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What to do after installing Arch Linux: My advice to a new user.

Published on 2020-06-30

When it comes to installing a minimalist distribution of Linux, the biggest difference will be package setup. With a distro like Arch, many "basics" such as a desktop will not be installed by default. Sometimes dependencies won't be pulled for more complex packages, requiring further investigation.

I am using Artix Linux which is Arch Linux but with alternative init systems. Thanks to the Arch base, I can very easily use the advice given from the Arch Wiki. I would recommend Artix to anyone who likes Arch, but prefers a simpler alternative to systemd.

The Arch wiki is a seriously impressive resource, you can save a bunch of time and still learn something just by reading it. For this reason, I will only be linking Arch Linux wiki pages. If you don't use anything based off Arch, the wiki can still be useful just be prepared for different package management (including package names), as well as differing init commands.

That should get you started, I suggest that you continue to consult the wiki. Especially if you are installing a more complicated program like wine, qemu and so on. Seriously reading even a little bit of the wiki will save you so much time.

If something doesn't work, run it in a terminal. The most common problem during an initial setup is missing dependencies. Whilst installing a package, pay attention to the "optional dependencies". You may want or need these.

What DE/WM?

If you are going for a WM, I would suggest sway. It is modelled after the very popular i3 but uses Wayland instead of X11. Wayland has much improved performance at the cost of some missing features (principally a lack of support for some screen recorders and many screen sharing programs).

If you just want an easy experience then you should pick a DE. Someone after a very Mac-like experience should choose gnome, otherwise a more traditional experience can be had with cinnamon.

Personally I think that the desktop is massively overthought and over-complicated. The desktop just displays graphical programs and lets you manage them with "windows". The things you do on a computer are with more high level programs. Don't worry too much about the choice, just choose one that works well for you!

Starting a desktop session without a display manager

X11-based desktops should use xinit

Wayland-based desktops can use the login shell's profile (default: ~/.bash_profile).

For me I have a script in my .zprofile (I use zsh instead of bash) that will autostart my window manager only when logging in from tty1. Handy for troubleshooting.

Put the following at the end of your profile:

if [[ -z $DISPLAY ]] && [[ $(tty) = /dev/tty1 ]]; then
  exec env dbus-launch --sh-syntax --exit-with-session sway

Remember I use sway. Read xinit if you use an X11-based environment.

An advantage to not using a display manager is that your login shell will execute it's profile on login. You can use this to automatically set environment variables on login. Most DM's will ignore this file, since the DM manages login seperate to the login shell.

Further Reading