Arch Linux: The Ultimate Home Server Distro

June 9, 2015
Archey output on my home server, affectionately known as hal.

Archey output on my home server, affectionately known as hal.

Arch Linux may not be most people’s first choice for a home server, or even a workstation, but if you can get past the learning curve it’s one of the best options. After trying Ubuntu, Debian, Linux Mint, and Elementary on my HTPC/home server I finally settled on Arch Linux. Why? That’s what I’ll try to convince you of in this post.

The distros I listed are great and certainly have their uses, but for my needs they just couldn’t cut it. Yes, I realize that they are all basically Debian/Ubuntu derivatives and that I never tried OpenELEC, or say, PCLinuxOS, but after trying Ubuntu and friends I had learned enough about what I needed in an OS, to know that I needed Arch.

Lightweight

Arch Linux doesn’t come with much, just a small base system from which you can add whatever you want to create the ultimate, customized OS of your dreams. For beginner’s, this can seem daunting. The installer doesn’t even come with a GUI. If you have experience with Linux, then it’s not that bad. If you’re brand new to Linux, then Arch might not be for you. Then again, Arch was my first Linux experience and I survived it somehow (after 5-6 attempts to install it ;). It can seem a bit tedious to install things which are there by default on other OS’s, but you’ll learn a lot about Linux and your set up specifically. This way, if something breaks later you’ll have a better understanding of where to look to fix it.

One does not simply install arch linux correctly the first try ...

If you follow the Beginner’s Guide closely then your install should work just fine. Despite the above meme, it is definitely possible to install Arch Linux correctly the first time. If you simply don’t have the time for an Arch install, then check out Antegros. It’s basically Arch, but with some defaults already configured for you and a nice installer. You’ll end up with a full Arch system, but without all of the hassle.

The small base system may make set up a bit tedious, but it also means that when you’re done you’ll have an OS that is perfectly tailored to your needs. It will have only the packages you need and nothing you don’t.

Keep rollin’

With a rolling release, all of your software (including the core system components, like the Linux kernel) is updated shortly after upstream. This means that you will always have the latest and greatest improvements, security updates, and bug fixes. There is no need to upgrade to a newer version of the OS, because you’re always at the newest version of everything.

When your favorite software announces a new feature or security fix, you’ll get it right away

Stability

A rolling release? Stable?! I know, how can your system be stable when it’s always changing? It’s true, occasionally riding the bleeding edge can sometimes result in things breaking. But after using Ubuntu for a year and a half and Arch for 1, I spent way more time fixing Ubuntu than I ever have Arch.

 .--.                  Pacman v4.2.1 - libalpm v9.0.1
/ _.-' .-.  .-.  .-.   Copyright (C) 2006-2014 Pacman Development Team
\  '-. '-'  '-'  '-'   Copyright (C) 2002-2006 Judd Vinet
 '--'

If you stay on top of your updates (at least weekly or every other week) and pay attention to what pacman says during those updates then you should be fine. It may just be anecdotal evidence on my part, but I have had so few problems using Arch compared to other distros. Pacman, Arch’s package manager, is amazing. It is easily my favorite out of all the distros I’ve tried (yum comes in second for me).

AUR you kidding me?

The Arch User Repository is, in a lot of ways, what makes Arch shine. The AUR contains packages not officially supported by Arch, submitted by users. It can seem a little shady running code from some random person on the internet, but each package has a comments section and if you’re unsure about something, the comments should clear it up. One should always be careful when installing unsupported software, but the same is true of PPAs or other similar systems.

The AUR has everything. Just about any software you might want to install is already there. With an AUR helper like packer or yaourt, it becomes extremely easy to install almost any Linux software you can think of.

Arch Wiki to the rescue

Back when I used Ubuntu and her derivatives, when something broke or I couldn’t quite understand the man pages, I turned to Google. Most issues I was having, had solutions on the Arch Wiki, which is what tops the results of Google searches about specific Linux packages. Hands down, the Arch wiki represents some of the best Linux documentation on the interwebs. And if you can’t find the solution to your problem there, then the forums are active and filled with people who know their stuff. Ubuntu forum members may be friendlier, but Arch forum members definitely are more knowledgeable. Sure, they can seem a bit ornery to newbies, but that only because you probably didn’t check the wiki or search the forums first …

My setup

So here’s what I have my home server set up to do: