Arch Linux (//) is a Linux distribution for computers based on x86-64 architectures. The Arch Linux repositories contain both libre, and nonfree software, and the default Arch Linux kernel contains nonfree proprietary blobs, hence the distribution is not endorsed by the GNU project.
|Developer||Aaron Griffin and others|
|OS family||Linux (Unix-like)|
|Source model||Open source|
|Initial release||11 March 2002|
|Latest release||Rolling release / installation medium 2019.12.01|
|Marketing target||General purpose|
|Kernel type||Monolithic (Linux)|
|Userland||GNU Core Utilities|
|Default user interface||Command-line interface (Bash)|
|License||Free software (GNU GPL and other licenses)|
Arch Linux adheres to five principles: simplicity, modernity, pragmatism, user centrality and versatility. In general, the principles maintain minimal distribution-specific changes, minimal breakage with updates, pragmatic over ideological design choices, user-friendliness, and minimal bloat.
A package manager written specifically for Arch Linux, pacman, is used to install, remove and update software packages. Arch Linux uses a rolling release model, meaning there are no "major release" of completely new versions of the system; a regular system update is all that is needed to obtain the latest Arch software; the installation images released by the Arch team are simply up-to-date snapshots of the main system components.
Arch Linux has comprehensive documentation, which consists of a community wiki known as the ArchWiki.
Inspired by CRUX, another minimalist distribution, Judd Vinet started the Arch Linux project in March 2002. The name was chosen because Vinet liked the word's meaning of "the principal," as in "arch-enemy".
The end of i686 support was announced in January 2017, with the February 2017 ISO being the last one including i686 and making the architecture unsupported in November 2017. Since then, the community derivative Arch Linux 32 can be used for i686 hardware.
Until pacman version 4.0.0 Arch Linux's package manager lacked support for signed packages. Packages and metadata were not verified for authenticity by pacman during the download-install process. Without package authentication checking, tampered-with or malicious repository mirrors can compromise the integrity of a system. Pacman 4 allowed verification of the package database and packages, but it was disabled by default. In November 2011 package signing became mandatory for new package builds, and as of 21 March 2012 every official package is signed.
Design and principles
Arch is largely based around binary packages. Packages target x86-64 microprocessors to assist performance on modern hardware. A ports/ebuild-like system is also provided for automated source compilation, known as the Arch Build System.
Arch Linux focuses on simplicity of design, meaning that the main focus involves creating an environment that is straightforward and relatively easy for the user to understand directly, rather than providing polished point-and-click style management tools — the package manager, for example, does not have an official graphical front-end. This is largely achieved by encouraging the use of succinctly commented, clean configuration files that are arranged for quick access and editing. This has earned it a reputation as a distribution for "intermediate and advanced Linux users who aren't afraid of the command line".
Relying on complex tools to manage and build your system is going to hurt the end users. [...] "If you try to hide the complexity of the system, you'll end up with a more complex system". Layers of abstraction that serve to hide internals are never a good thing. Instead, the internals should be designed in a way such that they NEED no hiding.
The Arch Linux website supplies ISO images that can be run from CD or USB. After a user partitions and formats their drive, a simple command line script (pacstrap) is used to install the base system. The installation of additional packages which are not part of the base system (for example, desktop environments), can be done with either pacstrap, or pacman after booting (or chrooting) into the new installation.
An alternative to using CD or USB images for installation is to use the static version of the package manager pacman, from within another Linux-based operating system. The user can mount their newly formatted drive partition, and use pacstrap (or pacman with the appropriate command-line switch) to install base and additional packages with the mountpoint of the destination device as the root for its operations. This method is useful when installing Arch Linux onto USB flash drives, or onto a temporarily mounted device which belongs to another system.
Regardless of the selected installation type, further actions need to be taken before the new system is ready for use, most notably by installing a bootloader, creating an initramfs, and configuring the new system.
Arch Linux does not schedule releases for specific dates but uses a "rolling release" system where new packages are provided throughout the day. Its package management allows users to easily keep systems updated.
Arch Linux's only supported binary platform is x86_64. The Arch package repositories and User Repository (AUR) contain 58,000 binary and source packages, which comes close to Debian Linux's 68,000 packages; however, the two distributions' approaches to packaging differ, making direct comparisons difficult. For example, six out of Arch's 58,000 packages comprise the software Abiword, of which three in the user repository replace the canonical Abiword package with an alternative build type or version (such as sourcing from the latest commit to Abiword's source control repository), whereas Debian installs a single version of Abiword across seven packages. The Arch User Repository also contains a writerperfect package which installs several document format converters, while Debian provides each of the more than 20 converters in its own subpackage.
To facilitate regular package changes, pacman (The Arch Package Manager, its name a contraction of "package manager") was developed by Judd Vinet to provide Arch with its own package manager able to track dependencies. It is written in C.
All packages are managed using the pacman package manager. Pacman handles package installation, upgrades, removal, and downgrades, and features automatic dependency resolution. The packages for Arch Linux are obtained from the Arch Linux package tree and are compiled for the x86-64 architecture. It uses binary packages in the
tar.xz format or
tar.zst (for zstd compression), with
.pkg placed before this to indicate that it is a pacman package (giving
- core, which contains all the packages needed to set up a base system
- extra, which holds packages not required for the base system, including desktop environments and programs
- community, which contains packages built and voted on by the community; includes packages that have sufficient votes and have been adopted by a "trusted user".
- multilib, a centralized repository for x86-64 users to more readily support 32-bit applications in a 64-bit environment.
Additionally there are testing repositories which include binary package candidates for other repositories. Currently, the following testing repositories exist:
- testing, with packages for core and extra.
- community-testing, with packages for community.
- multilib-testing, with packages for multilib.
The staging and community-staging repositories are used for some rebuilds to avoid broken packages in testing.
There are also two other repositories that include the newest version of certain desktop environments.
- gnome-unstable, which contains packages of a new version of software from GNOME before being released into testing.
- kde-unstable, which contains packages of a new version of KDE software before being released into testing.
The most well-known unofficial repository is the Arch User Repository, or AUR, hosted on the Arch Linux site. However, the AUR does not host binary packages, hosting instead a collection of build scripts known as PKGBUILDs.
Arch Build System (ABS)
The Arch Build System (ABS) is a ports-like source packaging system that compiles source tarballs into binary packages, which are installed via pacman. The Arch Build System provides a directory tree of shell scripts, called PKGBUILDs, that enable any and all official Arch packages to be customized and compiled. Rebuilding the entire system using modified compiler flags is also supported by the Arch Build System. The Arch Build System
makepkg tool can be used to create custom
pkg.tar.xz packages from third-party sources. The resulting packages are also installable and trackable via pacman.
Arch User Repository (AUR)
In addition to the repositories, the Arch User Repository (AUR) provides user-made PKGBUILD scripts for packages not included in the repositories. These PKGBUILD scripts simplify building from source by explicitly listing and checking for dependencies and configuring the install to match the Arch architecture. Arch User Repository helper programs can further streamline the downloading of PKGBUILD scripts and associated building process. However, this comes at the cost of executing PKGBUILDs not validated by a trusted person; as a result, Arch developers have stated that the utilities for automatic finding, downloading and executing of PKGBUILDs will never be included in the official repositories.
Users can create packages compatible with pacman using the Arch Build System and custom PKGBUILD scripts. This functionality has helped support the Arch User Repository, which consists of user contributed packages to supplement the official repositories.
The Arch User Repository provides the community with packages that are not included in the repositories. Reasons include:
- Licensing issues: software that cannot be redistributed, but is free to use, can be included in the Arch User Repository since all that is hosted by the Arch Linux website is a shell script that downloads the actual software from elsewhere. Examples include proprietary freeware such as Google Earth and RealPlayer.
- Modified official packages: the Arch User Repository also contains many variations on the official packaging as well as beta versions of software that is contained within the repositories as stable releases.
- Rarity of the software: rarely used programs have not been added to the official repositories (yet).
- Betas or "nightly" versions of software which are very new and thus unstable. Examples include the "firefox-nightly" package, which gives new daily builds of the Firefox web browser.
PKGBUILDs for any software can be contributed by ordinary users and any PKGBUILD that is not confined to the Arch User Repository for policy reasons can be voted into the community repositories.
There are several projects working on porting the Arch Linux ideas and tools to other kernels, including PacBSD (formerly ArchBSD) and Arch Hurd, which are based on the FreeBSD and GNU Hurd kernels respectively. There is also the Arch Linux ARM project, which aims to port Arch Linux to ARM-based devices, including the Raspberry Pi, as well as the Arch Linux 32 project, which continued support for systems with 32-bit only CPUs after the mainline Arch Linux project dropped support for the architecture in November 2017.
LWN.net wrote a review about Arch Linux in 2005: LWN.net also has a later review about Arch Linux.
Linux maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman has stated in regards to Arch that it "works really really well"; further praising the Arch Wiki, and that the distribution stays close to upstream, as well as the feedback loop with the community.
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[Arch developers'] idea of a constantly rolling, forward-moving system is the way to go. It's neutral, it's community-based, it has everything I need. It works really really well [...] Their Wiki is amazing. The documentation -- it's like one of the best resources out there these days. If you look up any userspace program and how to configure it and use it. Actually, the systemd Arch Wiki pages are one of the most amazing resources out there. [...] One of the main policies of Arch, or philosophies, is you stay as close to the upstream as possible. And as a developer, I want that. They're really good in feedback to the community. Because I want that testing -- I want to make sure that things are fixed. And if it is broken, I learn about it quickly and I fix it and push the stuff out. So that's actually a really good feedback loop.