Setting Up Arch Linux in Virtural Box

This instructions used: as a starting point. When I created my vbox, I used the above plus:

I plan on using this a a template to modify till I am happy with it. Also, it will provide a document to rebuild a VM.

About Arch Linux

There are many Linux distributions out there. Arch Linux is our choice. Start by reading a little bit about it:

Create a VM

  1. Download and install VirtualBox

    • Also install Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack

  2. Download archlinux-2018.01.01-x86_64.iso from Arch Linux Downloads page

    • Verify the file integrity checksum

  3. Create a new VM in VirtualBox

    • Select Arch Linux (64-bit)

    • RAM: 1 GB bare minimum, 2 GB highly recommend (or even more, if your host machine has 8 GB)

    • Hard disk: 20 GB bare minimum, 50 GB or more recommended. Choose “Dynamically allocated” so that the virtual disk takes up only as much space as it is currently using. Choose “VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image)”.

    • Boot the VM using the live CD image you downloaded.

Install Arch Linux

Once the VM boots successfully into the Arch Live CD image, you are ready to install Arch onto your virtual hard disk. Follow the Arch Linux Installation guide carefully step-by-step.

The Arch Linux Installation guide – we’ll call it the Guide from now on – is detailed and comprehensive, but sometimes it’s a bit confusing. I have listed below some additional info and directions on some of the trickier sections of the Guide.

Note that what follows is NOT the whole instruction. They are clarifications and additional help on the Arch Linux Installation guide that you are supposed to follow.

  • Set the keyboard layout

    Leave the default console keymap as US. Nothing to do here.

  • Verify the boot mode

    Nothing to do here. In case you’re curious, we are booting in BIOS mode.

  • Connect to the Internet

    Verify that the VM is connected to the Internet using the ping command.

  • Update the system clock

    Follow the Guide’s instruction.

  • Partition the disks / Format the partitions / Mount the file systems

    These sections point you to two other long documents, Partitioning and File systems, but don’t really tell you what to do. Skim through the documents to get an idea of what it’s talking about. Basically, you should come to an understanding of what a disk partition is.

    Here is what you’ll actually do. First, create a single MBR partition which fills up the entire hard disk. We will use parted:

    parted /dev/sda

    Once you are in parted (you know it because the prompt changes to (parted)), run the following commands:

    mklabel  msdos
    mkpart  primary  ext4  0%  100%
    set 1 boot on

    First we select “msdos” partition type, which is another name for the MBR partition type. Then we create a “primary” partition which will fill up 100% of the disk, and indicate that we will later format it as an “ext4” file system type. We then make the partition bootable. Finally run the print command to see if all is well before we quit out of parted.

    If you paid attention to the print output, you will see that your partition doesn’t actually start at the beginning of the disk, even if we told it so. Parted skipped 1049kB at the start of the disk. Don’t worry. That’s the way it should be.

    After creating the partition /dev/sda1, run the following command to format the partition as an ext4 filesystem:

    mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda1

    Note that we do not create a swap partition because a swap file can be added later if necessary.

    Lastly, don’t forget to mount the new partition at /mnt to begin filling it up with an Arch Linux installation:

    mount  /dev/sda1  /mnt
  • Select the mirrors

    You should edit /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist to put a geographically close mirror server at the top of the file. For example, you can put the server hosted at Columbia University at the top of the list.

  • Install the base packages

    Follow the Guide’s instruction.

  • Fstab

    Follow the Guide’s instruction.

  • Chroot

    Follow the Guide’s instruction.

  • Time zone

    The ln command in the Guide is missing the -f flag. Also, obviously, you should change Region/City with the actual region/city that you are in. For example:

    ln  -sf  /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/New_York  /etc/localtime

    And don’t forget to run:

    hwclock --systohc
  • Locale

    Follow the Guide’s instruction to generate the en_US.UTF–8 locale, and set the LANG variable in /etc/locale.conf.

    Optionally, put FONT=Lat2-Terminus16 in /etc/vconsole.conf, which will make the console look much nicer.

  • Hostname

    Follow the Guide’s instruction.

  • Network configuration

    For configuring the network, all you need to do is to run the following command:

    systemctl enable dhcpcd.service
  • Initramfs

    Nothing to do here.

  • Root password

    Follow the Guide’s instruction.

  • Boot loader

    This section points you to a lot of super confusing information. Here is all you need to do:

    pacman -S intel-ucode
    pacman -S grub
    grub-install --target=i386-pc /dev/sda
    grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

    For the curious, we are installing the GRUB bootloader into our system, which uses BIOS/MBR boot method.

  • Reboot

    Follow the Guide’s instruction.

    When you type “reboot” at the end, the virtual machine will reboot back into the install CD (which is a virtual CD mapped to the archlinux-YYYY.MM.DD-x86_64.iso file).

    At this point, eject the virtual CD by clicking the round disk button on the status bar at the bottom of the VM window, and selecting “Remove disk from virtual drive”. If you get an error when you try to eject the CD, power off the virtual machine by closing the VM window, turn it back on, and try ejecting the CD again.

    After you have successfully ejected the CD, power off the VM and turn it on again. You will boot into the newly installed Arch Linux.

Required reading

At this point, you have a minimally functional Arch Linux system. There are a few more things to do before you can use the system productively.

Before we begin, however, you must understand some basic concepts about Arch Linux. Please read the following short sections in the General Recommendations page:

  • Section 1: System administration

  • Section 2: Package management

  • Section 4: Graphical user interface

After you have read the sections, move on to the post-installation setup.

Post-installation setup

  • User management

    Pick a name for a non-root user and add the user. For example:

    useradd -m -g users -s /bin/bash archie
    passwd archie

    At this point, you can make the non-root user a “sudoer”. A sudoer can run a command as root by passing it through the sudo command.

    First, install sudo:

    pacman -S sudo

    Then, add the following lines to /etc/sudoers (you can omit the comments of course, and replace archie with your user name):

    # The basic structure of a user spec looks like this:
    # who where = (as_whom) how: what
    archie ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL
  • Package management

    This is also a good time to install some essential packages:

    pacman -S net-tools pkgfile base-devel

    And perhaps your favorite editors:

    pacman -S vim emacs

    You can also try running a full system upgrade to see if any of your installed packages have new versions:

    pacman -Syu

    At this point, please take a snapshot of your VM from VirtualBox so that you can come back to this point if something goes wrong in the subsequent steps.

  • Install a video driver

    We will be installing VirtualBox Guest Additions later, but for now, install the vesa driver by running pacman -S xf86-video-vesa. This will let you test X window system when you don’t have VirtualBox Guest Additions installed yet.

  • Choose and install a graphical interface

    Linux offers a dizzying array of choices when it comes to graphical desktop environments. You can use whatever you like.

    Xfce is what I use. Here is how to install it:

    # first, install Xorg
    pacman -S xorg  xorg-server  xorg-apps
    # install some good fonts
    pacman -S ttf-dejavu  ttf-droid  ttf-inconsolata
    # install Xfce
    pacman -S xfce4  xfce4-goodies

    You can also install a GUI version of your editor and a web browser:

    pacman -S gvim  firefox  chromium

    Before you start your Xfce4 desktop, log in as the non-root user. You can switch to the 2nd virtual console by pressing Ctrl-Alt-F2. After you log in as a non-root user, you can type the following to start your Xfce4 desktop:


Install VirtualBox Guest Additions

Now you should install VirtualBox Guest Additions inside the VM. The Guest Additions will enable very useful features like dynamically resizing the VM window, copy & paste between guest and host, time sync between guest & host, and accessing the host file system from the guest.

  1. Install packages:

    sudo pacman -S linux-headers
    sudo pacman -S virtualbox-guest-dkms
    sudo pacman -S virtualbox-guest-utils
  2. In order to load the VirtualBox kernel modules and synchronize time with the host machine, type the following:

    sudo systemctl enable vboxservice.service
  3. Enable “Bidirectional” Shared Clipboard from VirtualBox Manager’s Settings / General / Advanced menu.

  4. Reboot the VM, start your Xfce4 desktop (or whatever desktop environment you’re using), launch a terminal window, and type ps ax | grep -i vbox. You should see an output like this:

    154 ?        S<     0:00 [iprt-VBoxWQueue]
    197 ?        Ssl    0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxService -f
    392 ?        S      0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --clipboard
    393 ?        Sl     0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --clipboard
    401 ?        S      0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --display
    402 ?        S      0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --display
    409 ?        S      0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --seamless
    410 ?        Sl     0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --seamless
    415 ?        S      0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --draganddrop
    416 ?        Sl     0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --draganddrop
    531 pts/0    S+     0:00 grep -i vbox

    Try copy & paste between host and guest.

You can look through Arch’s documentation on VirtualBox for more detailed info.

Switch to Linux LTS kernel

The stock kernel of Arch Linux stays pretty close to the bleeding edge, so it gets updated very frequently. Arch offers a more stable alternative based on a kernel version designated as a Long-Term Support (LTS) version. The linux package in Arch is the stock kernel and the linux-lts package is the LTS kernel. We are going to use the LTS kernel.

  1. Install the LTS kernel packages.

    sudo pacman -S linux-lts linux-lts-headers
  2. Before we update the boot menu to include the new kernel, let’s tweak the settings of GRUB (our bootloader) by modifying /etc/default/grub.

    First, you will find GRUB_DEFAULT=0 at the top of the file. Change it to:


    so that GRUB will remember the last kernel you boosted from and make it the default entry next time you boot. Then you also need to add the following lines at the end of the file:


    Optionally, while you’re editing this file, you can make your virtual console – the text-based command line before you start Xfce – a little bigger. Change GRUB_GFXMODE=auto to:


    And make sure the following line is there and not commented out:


    Also uncomment the following lines to have the menu screen in color:

  3. After you modified /etc/default/grub, regenerate the GRUB configuration by running:

    sudo grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg
  4. Verify that the new kernel works correctly:

    1. Type uname -r to see the current kernel version you’re running

    2. Reboot into the new LTS kernel

    3. Type uname -r again to see the new LTS kernel version.


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