Spotlight on Linux: Arch Linux 2010.05

One of the top 10 most popular distributions on's page hit ranking is Arch Linux. It attracts a lot of users because of its ability to give the user a feeling of ownership without an excessive amount of time and effort. It began life in 2002 and has been increasing in popularity since. Besides the great operating system, the project offers a moderate sized community, a friendly and active user forum, and lots of easy-to-follow documentation.

Arch is developed as a rolling release system, which means it's updated regularly through the package manager rather than being reinstalled every six months like some other distros. However, developers do release a new core and net image every six to nine months for new users or those wishing a clean start. It's a live CD, but don't expect a fancy desktop. It boots to a commandline interface to allow users a system from which to work. But have no fear, the install procedure isn't really very different from Slackware's. It is a wizard that will walk the user through most of the procedure. However, prospective users might want to visit the Arch Wiki and make a few notes before starting.

The primary advantage of Arch Linux is that one can build their system to their own taste and needs. You can make it as light or full-featured as you want. You can even build packages from the source if you so desire. Another advantage is high performance. One disadvantage is that you will need to be familiar with your hardware, and you will have to set up a few configuration files by hand with a text editor. Again, refer to the Official Arch Linux Install Guide or the unofficial Beginners' Guide for full details. Documentation is included on the install CD as well at /usr/share/aif/docs/official_installation_guide_en.

It's your choice, but any of the known desktops are available for installation as is most any piece of software you might need. After the install, Pacman can install additional software and keep your Arch system updated. It is similar to APT at the commandline and can install, uninstall, update, search repositories, and query installation data.

Arch isn't for the timid, but once the system is installed users are usually very happy, and Arch tends to receive positive reviews. So, if you'd like full control over the system you are going to run, then Arch is a very good choice. For those that might prefer a more traditional install resulting in a full desktop in just a few clicks The Chakra Project and ArchBang are two suggestions.

Screenshot by Arch user mcordv.


Susan Linton is a Linux writer and the owner of


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I use Arch since 18 months, I

Anonymous's picture

I use Arch since 18 months, I used it for my job every day for 9 months (web developer). Before I tried Debian and Ubuntu.

I agree with all the good comments about this distro. :)

Long life to ArchLinux ! :)

Arch Linux

belhor's picture

ArchLinux FTW!

Arch is one of the best distros out there, try it now.

I'm happy with Arch

m0n0lithic's picture

its great combination of minimalistic O/S with some of BSD Style and powerful options for software maintenance using Pacman or ABS. Your cycles for upgrades ist fast and easy.
Distributions along with other Unix-like freebsd/openbsd, and gentoo manage and maintain archlinux servers daily with great power, flexibility and capacity.


Wilderman Ceren Prens
Computer Engineer / Telecom Specialist
GNU/Linux - BSD Support
HPC/HA Solutions

There are few "kiss" and clean distros. Arch is among them

Anonymous's picture

Hello all !

As an "old" Linux (but first Unix) aficionado, I'd just like to add few words to the talking.
Yes, my first Linux was SLS #1.3, downloaded via a 2400 bps modem :-)
After, Slackware, RedHat (until v#7)... And (Open)BSD. Sometimes tired with Linux stuff.
Years, years... And often I find in Linux part of this stuff of Microsoft I hate (why to make it simple when you can make it complicated ?). No freedom. Who made this so intelligent/used IP ? Microsoft ?

Recently I needed to re-explore the simple, clean, "k.i.s.s." (keep it small and simple) releases of Linux.
I found CRUX. As usual, I installed all I wanted, from sources. At the opposite of all this ugly stuff of Ubuntu-Microsoft-like distributions. Crux is very good. Minimalist. Simple.

A few days ago, I saw ARCH. Very good too. First THANKS to the staff. Not so easy, among all those Linux, to get the good ones. Not so many to follow the true/first Unix philosophy. Still (more than ever maybe) available, in my opinion.

And let's talk about the time spent with a "user-friendly" distribution ... :-(

So to conclude, believe me, make the short effort to go into those distributions, like this ARCH we speak about. It's among the best. Thanks again.

An old Unix/C/... aficionado.

Arch is just great :) and

yoda's picture

Arch is just great :) and your earlier comments cover pretty much all that someone not familiar with Arch need to know... and just one more thing... Arch is great!

Arch is the end of distrohopping

Jackup's picture

Arch is simple - true. Yet it is far more sophisticated than most distros.

One argument I frequently come across is rolling release Vs "stability. That's right "stability" and not stability. Basicly I question the (ab)use of the term.

As mentioned by Dieter Plaetinck above Arch is about when UPSTREAM consider a package stable. Arch doesn't modify the kernel beyond reckognition, and they don't fiddle more than they have to with other packages. Therefore packages work. Because there are rather few modifications by the distro that may have a negative impact on packages.

Avoiding abstractional layers wrt configuration by editing config files such as rc.conf makes it really easy to understand changes and impact - and it makes it very very easy to repair/restore the system if somethings goes wrong.

Arch is solid as a rock and fast as a hawk. It's that good.

I've been around the block a few times, and Arch is simply the end of distrohopping. I get everything new when it's ready without penalty.

Chakra now puts distance between them and Arch. That means Arch looses a true perk - KDEmod - whitch i consider the best KDEimplementation around. (I wish Arch had adoptet the packagesplit from KDEmod, but understand the breech of philosophy).

Chakra will soon be ready for mainstream users and it will then become the distro I recommend to fresh users. Its not Arch anymore but their work is impressive and for their targeted users it will become superb. Just as Arch.

simply works

grzs's picture

I use Linux for 6 years and I tried many of the "big" distros like Mandriva, Ubuntu, Fedora, Opensuse, Debian and I experianced many different kind of disadvantages of concepts. I was always disappointed about how can a so widely used and praised OS can cause so hard times for me on avarage cases and avarage hw. I always thought that I don't know enough (what was partly true). After these starting to use Arch was a revelation! Through the installation I became familiar with most of the details, I could get rid things which I don't need, and I don't need to wait months for new interesting stuff to be packed (eg. E17), and even compiling is more successful. That's true that you have to know what you are doing (or have done before a crash) to handle such things, like when my upgraded X failed because of the lack of the support by the official nvidia driver. But I knew where to start fixing, and didn't feel that pain what I used to in front of my boss's or wife's ubuntu problems. Thank you!

About architectures:
Is the ppc port unofficial or unstable?

re: Preconfigured Arch Linux

Anonymous's picture

KahelOS is not a distro I would recommend. The creation of it has been poorly executed. The reason I say this, is that there is a bug in the installation cd which prevents it from properly installing, and hasn't been fixed for some time. Also, they have been using the testing repos for their "enterprise" version last time I checked, and if anyone knows about testing, it is that testing is a repo prone to lots of unplanned breakages.

Good for testing

Anonymous's picture

I have used several distros over the years (eg. Red Hat, Mandriva, Ubuntu, Slax, Arch, and now Slackware). I don't use Arch as my main system but I do run it in a VM to test packages. The one thing I like about Arch is that it allows me to test my packages on pretty recent software. If it breaks my package then I try to troubleshoot the issue.

How is Arch different then Gentoo

Anonymous's picture

I know that Gentoo has it's slot system which can keep several versions of software available at the same time, but that doesn't seem as important in recent years.

From the article, it sounds like arch and Gentoo are very close. Is that true?

Yes and no. They are both

gun26's picture

Yes and no. They are both rolling release distributions with more BSD flavour than most Linux distros. Gentoo is primarily a source distribution with an option to save installation time by installing binary packages: the Gentoo Reference Platform or GRP. Thereafter, Gentoo's emerge system keeps it up to date by compiling source packages. This is a fairly automated process but it can be time consuming. Arch is primarily a binary distribution, much faster to install and keep up to date. Further, Arch has a strong commitment to simplicity within the distribution and its packaging system, and to passing on the upstream user experience with the least possible modification. When you install Gnome or KDE, for example, you get the pure desktop with little or no distro branding or customization. In this respect, Arch could be called the "anti-Ubuntu distro". Both Arch and Gentoo do require the user to do some reading before and during the install - people who come to grief with either one are usually the ones who tried to get by without RTFM.

Some mistakes

Dieter Plaetinck's picture

I'm an Arch release engineer.

"Arch is developed as a rolling release system, which means it's updated regularly through the package manager rather than being reinstalled every six months like some other distros."

Wrong. The main idea is following upstream closely, and promote what upstream calls stable. (Yes, this causes frequent updates which you probably want to install). But other distributions can be upgraded in-place just fine, even when they don't do rolling releases. (i.e. dist-upgrade on Debian or Ubuntu). Claiming otherwise is distributing FUD.

"However, developers do release a new core and net image every six to nine months for new users or those wishing a clean start."

Wrong. The main reason for new release images is to support new hardware (by shipping a new kernel). New users can usually use older install images just fine, unless the kernel does not support their hardware, or we made a drastic change which requires new images. (ie for net-install scenarios, we must make sure the package manager on the image is compatible with advancements in our packaging techniques, such as the recently introduced xz compression).
Normally we release new images every 2-3 months (like the kernel) but given my lack of time, this has decreased considerably. Existing installations rarely need "a clean start", although for beginners that may seem like an easy "solution" if they mess something up.

"But have no fear, the install procedure isn't really very different from Slackware's. It is a wizard that will walk the user through most of the procedure."

The wizard is indeed the most common approach, but the installer also supports automated installations (and even comes with examples to get you started), and you can do pxe (network) installs.

"It is similar to APT at the commandline and can install, uninstall, update, search repositories, and query installation data."

pacman is much simpler (implementation-wise) then apt. This philosophy is key for the entire distribution. A *simple* (implementation-wise) package manager, initscripts, installer, etc.
Pacman feels faster too.

You also might want to have look at AUR ( home of many (last time i checked 20k) user-contributed packages. We expect our users to be close to the developers and contribute packages, fixes, etc.

Hope this helps,

Oh, and thanks for the

Dieter Plaetinck's picture

Oh, and thanks for the article about our little distro :)


When I started using linux I

Travis Paul's picture

When I started using linux I made a rule: When the distro broke from an update, I would move onto a new distro, I went through Ubunutu, Debian and Fedora.

I've now been Using Arch for almost 2 Years now. I run it on my x86_64 Desktop and on my i686 Atom Netbook.

Arch is the Best!


St3f4n's picture

I switched from Ubuntu to arch almost one year ago. It's faster, easier and more reliable(even on testing), the wiki it's the best i seen so far. The forum is also helpful ... fast responses and a friendly "crew". If you have a little time to learn some of the commands and configurations try arch linux and you'll love it on sight :)

best wiki

Anonymous's picture

this became true after the gentoo wiki died a couple of years ago

Packages and Architectures

Homme's picture

It's also useful to note that Arch is only supported on i686 and x86_64 architectures.

In addition to the officially supported packages noted in the article, there is also an extensive repository of user contributed packages in the form of the Arch User Repository (AUR).

Preconfigured Arch Linux

Lazy_Warrior's picture

Another preconfigured ArchLinux is KahelOS
It is using Gnome as desktop environment.

Just mentioning it as an alternative, if you want a way to easily install arch, without configuring, and everything just works (at leat to my needs).

I would not call KahelOS a distribution, since it's just a preconfigured Arch Linux, but it's done very wel I think.



Anne-on-a-moose's picture

I learned more from installing arch than I ever did running other distros. And its not that difficult - I had less than a year of linux experience when I first installed it.

Yup, arch is an amazing

rm9402's picture

Yup, arch is an amazing distro and I too also learned more from installing arch than using other linux distros!

I do confirm it, too. Being a

Alberto Vassena's picture

I do confirm it, too.
Being a GNU/Linux user since the early 0.x days (Slackware on even 29! floppy disks), at some point, Ubuntu made me feel like a Windows user with just a compiled OS. The 6 months cycle made me crazily look for solutions to some of the well known 90's problems such as mouse, keyboard, screen and network configurations.

After having run Arch for 3 years, the perfect and unbeatable Arch way of being a rolling release made me once again a newly happy Linux user/admin/hacker...
Always running cutting edge software and patches!
Arch is surprisingly amazing and will never leave you in front of a problem without the information and the tools to come out of it.
There's always a solution to everything and the programs are all simply up to date: a few months ago, just to cite something I casually noted, I downloaded from the standard repositories the latest Firefox 7 hours after its official release and guess what? It worked out of the box!

And what about powerpill, the AUR and yaourt? Tons of real updates every week from the core and extra repositories, or the sources compiled and installed like regular packages just a bunch of seconds after the download... the regular and automatic kernel compilings that pacman and powerpill launch and manage by themselves?

Since I moved definitely to GNU/Linux, particularly to Arch, I started trusting computer science again, and knowledge value in general.