. Downloads, searches, and installs are all the quickest I've seen. Full system upgrades are typically problem-free. Arch has five official repositories: core, extra, community, testing, and multilib. Core contains the minimum necessary for a functional Linux system. Core includes the kernel, GNU command line tools, pacman, and networking tools—basically everything you need to start building the perfect workstation.  Extra contains packages that are not necessary to a base working system—stuff like X, Gnome, and Apache, for example. Community includes packages maintained by The Trusted Users of the Arch community. These packages are binary compiles of PKGBUILDS from the Arch User repository, and are voted into the community repository by Arch users. Testing is just that, packages that are being tested for stability. Testing is commented out by default in pacman.conf. Use it at your own risk. Multilib provides closed binary applications that are only available as 32 bit binaries, and the 32 bit libraries necessary to run these applications on 64 bit installs. Skype and the Adobe flash plugin are good examples of this.


What happens when the application you are looking for is not in your distribution's repositories? If you run Fedora, you might need to add an unsupported 3rd party repository of questionable quality. If you're running Ubuntu, you hope for a Personal Package Archive.  Sometimes you just have to compile from source, and endure the heartache of dependency resolution. On Arch it's pretty simple.  Chances are that the app you are looking for is available using a PKGBUILD script from the Arch User Repository or AUR. A PKGBUILD is a script created by a member of the Arch community that takes much of the pain out of building an application from source. The makepkg command runs the PKGBUILD script, detects and installs dependencies, and builds a pacman installable binary package. There's no need to search for any obscure libraries that may not be installed in the core package list.

So there you have it. These are a few things that separate Arch Linux from the crowd, and make it binary awesomeness. This list is far from exhaustive, so if this piques your interest, spend some time on The Arch Wiki and Forums. The best way to get to know Arch, however, is to install it and use it. I promise it's worth your time and effort, and they don't even pay me to say that.

How-To Get Help...  Tactfully

You'll find far less hand-holding on the Arch Forums than some of the other distro's forums, and for good reason.  Arch has one of the most informative, user-friendly wiki's out there. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT ask a question in the forums or on IRC without searching the wiki and the forums first. If you can't find a solution by searching, include all appropriate log files and as much information as possible in your request. Look at some of the current posts marked "Solved" in the Arch Forums for examples.


Kevin Bush is a Linux systems admin, dad and book-lover who spends far too
much time tinkering with gadgetry.


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Re: Is Arch user friendly

Go2linux's picture

You are right, but you will have to forgive some users, Linux users are just like every other society. You will find the good guys, and bad guys and ... well the ugly guys (I could not resist).
That sense of superiority, some people have, or tend to show, only show their insecurity, but, once again. Please learn to forgive them. Give Arch Linux another chance.

Yeah, of course, I'm a

hpb's picture

Yeah, of course, I'm a forgiving kind of person, but I think it's a good thing to be polite, no matter whom you're talking to: geek, grandmother, newby, linux user :-).
When someone is lost, I think you always should point him or her the right direction. For example you could say: "look at the sign in front of you, go that direction" . It's simply not nice to say: "look for yourself, I know the way but I don't tell you and don't ask again!".
When my grandmother asks me how to use Ubuntu, I will gladly help her and not scare her away, because she then has to return to Windows and I wont let that happen, because that for sure isn't nice, not nice at all :-((

It's not about being nice...

Kevin Bush's picture

From what I can tell The Arch Community is less interested in being nice, and far more interested in fostering a do-it-yourself attitude. They promote learning, research, and reason. When you ask for directions, Arch users show you how to use a map. They don't escort you to you destination.

Kevin Bush is a Linux systems admin, dad and book-lover who spends far too
much time tinkering with gadgetry.

You were right about Arch...

Chdslv's picture

Hello Kevin,

Thanks for the discussion we had earlier, which eventually lead me to have a closer look at Arch. Even if I didn't succeed in getting Arch to work on laptop, I got 2 very interesting operating systems - Archbang and CTKArch. They both work lovely.

I tried Debian 6 with all the ahhs and oohs before it came to light after 24 months. What a headache trying get that Debian to work! I would rather work with Arch or even Gentoo. Can you imagine the so-called kde iso with 648MB took nearly 2 hours to install and then there was no KDE? If I wanted to get KDE, then I have to wait another 2 hours and more.

You are absolutely right. Arch is about learning! And it gives a good learning chance for anyone. I watched Arch being installed in a desktop of a friend.


That's what I mean: I didn't

hpb's picture

That's what I mean: I didn't ask to be escorted to my destination! I just think that you can "show someone a map" AND being friendly.

double post...

Kevin Bush's picture


Kevin Bush is a Linux systems admin, dad and book-lover who spends far too
much time tinkering with gadgetry.

The Arch Realisation

Su's picture

I am just a normal PC user with a little more inquisitive nature. Windows failed badly in satisfying me. Next came Ubuntu for arnd 2 yrs. but in the 2 weeks since I am using Arch, i feel i hav learnt as much about linux as in ubuntu. The greatest advantage i feel is that i know whr to look for what i want. I shall definitely continue with Arch with a little virtual distro hopping and I hope it will mentor me more about the nuts and bolts of linux.

Arch rocks

Vikram's picture

I am writing this on my laptop with Arch with Konqueror :-)

After lots of distro hopping - my favourite distro went to bed with microsoft the next abandoned KDE but left it on life support instead of mercifully pulling the plug - I found the distro which works for me. key reasons for me -

the rolling release is a big advantage since I like the latest and greatest. its modest on resources - I can boot into KDE at 200MB RAM since I load what I need and nothing else.

pacman is fast and simple !

very helpful forum - no fanbois, no one telling you one DE is better. no worshiping billionaires and you can make Arch exactly the way you want it to be.


crb3's picture

...missing. Please hyperlink the first mention of Arch and the mention of the Arch wiki. Yes, it's a minor quibble, but, if you're recommending something, you shouldn't make it any harder than necessary for people to go there to see for themselves.

Arch is for me

Anonymous's picture

I have tried both of these two distros, the FreeBsd is very good, but I simply can not stand for the long long compiling time in order to make a package installed. I remember I could not go to bed before 3 o'clock in the morning because I had to wait for the work of compiling some package was done.

Why not a BSD?

Micah's picture

Serious question here: if you're going to add and configure things as "low-level" as the X windows system, why not try something like FreeBSD? You're going to do much the same work as you would with Arch, but from what I understand FreeBSD has an even greater emphasis on simplicity and code-correctness than Arch (which, after all, is an assembly of different parts, almost none of which the Arch team designs itself [e.g., the Kernel]). Linux probably has more software and more support for current hardware, but the BSDs seem as if they have an edge in simplicity, stability, and careful design.

Does anyone with experience with both have any opinion one way or the other?

(Not trying to stir the pot here, just wondering if Arch fans are interested in the BSDs and vice versa.)

FreeBSD is an excellent

Misfit138's picture

FreeBSD is an excellent system. However, coming from a GNU/Linux background, I am sure that many will find it lacking in hardware support, quite especially when dealing with 3d acceleration.
The Linux kernel is most certainly not state-of-the-art in any regard. It is, however, a more broadly 'usable' kernel for a general desktop pc.
*BSD systems are unquestionably cleaner, purer and superior from a development and programming standpoint, but their hit-and-miss hardware support may prove to be a showstopper for some.
I have always enjoyed the *BSDs and greatly appreciate their tireless hard work to provide free of charge UNIX systems, but there would be too much regression for me to abandon Arch and start running OpenBSD or FreeBSD. I can recommend trying them, but I can't recommend *BSD as a full replacement OS.
They seem to be a few years behind with general hardware, wireless and 3d driver support.

PC-BSD is nice, but it takes

Chdslv's picture

PC-BSD is nice, but it takes a while to download it, nearly 4GB...Then the software you download is large, many MBs larger than any Linux ones. Maybe, nowadays we have large harddisks, etc, we may play with it, but some day, even these hard disks might not have space!

Why is that some OSs can fit into an old floppy, while some are so large? Just like the MS windows stuff...

Is it that there is no consistency in the Open Source Community software?

Or is it that MS windows is making money while others fight it out between them? Like the British "divide and rule" method and/or when 2 dogs fight over a bone, the 3rd dog simply take it and run?

Steve jobs says that one must be crazy to buy a Mac, and he sells them in tons! He too uses Open Source software and closed it to make money for Apple...

I strongly believe that all these "different" flavours of Linux-based and other OSs must come to an agreement to produce for the end-user, and not for themselves! By pushing "their" idea down the throats of the end-user is "not" freedom as free beer!

Arch says I am not pushing, but won't give a chance to the ordinary person!

Hmmm...PC-BSD is really lovely with its jumping windows etc, but it does the same thing Ubuntu does!

>3d acceleration There are

Anonymous's picture

>3d acceleration

There are ...

-free ATI drivers with 3D
-Intel drivers with 3D
-proprietary nVidia drivers with 3D etc.

>They seem to be a few years behind with general hardware, wireless


Of course, you get the _most_ wireless drivers in OpenBSD. But apart from that, almost any modern Wifi-Chipset gets support in FreeBSD. There is even Wimax etc. pp. And there is a fancy USB-stack, that supports USB3. Well, quality instead of quantity.

Yes, 3d acceleration exists,

Misfit138's picture

Yes, 3d acceleration exists, and the 3d acceleration sucks. Go build me a FreeBSD 3d gaming system.
How ridiculous.

In the past year, my success rate with FreeBSD wireless hardware has been 50% success.

RE: Why not a BSD?

_kzen's picture

I have experience with both, and still prefer Arch over *BSD. Granted, my use cases are different (travelling with laptop, serving files over local network, streaming movies to television, etc.) While I may be able to accomplish this in *BSD, I find the whole process of setting it up to work how I need it to easier in Arch.

As a kind of evangelist of open source software to my friends, colleagues, and family, Arch makes it much easier to make a valid case for them to use Linux over whatever they're using now: hardware works, solutions are easy to find, and applications are available for nearly everything. It goes a long way in turning others onto Linux if everything works the way they need it to. I'm not always able to accomplish that with *BSD.


llewton's picture

I'm trying, but I can't really see the difference between installing Arch and netinstalling Debian. Other than that Debian can be netinstalled really fast and is really, really stable to use afterwards?

Arch repositories less secure

Anonymous's picture

An important difference between Arch and Debian. When you download and install a package ex. mutt in Arch from an alternative mirror, this package could be malicious and different from the mutt package in the official repository, and you would never know. If a package in a Debian mirror has been tampered with, you would be notified and the installation aborted.

Package signing

Anonymous's picture

The only reason why i do not use Arch Linux is the lack of package signing. In my opinion this is a serious security flaw.

I agree

xaocon's picture

I love so many parts about Arch but the lack of package security means I can't use it on any of my day to day machines. I both understand and embrace the fact that Arch is built around the KISS principle but the state of package management as a whole is fairly poor with arch. You don't know that your packages are safe, poor package descriptions, and searching is less than excellent. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them though because I love just about everything else about arch.

Arch - install what you want, build what you want

jonathan183's picture

I use Arch, Gentoo and Funtoo. I like control over what is installed and like the speed you can install and run stuff in Arch. Gentoo and Funtoo give you control but compile times are a pain.

For me Arch breaks less than Gentoo ... and you learn as much as you want in Arch rather than being forced into doing things. I can configure and compile a kernel ... but to be honest I do it in Gentoo because I have to (ignoring genkernel) and only did it in Arch to see if it made much of a difference (which it did not).

Use what works for you ... but Arch is worth a try ;)

I don't like BSD based distros

Renich's picture

SysV is the way to go. IMHO, it's modern and very useful.

They should give you a choice and be flexible.

This is the main reason why I don't use ArchLinux. I really like the attitude, the info and the rollout philosophy; which other distros may end following ;).

It's hard to be free... but I love to struggle. Love isn't asked for; it's just given. Respect isn't asked for; it's earned!
Renich Bon Ciric

Google searching and issue resolution

fabyouless's picture

Two years ago, my preference was Slackware because only the software you wanted installed was installed. And then i found out that Ubuntu just works, but trying to find the answers to issues meant searching through many unanswered queries in the forums. I'm eagerly anticipating looking through the Arch wiki to see what's up.
Good looking out.

I found out that Ubuntu just works.

win2linconvert's picture

If you like the Just Works of Ubuntu, but want more helpful forums, try Ultimate Edition. You will need to have fairly decent hardware, but you can always turn off visual effects in the appearance preferences. It's not perfect but I've enjoyed using it as my main OS for over two years now.


Nice article, but not fully

Gaurish Sharma's picture

Nice article, but not fully correct

1) Arch NOT binary only, you can built from source too using Arch Build System(ABS). What's great about arch is that is gives you choice of going binary or source way, unlike other distros which force you either to build from source(gentoo) or provide binaries(Ubuntu).so saying arch as binary only is not correct.

2) Rolling Release: The main reason adopting rolling release model is that it allows users to access latest & greatest bleeding edge versions of softwares which might not be *stable*. Arch users are first adopters of bleeding edge software, so we are often first to discover bugs in newly released software. so please give flase impresion of stability on arch, infact things would break fairly often on arch, if you don't know what you are doing

There are many other things which I could highlight, but skipping. Please have a look at Wiki instead.

To address your issues:

KevinBush's picture

1) I didn't mean to imply that the only way to install software on Arch was to use the repositories, it just happens to be the most common way. You can build from source with just about any distro. They don't call it open source for nothing. :-)

2) From the wiki: "Arch Linux strives to maintain the latest stable version of its software, based on a rolling-release system." By stable I don't mean that users will never encounter bugs, simply that Arch tends to package the latest code deemed "stable" from the standpoint of the upstream developers that created and released it. Meaning not alpha level releases. Semantically different use of the word "stable."

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify!


Different philosophy

Doug.Roberts's picture

I design code and lead software teams for a living. In my spare time I write, play music, run a few music blogs, take long motorcycle rides and do some photography and audio editing. I don't have time for another "tinker" project, I just need Linux desktop and netbook distros that come up working. That's why I use Ubuntu.

It is nice, granted, that there are choices in the Linux distro world. I cut my teeth on Slackware back in the 90's, and as a result I really do appreciate a distro that comes out of the box "just working". For those who like to tinker, there's Arch.


If it's about time...

Kevin Bush's picture

I can have a functional Arch Linux desktop ready to go in about half the time of a typical Ubuntu install. Only installing the packages you need and use saves quite a bit of install time. It did take a few Arch installs before I had the knowledge to make it happen that quickly, but once you're familiar with it; it's very fast to get up and running.

I also recommend creating a simple post install bash script for your preferred app installs and simple config changes. Makes fresh installs even faster.

That being said, Ubuntu is a great distro. I'm particularly fond of Xubuntu 10.10. It's a gorgeous xfce4 desktop, they've done a great job theming it.



Kevin Bush is a Linux systems admin, dad and book-lover who spends far too
much time tinkering with gadgetry.


Niki Kovacs's picture

I'm an IT consultant for a living, specialized in Linux and FOSS for professionals. I mostly install Linux in SOHO environments like small town halls, public libraries, schools and the likes. I also read and write a lot, and I also take long motorcycle rides through Europe. Like you, I cut my teeth on Slackware.

I don't have time for another Linux distribution that tries more and more to be like Windows by hiding important configuration details, adding yet another configuration wizard that doesn't always work. That's why I use Arch. Took me exactly one rainy afternoon to have a full-blown KDE4 desktop up and running.

Writing from an Arch Desktop

Anonymous's picture

Writing from an Arch Desktop here, best distribution ever.
The way i see things, personal computing is meant to be "personal" and you can literally create your own dream machine with the thousands of explicit packages available in the AUR, without having to waste time resolving dependencies like you said in the article.

Once in a while i tend to dd my harddisk and install something random, whether it be suse or netbsd etc, etc... i will usually toy with it for a day or two until i get this sudden urge to reinstall Arch.

By far the fastest operating system for day to day desktop activitys... obviously as there is no "bloat" whatsoever... you can choose only what you want to run... so you can make a really old computer perform equal to a modern desktop running windows...

Or if you run alot of 3d games and such, you will find they gain alot of FPS in Arch compared to other desktop *bloat* orientated distros.

Arch pwns!

bloat is in the eye

Anonymous's picture

If Arch is so inherently lightweight, why does it install ConsoleKit and PolicyKit as dependencies when you try to install wicd? It doesn't need such things. Even Debian doesn't try to do that. Debian does allow you to install packages that have a long list of recommended dependencies --without-recommends. Let's not kid ourselves that Arch is necessarily less bloated. Its base install is barely any smaller than Debian's. I would like to use Arch, but even basic things like wifi are half a day's effort to get going. With Debian, I'm connected minutes after booting into a fresh install. Just one example of many... you can spend more time configuring Arch than actually using it.

As bloated as you wish...

Kevin Bush's picture

Just like a debian minimal install, you can bloat Arch up if you so desire. I much prefer netcfg ( with wifi-select to wicd or networkmanager. Next time you play with Arch, give netcfg a try.

Kevin Bush is a Linux systems admin, dad and book-lover who spends far too
much time tinkering with gadgetry.

Go look at the benchmarks

Micah's picture

Go look at the benchmarks Phoronix did that compared Arch to what one might term "pre-built" distros. Michael demolished the claim that games somehow gain a ton of frames per second under Arch. Granted, the tests were done using GNOME in both distros, which I assume many Arch fans won't touch, but but there's probably little reason to beleive that the scores wouldn't be similar using when using a lightweight window manager on both systems.

If you want to say that Arch using fluxbox is faster than Ubuntu using GNOME, that's fine, but it's pretty clear that has more to do with the choice of applications rather than anything to do with the core system.

I did read that article on

Anonymous's picture

I did read that article on benchmarking ubuntu vs arch. I also did however experiment many times with benchmarking on my own hardware... and to be totally honest Arch is always faster.

The main concern for me is 3d heavy applications such as firstperson shooter games. I had recently dd'd away my arch/gnome setup and currently running xfce.

Now when i was running ubuntu (9.04 i think it was) i would play sauerbraten on max graphics and achieve a pathetic 30fps which was running ontop of the default gnome desktop. When i was running gnome on my Arch setup, sauerbraten would play at 60-70fps... and of course this is with the same daemons running.

Its not a case of "fanboy". Ubuntu really is sluggish when compared to alot of other distros, specifically gaming. Whether it is nvidia specific problems, i don't know.

But please do not try to force me to use ubuntu, i ditched it because of the standard bloat and macintosh wannabe looks that started to appear.

If you say "well they are equal at speed". Arch is still faster because you don't have to waste bandwidth for junk that is going to be immediately uninstalled, followed by the time finding all the junk installed.... even in the ubuntu mininmal cd, there is ALOT of junk.

You're right. I probably

Micah's picture

You're right. I probably shouldn't take one set of benchmarks as Gospel Truth, so thanks for your input.

I do agree also that Ubuntu is terribly sluggish. The difference in responsiveness on my netbook between Ubuntu Netbook Remix and openSUSE, both runnning GNOME (more or less), is pretty hard to overlook. And I especially agree that Canonical's strange quest for desktop "beauty" (which imo GNOME found long ago) has had a pretty disastrous impact on the distro, in the eyes of everyone except, well, "noobs" who think Ubuntu is somehow unique.

Similar to my review Arch Rocks

go2linux's picture

Some weeks ago, I have written a similar review of maybe my favorite distribution.

Arch Linux Review

Just use gentoo, if you're

jamesAl's picture

Just use gentoo, if you're going to go in this direction. Really helpful how tos and folk on the wiki.


Renich's picture

Gentoo and Funtoo are far more a teaching experience than anything. I support your opinion.

Gentoo really helps you understand what's going on... and it's not BSD-style if you choose it not to be; simply awesome.

It's hard to be free... but I love to struggle. Love isn't asked for; it's just given. Respect isn't asked for; it's earned!
Renich Bon Ciric

You can learn with Arch, Gentoo or any other distro

jonathan183's picture

I use Arch, Gentoo and Funtoo. I like control over what is installed and like the speed you can install and run stuff in Arch. Gentoo and Funtoo give you control but compile times are a pain.

For me Arch breaks less than Gentoo ... and you learn as much as you want in Arch rather than being forced into doing things. I can configure and compile a kernel ... but to be honest I do it in Gentoo because I have to (ignoring genkernel) and only did it in Arch to see if it made much of a difference (which it did not).

Use what works for you ... but Arch is worth a try ;)

How many packages Arch has?

Anonymous's picture

How many packages Arch has? Is it comparable to Gentoo, where one can find 14237 unique packages (ebuilds) and when including all versions the number boasts to 27418 packages (ebuilds)? Even if Arch has more, can one install all of them safely from single reviewed repo?

In my opinion its easier to use one central repo and NOT touch user submitted compile scripts in Arch. BTW, compile times on Arch are the same pain as on Gentoo. And Arch still suffers the same as other binary distros: anything what's REALLY needed, you use the mantra: wget the_sources && ./configure --prefix=/opt && make && make install and later finish with b0rked system which is unable to reproduce on another machine.

Just use what works most easily and efficiently. I use Gentoo with Portage and recommend that, even if I had short adventure with Arch in production too.

Number of packages and if

jonathan183's picture

Number of packages and if they all sit in a single repo is not critical. I find most of the packages I need in the repos. Other software is usually available through the AUR.

I know compile times will be the same for each distro ... the point is in Arch you don't need to compile everything - if you stick to the repos you don't need to compile.

Downloading and installing source directly is not unique to binary distros ... exactly the same can happen in Gentoo or any source based distro as well - that's up to the user. The Arch Build System is used for building and packaging software from source code. With AUR containing PKGBUILDs for software not found in the official Arch software repositories - users are encouraged to review PKGBUILD contents before the package is built. From you can search for the software you want and view the PKGBUILD and other relevant information through a web browser ... before you fire up something like yaourt to download, review, compile and package software before installing the package.

Be careful with package

erikmack's picture

Be careful with package counts. I'm a fellow Gentoo user. Remember that where Gentoo may have a package "gimp", other distros will have "gimp", "gimp-devel", and "gimp-docs". This doesn't mean a triple-sized selection of software!

Also, if you're comfortable building your package from source, it's trivial to whip up an ebuild, put it into a personal overlay, and maybe put your overlay on GitHub and/or