Install Arch Linux from existing Linux

From ArchWiki

This document describes the bootstrapping process required to install Arch Linux from a running Linux host system. After bootstrapping, the installation proceeds as described in the Installation guide.

Installing Arch Linux from a running Linux is useful for:

The goal of the bootstrapping procedure is to setup an environment from which the scripts from arch-install-scripts (such as pacstrap and arch-chroot) can be run.

If the host system runs Arch Linux, this can be achieved by simply installing arch-install-scripts. If the host system runs another Linux distribution, you will first need to set up an Arch Linux-based chroot.

Note: This guide requires that the existing host system be able to execute the new target Arch Linux architecture programs. This means it has to be an x86_64 host.
Warning: Please make sure you understand each step before proceeding. It is easy to destroy your system or to lose data!

Backup and preparation

Backup all your data including mails, webservers, etc. Have all information at your fingertips. Preserve all your server configurations, hostnames, etc.

Here is a list of data you will likely need:

  • IP address
  • hostname(s), (note: rootserver are mostly also part of the providers domain, check or save your /etc/hosts before you delete)
  • DNS server (check /etc/resolv.conf)
  • SSH keys (if other people work on your server, they will have to accept new keys otherwise. This includes keys from your Apache, your mail servers, your SSH server and others.)
  • Hardware info (network card, etc. Refer to your pre-installed /etc/modules.conf )
  • Grub configuration files.

In general, it is a good idea to have a local copy of your original /etc directory on your local hard drive.

From a host running Arch Linux

Install the arch-install-scripts package.

Follow Installation guide#Mount the file systems to mount the filesystem that will be used for the root directory as well as all the other needed mount points. If you already use the /mnt directory for something else, just create another directory such as /mnt/install and use it as the mount point base for the rest of the installation.

At this stage, Arch Linux can either be installed from scratch or it can mirror the host installation. The two options are described thereafter.

Create a new Arch installation

Follow Installation guide#Installation.

In the procedure, the first step, Installation guide#Select the mirrors, can be skipped since the host should already have a correct mirrorlist.

  • In order to avoid redownloading all the packages, consider following Pacman/Tips and tricks#Network shared pacman cache, or use pacstrap's -c option to use your host machine's package cache.
  • When the grub boot-loader is used, the grub-mkconfig may detect devices incorrectly. This will result in Error:no such device when trying to boot from the stick. To solve this problem, from the host running Arch Linux, mount the newly installed partitions, arch-chroot to the new partition, then install and configure grub. The last step may require disabling lvmetad from /etc/lvm/lvm.conf by setting use_lvmetad=0.

Create a copy of an existing Arch installation

It is possible to replicate an existing Arch Linux installation by copying the host filesystem to the new partition and make some adjustments to it to make it bootable and unique.

The first step is to copy the host files into the mounted new partition, for this, consider using the approach exhibited in rsync#Full system backup.

Then, follow the procedure described in Installation guide#Configure the system with some caveats and additional steps:

If the mirrored Arch installation may be used within a different configuration or with another hardware, consider the following additional operations:

From a host running another Linux distribution

There are multiple tools which automate a large part of the steps described in the following subsections. See their respective homepages for detailed instructions.

The manual way is presented in the following subsections. The idea is to either get pacman working directly on the host system, or to run an Arch system inside the host system, with the actual installation being executed from the Arch system. The nested system is contained inside a chroot.

Using pacman from the host system

Pacman can be compiled on most Linux distributions, and used directly on the host system to bootstrap Arch Linux. The arch-install-scripts should run without issues directly from the downloaded sources on any recent distribution.

Some distributions provide a package for pacman and/or arch-install-scripts in their official repositories which can be used for this purpose. As of July 2020, Void Linux is known to provide the pacman package, and Alpine Linux and Fedora are known to provide both pacman and arch-install-scripts.

Creating a chroot

Two methods to setup and enter the chroot are presented below, from the easiest to the most complicated. Select only one of the two methods. Then, continue at #Using a chroot environment.

Method A: Using the bootstrap tarball (recommended)

Download the bootstrap tarball from a mirror into /tmp/.

Download the bootstrap tarball signature from the download page and place it in the same directory. Do not download it from a mirror.

Verify the signature with GnuPG.

Extract the tarball:

# tar xf /path-to-bootstrap-image/archlinux-bootstrap-x86_64.tar.zst --numeric-owner

Take note of the final --numeric-owner option, which is important for preserving correct UID and GID numbers of extracted files in case your existing Linux system uses different numbers than Arch Linux.

Select a repository server by editing /tmp/root.x86_64/etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist.

Enter the chroot:

  • If bash 4 or later is installed, and unshare supports the --fork and --pid options:
    # /tmp/root.x86_64/bin/arch-chroot /tmp/root.x86_64/
  • Otherwise, run the following commands:
# mount --bind /tmp/root.x86_64 /tmp/root.x86_64
# cd /tmp/root.x86_64
# cp /etc/resolv.conf etc
# mount -t proc /proc proc
# mount --make-rslave --rbind /sys sys
# mount --make-rslave --rbind /dev dev
# mount --make-rslave --rbind /run run    # (assuming /run exists on the system)
# chroot /tmp/root.x86_64 /bin/bash

Method B: Using the LiveCD image

It is possible to mount the root image of the latest Arch Linux installation media and then chroot into it. This method has the advantage of providing a working Arch Linux installation right within the host system without the need to prepare it by installing specific packages.

Note: Before proceeding, make sure the latest version of squashfs is installed on the host system. Otherwise, errors like the following are to be expected: FATAL ERROR aborting: uncompress_inode_table: failed to read block.

The root image can be found on one of the mirrors under iso/latest/arch/x86_64/. The squashfs format is not editable, so we unsquash the root image and mount it.

To unsquash the root image, run

# unsquashfs airootfs.sfs

Select a repository server by editing squashfs-root/etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist.

Before chrooting to the unsquashed root image, we need to set up some mount points and copy the resolv.conf for networking.

# mount --bind squashfs-root squashfs-root
# mount -t proc none squashfs-root/proc
# mount -t sysfs none squashfs-root/sys
# mount -o bind /dev squashfs-root/dev
# mount -o bind /dev/pts squashfs-root/dev/pts  ## important for pacman (for signature check)
# cp -L /etc/resolv.conf squashfs-root/etc  ## this is needed to use networking within the chroot

Now, everything is prepared to chroot into the newly installed Arch environment:

# chroot squashfs-root bash

Using a chroot environment

The bootstrap environment is really barebones (no nano or lvm2). Therefore, we need to set up pacman in order to download other necessary packages.

Initializing pacman keyring

Before starting the installation, pacman keys need to be setup. Run the following commands:

# pacman-key --init
# pacman-key --populate

See pacman/Package signing#Initializing the keyring for details.

Downloading basic tools

Refresh the package lists and install what you need: base-devel, parted etc.

This article or section needs language, wiki syntax or style improvements. See Help:Style for reference.

Reason: This error is explained within arch-chroot(8) § DESCRIPTION, it should be linked there. (Discuss in Talk:Install Arch Linux from existing Linux)
Note: When you try to install packages with pacman, you might get error: could not determine cachedir mount point /var/cache/pacman/pkg. To workaround it, run
# mount --bind directory-to-livecd-or-bootstrap directory-to-livecd-or-bootstrap
before chrooting. See FS#46169.

Installation tips

You can now proceed to Installation guide#Mount the file systems and follow the rest of the Installation guide.

Some host systems or configurations may require certain extra steps. See the sections below for tips.

Debian-based host


On some Debian-based host systems, pacstrap may produce the following error:

# pacstrap -K /mnt base
==> Creating install root at /mnt
mount: mount point /mnt/dev/shm is a symbolic link to nowhere
==> ERROR: failed to setup API filesystems in new root

This is because in some versions of Debian, /dev/shm points to /run/shm while in the Arch-based chroot, /run/shm does not exist and the link is broken. To correct this error, create a directory /run/shm:

# mkdir /run/shm

While installing archlinux-2015.07.01-x86_64 from a Debian 7 host, the following error prevented both pacstrap(8) and arch-chroot from working:

# pacstrap -K -i /mnt
mount: mount point /mnt/dev/pts does not exist
==> ERROR: failed to setup chroot /mnt

Apparently, this is because these two scripts use a common function. chroot_setup()[1] relies on newer features of util-linux, which are incompatible with Debian 7 userland (see FS#45737).

The solution for pacstrap is to manually execute its various tasks, but use the regular procedure to mount the kernel filesystems on the target directory ("$newroot"):

# newroot=/mnt
# mkdir -m 0755 -p "$newroot"/var/{cache/pacman/pkg,lib/pacman,log} "$newroot"/{dev,run,etc}
# mkdir -m 1777 -p "$newroot"/tmp
# mkdir -m 0555 -p "$newroot"/{sys,proc}
# mount --bind "$newroot" "$newroot"
# mount -t proc /proc "$newroot/proc"
# mount --rbind /sys "$newroot/sys"
# mount --rbind /run "$newroot/run"
# mount --rbind /dev "$newroot/dev"
# pacman -r "$newroot" --cachedir="$newroot/var/cache/pacman/pkg" -Sy base base-devel ... ## add the packages you want
# cp -a /etc/pacman.d/gnupg "$newroot/etc/pacman.d/"       ## copy keyring
# cp -a /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist "$newroot/etc/pacman.d/"  ## copy mirrorlist

Instead of using arch-chroot for Installation guide#Chroot, simply use:

# chroot "$newroot"

Fedora-based host

On Fedora based hosts and live USBs you may encounter problems when using genfstab to generate your fstab. Remove duplicate entries and the "seclabel" option where it appears, as this is Fedora-specific and will keep your system from booting normally.

Things to check before you reboot

Before rebooting, doublecheck a few details in your installation to achieve a successful installation. To do so, first chroot into the newly-installed system, and then:

  • create a user with password, so you can login via ssh. This is critical since root login is disabled by default since OpenSSH-7.1p2.
  • set a root password so that you can switch to root via su later
  • install a ssh solution and enable its server instance to start automatically at boot.
  • set up your network configuration in order to have a connection started automatically at boot.
  • set up a boot loader and configure it to use the swap partition you appropriated earlier as the root partition. You might want to configure your bootloader to be able to boot into your old system; it is helpful to re-use the server's existing /boot partition in the new system for this purpose.

Replacing the existing system without a LiveCD

Find ~700 MB of free space somewhere on the disk, e.g. by partitioning a swap partition. You can disable the swap partition and set up your system there.

Set old swap partition as new root partition

Check cfdisk, /proc/swaps or /etc/fstab to find your swap partition. Assuming your hard drive is located on sdaX (X will be a number).

Do the following:

Disable the swap space:

# swapoff /dev/sdaX

Create a filesystem on it

# fdisk /dev/sda
(set /dev/sdaX ID field to "Linux" - Hex 83)
# mke2fs -j /dev/sdaX

Create a directory to mount it in

# mkdir /mnt/newsys

Finally, mount the new directory for installing the intermediate system.

# mount -t ext4 /dev/sdaX /mnt/newsys


Install essentials packages and any other package required to get a system with internet connection up and running in the temporary partition, being careful with the limit of ~700 MB space. When specifying packages to be installed with pacstrap, consider adding the -c flag to avoid filling up valuable space by downloading packages to the host system.

Once the new Arch Linux system is installed, fix the bootloader configuration, then reboot into the newly created system, and rsync the entire system to the primary partition.