This is a continuation of our list of Best Linux Distributions 2020. Here we’re looking at Arch Linux. The father of Arch Linux is no other than Judd Vinet, a Canadian programmer and occasional guitarist who began developing Arch Linux in early 2001.
Arch Linux – Introduction and Early days
The Inspiration behind its development was the elegant simplicity of Slackware, BSD, PLD Linux, and CRUX. But Judd Vinet was disappointed with their lack of package management at the time. He made a decision to built his own distribution on similar principles as those distros with a package management program called Pacman, to automatically handle package installation, removal, and upgrades. This was the birth of Arch Linux.
There is so much that can be said about the rest of the other distributions provided for users to enjoy using and for the business world to utilize in their environments. When Arch Linux is mentioned in the forest of all of the other distributions, something strange yet amazing happens in the hearts of those who have had the chance of installing and using this Linux distribution.
I’m a big fan of Arch Linux, so this review might look a little biased.
Major Benefits of Arch Linux
Smart Package Management – Pacman
Arch Linux ships with package management tool called Pacman which was coded in C and uses tar to package applications. Pacman handles binary system package management and works seamlessly with the Arch Build System. It makes it easy to manage packages, both from Official Arch repositories and user’s own builds. The Arch Build System is a ports-like system for building and packaging software from source code into installable .pkg.tar.xz packages which Pacman can manage.
Just to satisfy your thirst, Ports is a system used by *BSD to automate the process of building software from source code. This sets aside Arch Linux as a distribution with easy installation of binary packages and from source with the help of ABS.
The command options for Pacman are easy to memorize, no long commands required. Like to update all packages on your system, you just run pacman -Syu. To install all group packages which ship with Gnome, you run pacman -S gnome.
We already have good article and cheatsheet on managing Arch Linux package with Pacman, available at the link Pacman and yaourt package manager mastery Cheat Sheet
Arch Linux uses a rolling-release system with a large array of binary package repositories. A rolling release is typically implemented using small and frequent updates, which means at no point are you required to re-install your Operating system, no major releases. All system updates are new packages are made available to the public through the server/client repositories.
All you need is regular system update to get the latest Arch software. The packages are made available to the distribution a short time after they are released upstream. Note that all installation images released by the Arch team are simply up-to-date snapshots of the main system components. Having to re-install your system and reconfigure it from scratch is a painful endeavor that no one is interested in doing.
Minimal System – Low resource usage
A default complete installation of Arch is a simple, minimal system with low resource footprint. Trust me you can have a running system utilizing less than 200MB of RAM, especially if you’re a person interested in using a stacking or tiling window manager like Bspwm, i3, sway, awesome instead of a full desktop environment (DE) like Gnome, KDE, XFCE e.t.c.
Arch installations only include a base system, making it very customizable. The fact that you make a decision on how your system should look like and the packages it should have installed, makes your system clean and not having useless applications eating your memory and CPU. You can only install what you need for your daily use.
Just for the record, My Arch Linux boot up time is less than 5 seconds with Samsung SSD 850 EVO and i3 window manager. All my Arch dotfiles for i3 are on Github.
Arch User Repository ( AUR)
AUR is a community-driven repository for Arch users, different from ABS mentioned earlier. AUR was created with an intention of making the process of sharing community packages easier and organized. It contains package descriptions (PKGBUILDs) that allow you to compile a package from source with makepkg and then install it via pacman.
AUR has a very large collection of PKGBUILDs contributed by users. A good number of new packages that enter the official repositories start in the AUR. Packages on AUR are not officially supported by Arch, but most are trusted applications distributed by Arch community users. All you need to start using AUR is a helper tool like yaourt, pacaur, and many others. Take a look at AUR helpers documentation for more details.
Systemd Init System
The default init system since 2013 has been Systemd. Systemd is a suite of basic building blocks for a Linux system. It provides a system and service manager that runs as PID 1 and starts the rest of the system. Systemd systemd supports SysV and LSB init scripts and works as a replacement for sysvinit.
Some good features of systemd include:
- Aggressive parallelization capabilities
- Offers on-demand starting of daemons
- Uses a socket and D-Bus activation for starting services
- Keeps track of processes using Linux control groups
- Maintains mount and automount points
- Implements an elaborate transactional dependency-based service control logic
- Ships with the utilities to control basic system configuration like the hostname, date, locale e.t.c.
A chance to learn Linux
Arch has been categorized as a do-it-yourself distribution for advanced and experienced Linux users. First, as it has been mentioned, they give a user the chance to explore everything from file systems, partitioning, X server and everything in general. The graphical installers hide most of the details that are important to know. Trust me its installation can be really daunting for newbies.
In a nutshell, it will take a bit of your time to install the operating system but at the end of it, no one else will know how your computer is running better than yourself. That is a guarantee. So instead of settling for the distributions with installers, why not take the plunge and do it all by yourself? It will be one beautiful ride. You can test in on VirtualBox before doing it on a real system.
An active and enthusiastic fan base
The Arch Linux family is quite an interesting one. They have a way of lobbying and convincing people to join their community and that shows how they enjoy being there. The huge fan base and active repositories are a sure way of letting you know that you are covered. What is more, the documentation that Arch Linux developers made available is breathtaking due to its thoroughness?.
You can never get lost when you get stuck. The community works pretty hard to ensure that applications are available and in the most stable way possible with complete documentation for installation, configurations, and troubleshooting.
Arch Linux Stability
From the experience of others and myself, what is amazing about Arch Linux is its stability and performance. It rarely hangs or throws system tantrums like most of the rest do. You can leverage on this if you are tired of crashes and hanging when you are doing your important things. The only thing you have to be keen on is the packages you install, avoid beta releases of applications, especially ones related to Xorg or Desktop Environments like Gnome and KDE.
Documentation and support
The team has managed to put together the Arch Wiki which is a very comprehensive and detailed repository of information. You will for sure get everything you would wish to know concerning installation and maintenance of every component and detail of a proper Linux system. This documentation can be a reference for general Linux administration. I’m sure if you are new to Arch but have experience with other Linux distros, you have already read Arch documentations a couple times.
All I can say in this section is that Arch is a beautiful distribution for all Linux users. It will bring the good out of you if you give it the patience and time it highly demands. Once you are through with all of the pieces, you have the freedom to install whatever you want for your machine. This means a highly customized system to suit your tastes and preferences.
Please note that Arch is only available for x86_64 CPU architecture. If you are a newbie from Windows environment, I recommend you start with user-friendly Linux distributions like Ubuntu before moving to Arch Linux.