Ready to dive into the world of Arch Linux? Our guide has covered everything you need to know about this powerful Linux distribution.
- Arch Linux: Distinctive Features
- Pacman Package Manager
- AUR (Arch User Repository)
- The Best Documented Linux Distro
- Arch Linux-Based Distributions
- Bottom Line
Arch Linux is an independently developed, x86-64 general-purpose Linux distribution that strives to provide the latest stable versions of most software by following a rolling release model.
But before we go any further, let’s travel back in time and introduce our readers to the early distribution days.
Judd Vinet, a Canadian programmer, began developing Arch Linux in early 2001, which nowadays ranks the distribution among the major ones that shape today’s Linux world. Its first formal release, Arch Linux 0.1, was on March 11, 2002.
Inspired by the elegant simplicity of Slackware, BSD, PLD Linux, and CRUX, and yet disappointed with their lack of package management at the time, Vinet built his distribution on similar principles as those distros.
However, going one step further, he also wrote a package management tool called Pacman to automatically handle package installation, removal, and upgrades on Arch.
In late 2007, Vinet retired from active participation as an Arch developer. He smoothly transferred the reins to American programmer Aaron Griffin, who led the distro until 2020, when he stepped down, and Levente Polyak, a Hungarian-born, Germany-based Linux developer, took over the helm of Arch.
One of the most significant distribution-related changes happened between 2012 and 2013 when the traditionally used System V init system was replaced by systemd.
A few years later, on January 25, 2017, the Arch Linux developers announced that support for the i686 architecture would be phased out due to its decreasing popularity among the developers and the community.
Now, let’s look at what users may expect and get by using Arch as a Linux distro for their daily computing needs.
Arch Linux: Distinctive Features
Arch is one of the most well-known Linux distros, which certainly won’t win any awards for user-friendliness. However, at the same time, it puts all the freedom and choice in the hands of experienced Linux users for ultimate control over how their systems work and look.
Over the years, Arch has gained an adoring mass of fans, turning it into a cult. It is even gotten to the point where the distro has earned its catchphrase, “BTW, I Use Arch,” used to make fun of the type of person who feels superior because they use a more difficult Linux distro.
So let’s dive into what sets Arch apart from the rest of the Linux world and what you can expect.
The following are the main characteristics that have helped Arch become one of the most popular Linux distros, with a devoted following.
Arch Is the Original Linux Distro
Arch Linux is among the few original distributions because it was not based on any preexisting distribution or operating system.
For example, unlike many other Linux distributions which are based on something before them, such as Ubuntu based on Debian, Linux Mint based on Ubuntu, Manjaro based on Arch, Rocky Linux, and AlmaLinux based on RHEL, etc., Arch Linux was built from scratch to be simple, lightweight, and flexible.
Independent, Pragmatic & Community Based
Arch is not dependent on any other organization, institution, corporation, or type of business. Instead, it is a volunteer-led project sponsored, developed, and maintained by a community of Linux enthusiasts.
At the same time, Arch can be defined as a pragmatic rather than ideological Linux distro. But what this means?
Unlike other distributions that adhere strictly to the Open Source model, Arch’s packages, drivers, firmware, and libraries are not limited only to free software usage.
Of course, the packages available in the Arch Linux repositories provide free and open-source software for those who prefer it. At the same time, however, the distro also offers proprietary software packages for those prioritizing functionality over ideology.
Arch gives you an authentic Linux experience because the default Arch installation is a minimal base system configured by the user only to add what is purposely required.
In addition, the fact that you decide how your system should look and the packages it should have installed makes it clean and does not have useless applications eating your memory and CPU.
In other words, you can only install what you need for daily computing use. However, this comes at a price. Installing the operating system will take some time, but at the end of the day, no one will know better than you how your computer works.
Simple & Cutting-Edge
The main philosophy behind Arch is KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), which means that it strives to be as minimalist as possible while still providing a complete and usable system.
The distro attempts to have minimal distribution-specific changes, minimal breakage with updates, pragmatic over ideological design choices, user-friendliness, and minimal bloat.
Furthermore, Arch defines simplicity as without unnecessary additions or modifications.
That means it ships software as released by the original developers with minimal distribution-specific changes: patches not accepted by upstream are avoided, and Arch’s downstream patches consist almost entirely of backported bug fixes that are obsoleted by the project’s next release.
Moreover, Arch follows a rolling release model, meaning the operating system is continuously updated.
In other words, there are no major releases, new system versions, or need for fresh preinstallations. Instead, the monthly installation images the Arch team released are simply up-to-date snapshots of the main system components.
So, a regular system update is all that is needed to get the latest Arch software. In other words, you install once and virtually, and for years to come, you need only regularly update your system to keep it up-to-date and secure.
Last but not least, the rolling release model followed by Arch comes with one substantial significant advantage – the software packages are available to users as soon as they are published. This ensures that they have access to the latest features and bug fixes.
In short, you are always working with and have the most up-to-date software versions available for installation.
Arch Is Highly Customizable & Educative
Arch allows you to build your systems from the ground up, allowing users to customize every aspect of the system, from the kernel to the desktop environment.
But, of course, this comes at a cost, making Arch primarily aimed at more advanced Linux users and less appealing to those new to Linux.
Why is that? Because Arch is a command-line-driven distribution, you won’t find the handy GUI tools for system management available in many other user-friendly-oriented distributions such as Manjaro, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, etc.
For example, Arch does not come with a graphical installer, and the installation process occurs via a terminal. This cannot be very comforting for new Linux users.
But please, don’t let that stop you from trying Arch. We’ve got you covered, as our comprehensive beginners guide to installing Arch will walk you through every step of the process easily.
However, if you still have worries about whether you will cope and want to make your Arch experience more straightforward, you could try one of the best Arch Linux-based distros instead to get a feel for Arch.
So, while the GUI utilities are not officially provided in Arch, encouraging users to perform most system configurations from the shell and a text editor, by betting on this approach, you will learn and feel as confident in Linux in a month with Arch as you would in a year with the most of the other distros.
Pacman Package Manager
Being a terminal-centric distro, Arch doesn’t have any GUI package manager. Instead, the in-house backed Pacman, a command-line package manager, installs, removes, and updates software packages. It combines a simple binary package format with an easy-to-use build system.
So, like APT for Debian and Ubuntu or DNF for Fedora and RHEL, package installation in Arch has been done using Pacman, which is written in the C programming language and uses the bsdtar format for packaging.
Pacman keeps the system up-to-date by synchronizing package lists with the master server. This server/client model also allows users to download/install packages with a simple command, complete with all required dependencies.
And did I say it is fast as the speed of light? Going one step further, we can even say that Pacman is the fastest package software manager in the Linux world.
On top of that, Arch also provides its users with Arch Build System (ABS), a collection of scripts and configuration files for building and packaging software from source code into installable “.pkg.tar.xz” packages which Pacman can manage.
As a result, Arch’s ABS allows users to customize and build packages according to their specific needs rather than relying on pre-compiled binaries. This provides greater flexibility and control over the software installed on an Arch Linux system.
GUI Pacman Managers
You shouldn’t be concerned that Arch only provides a command-line package manager in the face of Pacman. There is a solution. So, if you are new to Arch and prefer to use a GUI to manage packages, we have good news for you – there are graphical Pacman frontends.
Developed by third parties, they provide an excellent opportunity for new Arch users to manage their system software in a convenient and user-friendly way.
For example, one such is Pamac – a GTK3 graphical frontend for Pacman with added Alpm, AUR, Appstream, Flatpak, and Snap support, built by a software engineer from Manjaro’s dev team.
However, Pamac is one of many options. Other great GUI Pacman alternatives for Arch users include Octopi and tkPacman. You can learn more about them and how to install them in Arch Linux in our dedicated article here.
Remember that none comes installed by default on Arch Linux, so you will need to install it manually from the AUR to get it.
AUR (Arch User Repository)
On Arch Linux, the official software repositories are Core, Extra, and Community. These included compiled packages ready to be installed on your Arch system through Pacman.
For example, more than 11,000 packages are in Arch’s official repositories. However, there are many other software available on Linux. So here is the moment when AUR comes to the stage.
The Arch User Repository (AUR) is a community-driven repository for Arch users that hosts some packages outside the official Arch Linux package database. It is a software treasure containing about 55,000 packages and one of the main reasons that attract users to Arch.
In the spirit of Open Source software, AUR follows an exciting concept. It is a collection of user-contributed package descriptions known as PKGBUILDs, which automate the process of downloading, configuring, compiling, and installing software from source code and installing it via Pacman.
In other words, any user can add new software to the AUR and become its maintainer or adopt an “orphaned” package without a current maintainer.
As a result, and to the myriad supporters of the distribution, it is hard to find software available for Linux and, at the same time, not already presented as available for installation on Arch through the AUR repository.
Moreover, many new packages that enter the official Arch’s repositories start in the AUR.
However, it is essential to note that the Pacman package manager doesn’t support AUR packages. Therefore, you need to use the so-called AUR helpers like YAY because, for new Arch users, installing an AUR package without a helper might seem difficult.
But, as always, we’ve got you covered, so you can learn how to install AUR packages on Arch quickly and easily in our detailed and easy-to-follow guide.
The Best Documented Linux Distro
Arch Wiki is a treasure trove of information – Arch Linux’s comprehensive documentation is a community Wiki. Moreover, it benefits Arch and the other Linux distro users since the guidance and fixes are relevant and practical outside the Arch ecosystem.
So, even though other distros package things differently from Arch, the Arch Wiki can give correct directions.
You will get everything you want to know concerning installing and maintaining every component and detail of a proper Linux system.
In other words, this documentation can be a reference for general Linux administration. So, if you are new to Arch but have experience with other Linux distros, you have already ended up through your Google searches to the Arch’s Wiki a least several times.
Arch Linux-Based Distributions
Being extremely popular in Linux circles, Arch also enjoys wide popularity in the form of many other distributions that use it as the basis for their releases. Some of them are:
Arch Linux is a lightweight and customizable operating system that appeals to advanced users who enjoy building their systems from scratch. It offers a minimalist approach to software installation and maintenance, which requires a good understanding of command-line interfaces and system administration.
While there may be better choices for beginners than Arch Linux, it can be a powerful tool for those who value flexibility and control over their computing experience.
If you have reached the end of the article, we can only congratulate you. You now understand Arch Linux and whether it suits your computing needs. We hope it is, and we wish you endless enjoyable hours on your Arch adventure.
Thank you for being our readers! You can leave your comments and impressions about Arch in the comments section below.
debian sid can also be considered rolling release, and I’m unsing it since 10+ years on many machines, never had problems
I completely agree with you.
Debian Unstable (SID) is rather a rolling development version of Debian so it can be classified as a rolling release distro.
How can you call it simple and minimalist when it incorporates one of the most complex pieces of software in linux – systemd. I’m not a huge advocate or detractor of systemd but that statement is true.
You might consider mentioning Arch’s own “Archinstall” installer: https://wiki.archlinux.org/title/Archinstall
It is a minimalistic command line-based python guided installation routine , but only asks about a dozen questions of the user. All one needs to do to use it is to boot into a recent Archlinux LiveISO, establish an internet connection, then type “Archinstall” at the prompt. As well as the base system, it also offers every desktop environment in Arch’s stable repositories. Archinstall has been available for 8 or 9 months. It’s included on the ISO. https://archlinux.org/packages/extra/any/archinstall/