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My Arch Linux Setup with GNOME 3

Posted on:November 25, 2017 at 12:00 AM
 at 19 min read

If you have been following me on this space, you would have known by now, I am very particular about my computers, its operating systems, looks, softwares etc. Before you start getting any wrong ideas, my love for Arch Linux is still going strong.

However, I have moved on to Gnome 3 as my choice desktop. This post is an updated version of my previous post with the latest configuration of my machine. I have also update my GPU to 1080 Ti to be able to run some computer vision models at reasonable speeds. I use this desktop for some audio processing and some Kaggle-level computer vision/deep learning.

In this post, we will do a complete installation of Arch Linux with Gnome 3 as the desktop environment. Our setup will also involve encryption of the root partition that will be formatted in btrfs.

System Info
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Table of ContentsSection titled Table of Contents

Open Table of Contents

System DetailsSection titled System Details

For reference, my installation system is a slightly upgraded form of my original desktop:

Base InstallationSection titled Base Installation

Before beginning this guide, I would assume that you have a bootable USB of the latest Arch Linux Installer. If not, please follow the Arch wiki guide. Once you login into the installer USB, You will be logged in as the root user, and presented with a zsh shell. I will assume you have an Ethernet connection and hence will be connected to Internet by default. If you have to rely on wifi, please refer to the Wireless Network Configuration wiki page for the detailed setup. You must have Internet connection at this stage before proceeding any further.

You should boot into UEFI mode if you have a UEFI motherboard and UEFI mode enabled. To verify that you have booted in UEFI mode, please run:

efivar -l

This should print all set UEFI variables. Please look at the Arch Installation Guide in case you do not get any list of UEFI variables.

If you have high resolution 4K monitor like me, you will need to run following to increase fonts to a readable size:

pacman -Sy
pacman -S terminus-font
setfont ter-132n

We are all set to get started with the actual installation process.

Partitioning Hard DrivesSection titled Partitioning Hard Drives

First find the hard drive that you will be using as the main/root disk.

  OUTPUT eg.
  major minor  #blocks  name

  8        0  268435456 sda
  9        0  268435456 sdb
  19       0  268435456 sdc
  11       0     759808 sr0
  7        0     328616 loop0

We will be using /dev/sda as the main disk (with / & /home), /dev/sdb as /data and /dev/sdc as /media .

Because we are creating an encrypted file system it’s a good idea to first overwrite it with random data. This can be done by filling the disk with zeros. Note that my disk is 240 GB, hence I have put a count of 250000. After filling the space with zero, we will need to recreate/overwrite the GPT.

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda bs=1M count=250000
gdisk /dev/sda
Found invalid MBR and corrupt GPT. What do you want to do? (Using the
GPT MAY permit recovery of GPT data.)
 1 - Use current GPT
 2 - Create blank GPT

# Then press 2 to create a blank GPT and start fresh

press x - to go to extended menu
press z - to zap
press Y - to confirm
press Y - to delete MBR

# It might now kick us out of _gdisk_, so get back into it:
gdisk /dev/sda

Command (? for help): m
Command (? for help): n

Partition number (1-128, default 1):
First sector (34-500118158, default = 2048) or {+-}size{KMGTP}:
Last sector (2048-500118, default = 500118) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: 512M
Current type is 'Linux filesystem'
Hex code or GUID (L to show codes, Enter = 8300): ef00
Changed type of partition to 'EFI System'

Partition number (2-128, default 2):
First sector (34-500118, default = 16779264) or {+-}size{KMGTP}:
Last sector (16779264-500118, default = 500118) or {+-}size{KMGTP}:
Current type is 'Linux filesystem'
Hex code or GUID (L to show codes, Enter = 8300):
Changed type of partition to 'Linux filesystem'

Command (? for help): p
Press w to write to disk
Press Y to confirm

Repeat the above procedure for /dev/sdb and /dev/sdc, but create just one partition with all values as default. At the end we will have three partitions: /dev/sda1, /dev/sda2, /dev/sdb1 and /dev/sdc1.

Setup Disk EncryptionSection titled Setup Disk Encryption

Our /boot partition will be on /dev/sda1, while the main installation will be on /dev/sda2. In this setup, we will be enabling full encryption on /dev/sda2 only.

In order to enable disk encryption, we will first create a root luks volume, open it and then format it.

# first, we need to prepare the encrypted (outer) volume
cryptsetup --cipher aes-xts-plain64 --hash sha512 --use-random --verify-passphrase luksFormat /dev/sda2

# This will ask you to type YES in all capital letters.
# I really hope I don't have to lecture you on NOT LOSING this
# password, lest all of your data will be forever inaccessible,
# right?

# then, we actually open it as a block device, and format the
# inner volume later
cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sda2 root
Gnome Workspaces
Gnome Applications
Automatic Key Login from an USB/SD Card

Format HDDsSection titled Format HDDs

At this point, we have following drives ready to format: /dev/sda1, /dev/mapper/root, /dev/sdb1 and /dev/sdc1. I plan to format /dev/sda1 with vfat, /dev/mapper/root with btrfs, /dev/sdb1 and /dev/sdc1 with xfs.

mkfs.vfat -F32 /dev/sda1
mkfs.btrfs -L arch /dev/mapper/root
mkfs.xfs -L data /dev/sdb1
mkfs.xfs -L media /dev/sdc1

Now, we will create btrfs subvolumes and mount them properly for installation and final setup.

mount /dev/mapper/root /mnt
btrfs subvolume create /mnt/ROOT
btrfs subvolume create /mnt/home
umount /mnt

Now, once the sub-volumes have been created, we will mount them in appropriate locations with optimal flags.

mount -o $SSD_MOUNTS,subvol=ROOT /dev/mapper/root /mnt
mkdir -p /mnt/home
mkdir -p /mnt/data
mkdir -p /mnt/media
mount -o $SSD_MOUNTS,nosuid,subvol=home /dev/mapper/root /mnt/home
mount -o $HDD_MOUNTS /dev/sdb1 /mnt/data
mount -o $HDD_MOUNTS /dev/sdc1 /mnt/media

mkdir -p /mnt/boot
mount -o $EFI_MOUNTS /dev/sda1 /mnt/boot

Base System InstallationSection titled Base System Installation

Now, we will do the actually installation of base packages. At this point, we will also save the current /etc/resolv.conf file for future use!

pacstrap /mnt base base-devel btrfs-progs
genfstab -U -p /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab

cp /etc/resolv.conf /mnt/etc/resolv.conf

Initial System SetupSection titled Initial System Setup

Edit the /mnt/ect/fstab file to add following /tmp mounts.

tmpfs /tmp tmpfs rw,nodev,nosuid 0 0
tmpfs /dev/shm tmpfs rw,nodev,nosuid,noexec 0 0

Finally bind root for installation.

arch-chroot /mnt
pacman -Syy
pacman -Syu
pacman -S sudo vim
vim /etc/locale.gen

# en_SG ISO-8859-1
en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8
# en_US ISO-8859-1

echo LANG=en_US.UTF-8 > /etc/locale.conf
export LANG=en_US.UTF-8
ls -l /usr/share/zoneinfo
ln -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/Zone/SubZone /etc/localtime
hwclock --systohc --utc
sed -i "s/# %wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL/%wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL/" /etc/sudoers
echo $HOSTNAME > /etc/hostname

We will also add hostname to our /etc/hosts file:

...       localhost.localdomain   localhost
::1             localhost.localdomain   localhost       $HOSTNAME.localdomain   $HOSTNAME

Now, we need to update the mkinitcpio.conf with specific modules needed for encryption and btrfs.

# on the MODULES section, add "vfat aes_x86_64 crc32c-intel"
# (and whatever else you know your hardware needs.)
# on the BINARIES section, add "/usr/bin/btrfsck", since it's useful
# to have in case your filesystem has troubles
# on the HOOKS section:
#  - add "encrypt" before "filesystems"
#  - remove "fsck" and
#  - add "btrfs" at the end
# re-generate your initrd images

Finally run:

mkinitcpio -p linux

Boot Manager SetupSection titled Boot Manager Setup

systemd-boot is a simple UEFI boot manager which executes configured EFI images. The default entry is selected by a configured pattern (glob) or an on-screen menu. It is included with the systemd that comes with the kernel. Assuming /boot is your boot drive, first run the following command to get started:

bootctl install

It will copy the systemd-boot binary to your EFI System Partition (/boot/EFI/systemd/systemd-bootx64.efi and /boot/EFI/Boot/BOOTX64.EFI - both of which are identical - on x64 systems ) and add systemd-boot itself as the default EFI application (default boot entry) loaded by the EFI Boot Manager.

Finally to configure out boot loader, we will need the UUID of some of our hard drives. These can be easily done using the blkid command.

blkid /dev/sda2 > /boot/loader/entries/arch.conf
blkid /dev/sda2 >> /boot/loader/entries/arch.conf
blkid /dev/mapper/root >> /boot/loader/entries/arch.conf
blkid /dev/sdd1 >> /boot/loader/entries/arch.conf

# for this example, I'm going to mark them like this:
# /dev/sda2 LABEL="arch"      UUID=33333333-3333-3333-3333-333333333333
# /dev/mapper/root LABEL="Arch Linux"   UUID=44444444-4444-4444-4444-444444444444
# /dev/sdd1 LABEL="USB"     UUID=0000-0000  # this is the drive where KEYFILE exists

Now, make sure that the following two files look as follows, where UUIDs is the value obtained from above commands.

timeout 3
default arch

title Arch Linux
linux /vmlinuz-linux
initrd /initramfs-linux.img
options ro cryptdevice=UUID=33333333-3333-3333-3333-333333333333:luks-33333333-3333-3333-3333-333333333333 root=UUID=44444444-4444-4444-4444-444444444444 rootfstype=btrfs rootflags=subvol=ROOT cryptkey=UUID=0000-0000:vfat:KEYFILE
pCloud App

Network SetupSection titled Network Setup

At first we will need to figure out the Ethernet controller on which cable is connected. This can be achieved by first finding out the kernel module that is being used by the live version on Arch. Then the module can be used to track the device that is active.

lspci -v | grep Ethernet
# 02:00.0 Ethernet controller: Attansic Technology Corp. L1 Gigabit Ethernet Adapter (rev b0)
#  ...
#  Kernel driver in use: atl1
#  Kernel modules: atl1

dmesg | grep atl1
# ...
# atl1 0000:02:00.0: enp0s25 link is up 100 Mbps full duplex

In my case, the name of the device is enp0s25. Using this name of the device, we need to configure, and enable the systemd-networkd service. Note that we will using the resolv.conf that we saved from this session. Network configurations are stored as *.network in /etc/systemd/network. We need to create ours as below. Once the network settings file has been created we can enable the networkd service.



Now, start the networkd service:

systemctl enable systemd-networkd.service

Your network should be ready for the first use! We can also sync time automatically using the timesyncd service:


Avahi is a tool that allows programs to publish and discover services and hosts running on a local network with no specific configuration. For example you can plug into a network and instantly find printers to print to, files to look at and people to talk to. We can easily set it up it as follows:

pacman -S avahi nss-mdns
systemctl enable avahi-daemon.service

GUI Installation with nvidiaSection titled GUI Installation with nvidia

We will now install the nvidia drivers so that our system is ready for any GUI based desktop installation after the first boot.

pacman -S xorg-server nvidia nvidia-libgl nvidia-settings mesa

To avoid the possibility of forgetting to update your initramfs after an nvidia upgrade, you have to use a pacman hook like this:

# if the hooks folder is not present, create one using mkdir
# mkdir -p /etc/pacman.d/hooks
vim /etc/pacman.d/hooks/nvidia.hook

With the following content:


Exec=/usr/bin/mkinitcpio -p linux

Nvidia has a daemon that is to be run at boot. To start the persistence daemon at boot, enable the nvidia-persistenced.service.

systemctl enable nvidia-persistenced.service
systemctl start nvidia-persistenced.service

Enabling Better tty Resolution During Boot

The kernel compiled in efifb module supports high-resolution nvidia console on EFI systems. This can enabled by enabling the DRM kernel mode setting.

First, we will need to add following to MODULES section of the mkinitcpio.conf file:

We will also need to pass the nvidia-drm.modeset=1 kernel parameter during the boot.

vim /etc/mkinitcpio.conf

MODULES="vfat aes_x86_64 crc32c-intel nvidia nvidia_modeset nvidia_uvm nvidia_drm"

Also edit the bootloader file:


vim /boot/loader/entries/arch.conf

options ro cryptdevice=UUID=:luks- root=UUID= rootfstype=btrfs rootflags=subvol=ROOT cryptkey=UUID=:vfat:deepmind20170602 nvidia-drm.modeset=1

mkinitcpio -p linux

First Boot InstallationsSection titled First Boot Installations

Now we are ready for the first boot! Run the following command:

umount -R /mnt

You should get larger fonts with the new terminal now as we are using the nvidia console now. It should have automatically unlocked your encrypted root disk, since USB with key is attached to the machine.

After your new system boots, Network should be setup at the start. Check the status of network:

# Set readable font first!
setfont ter-132n
ping -c 2

# PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
# 64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.022 ms
# 64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=0.023 ms
# --- ping statistics ---
# 2 packets transmitted, 2 received, 0% packet loss, time 999ms
# rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 0.022/0.022/0.023/0.004 ms

If you do not get any output from ping, please follow the troubleshooting links at Arch Wiki on setting up network.

Now enable the automatic syncing of time from the ntp servers.

timedatectl set-ntp true
timedatectl status

      Local time: Tue 2016-09-20 16:40:44 PDT
  Universal time: Tue 2016-09-20 23:40:44 UTC
        RTC time: Tue 2016-09-20 23:40:44
       Time zone: US/Pacific (PDT, -0700)
 Network time on: yes
NTP synchronized: yes
 RTC in local TZ: no

We can also automate the hostname setup using the following systemd command. Please replace $HOSTNAME with the hostname of your choice.

hostnamectl set-hostname $HOSTNAME

Adding New UserSection titled Adding New User

Choose $USERNAME per your liking. I chose ssingh, so in future commands whenever you see ssingh please replace it with your $USERNAME.

pacman -S zsh
useradd -m -G wheel -s /usr/bin/zsh $USERNAME
chfn --full-name "$FULL_NAME" $USERNAME
passwd $USERNAME

Gnome 3 Installation and SetupSection titled Gnome 3 Installation and Setup

We can now proceed with the installation of Gnome 3. In the process, we will also install some useful applications and fonts. The process very trivial, install few packages and then enable the gdm service.

pacman -S ttf-hack ttf-anonymous-pro ttf-dejavu ttf-freefont ttf-liberation
pacman -S gnome gdm guake gnome-tweak-tool
pacman -S screenfetch curl wget dconf-editor dmidecode git meld
pacman -S unace unrar zip unzip sharutils  uudeview  arj cabextract file-roller

systemctl enable gdm.service

Choose pacman MirrorsSection titled Choose pacman Mirrors

We will now choose fastest merrors for pacman. The pacman-contrib package provides a bash script, /usr/bin/rankmirrors, which can be used to rank the mirrors according to their connection and opening speeds to take advantage of using the fastest local mirror. Finally, we can reboot to log on to our new gnome system.

pacman -S pacman-contrib
cp /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist.backup
rankmirrors -n 6 /etc/pacman.d/ > /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist
pacman -Sy
pacman -Syu
systemctl reboot

Once, we boot into the new system, we should have a basic gnome 3 desktop waiting for you. In the following section, we will be do installation and modifications to the system that I prefer.

Post Installation SetupSection titled Post Installation Setup

After rebooting, you should get the gdm login screen. Use your username and password to login. This should give you a vanilla gnome 3 screen. We will first install few essentials, then modify our gnome 3 to look something to my linking. In order to proceed, find the terminal program by pressing alt + s and searching for terminal.

Setup AURSection titled Setup AUR

AUR is a community-driven repository for Arch users. This allows you to install many popular packages that are otherwise not available through core repositories.

In order to make all types of installations uniform, I use yay as the preferred tool for installing all packages. It is blazing fast as it is written in go and used all the flags from regular pacman.

git clone
cd yay
makepkg -si
cd ../
rm -rf yay

From now on, we can use yay as a replacement for pacman. Additionally, we can now also install AUR packages.

Web BrowsersSection titled Web Browsers

My preferred choice of browsers is google chrome.

yay -S google-chrome

Profile-sync-daemon (psd) is a tiny pseudo-daemon designed to manage browser profile(s) in tmpfs and to periodically sync back to the physical disc (HDD/SSD). This is accomplished by an innovative use of rsync to maintain synchronization between a tmpfs copy and media-bound backup of the browser profile(s). These features of psd leads to following benefits:

To setup. first install the profile-sync-daemon package.

yay -S profile-sync-daemon

Run psd the first time which will create a configuration file at $XDG_CONFIG_HOME/psd/psd.conf which contains all settings.

# First time running psd so please edit
# /home/$USERNAME/.config/psd/psd.conf to your liking and run again.

In the config file change the BROWSERS variables to google-chrome. Also, enable the use of overlayfs to improve sync speed and to use a smaller memory footprint. Do this in the USE_OVERLAYFS="yes" variable.

::: warning USE_OVERLAYFS feature requires a Linux kernel version of 3.18.0 or greater to work. :::

In order to use the OVERLAYFS feature, you will also need to give sudo permissions to psd-helper at the end of the sudoers file, as follows (replace $USERNAME accordingly):

vim /etc/sudoers
$USERNAME ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: /usr/bin/psd-overlay-helper

# Verify the working of configuration using the preview mode of psd:
psd p

# Finally we will enable the user systemctly service to enable psd every time we login.
systemctl --user enable psd.service
systemctl --user start psd.service

git SetupSection titled git Setup

Setup git global options as below. You will need to add the following content to $HOME/.gitconfig file.

    name = YOUR_NAME
    email = EMAIL_ADDRESS
    ui = auto
    showuntrackedfiles = no
    gist = log --graph --oneline --all --decorate --date-order
    find = log --graph --oneline --all --decorate --date-order --regexp-ignore-case --extended-regexp --grep
    rfind = log --graph --oneline --all --decorate --date-order --regexp-ignore-case --extended-regexp --invert-grep --grep
    search = grep --line-number --ignore-case -E -I
    status = true
    default = matching
    tool = meld
    tool = meld

    autocorrect = 1

ssh SetupSection titled ssh Setup

To get started first install the openssh package.

yay -S openssh

The ssh server can be started using the systemd service. Before starting the service, however, we want to generate ssh keys and setup the server for login based only on keys.

ssh-keygen -t ed25519

Create a .ssh/config file for rmate usage in sublime text.

vim ~/.ssh/config
RemoteForward 52698 localhost:52698

Create ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file with list of machines that are allowed to login to this machine.

touch ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

Finally edit the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file to disable Password based logins.

sudo vim /etc/ssh/sshd_config
PasswordAuthentication no

Furthermore, before enabling the sshd service, please also ensure to copy your keys to all your relevant other servers and places like github. We can now use systemd to start the ssh service.

systemctl enable sshd.socket
systemctl start sshd.socket

zsh SetupSection titled zsh Setup

During the user creation, we already installed the zsh shell. We have also activated a basic setup at first login by the user.

In this section, we will be installing my variation of zprezto package to manage zsh configurations.

We will first install the main zprezto, then add my own modification on top of it.

git clone --recursive "${ZDOTDIR:-$HOME}/.zprezto"

# Now, We will add my version of prezto to the same git repo.
cd ~/.zprezto
git remote add personal [email protected]:sadanand-singh/My-Zprezto.git
git pull personal arch
git checkout arch
git merge master

# Now create relevant soft links
for rcfile in "${ZDOTDIR:-$HOME}"/.zprezto/runcoms/^;
    ln -sf "$rcfile" "${ZDOTDIR:-$HOME}/.${rcfile:t}"


And we are all setup for using zsh!

Gnome 3 ModificationsSection titled Gnome 3 Modifications

We will modify gnome 3 by changing theme, icons and fonts. First install additional themes, fonts, icons etc.

yay -S ttf-font-awesome adobe-source-code-pro-fonts

# Sardi icons
git clone /tmp/Sardi-Extra
find /tmp/Sardi-Extra -maxdepth 1 -type f -exec rm -rf '{}' \;
cp -rf /tmp/Sardi-Extra/* ~/.icons/
# cleaning tmp
[ -d /tmp/Sardi-Extra ] && rm -rf /tmp/Sardi-Extra
[ -d /tmp/sardi ] && rm -rf /tmp/sardi
# if there is no hidden folder then make one
[ -d $HOME"/.icons" ] || mkdir -p $HOME"/.icons"
wget -O /tmp/sardi.tar.gz ""
mkdir /tmp/sardi
tar -zxf /tmp/sardi.tar.gz -C /tmp/sardi
rm /tmp/sardi.tar.gz
cp -rf /tmp/sardi/* ~/.icons/
[ -d /tmp/sardi ] && rm -rf /tmp/sardi

# Surfn
git clone /tmp/Surfn
find /tmp/Surfn -maxdepth 1 -type f -exec rm -rf '{}' \;
cp -rf /tmp/Surfn/* ~/.icons/
# cleaning tmp
[ -d /tmp/Surfn ] && rm -rf /tmp/Surfn

# arc theme
yay -S arc-gtk-theme

#Plank Themes
rm -rf /tmp/Plank-Themes
git clone /tmp/Plank-Themes
find /tmp/Plank-Themes -maxdepth 1 -type f -exec rm -rf '{}' \;
# if there is no hidden folder then make one
[ -d $HOME"/.local/share/plank" ] || mkdir -p $HOME"/.local/share/plank"
# if there is no hidden folder then make one
[ -d $HOME"/.local/share/plank/themes" ] || mkdir -p $HOME"/.local/share/plank/themes"
cp -r /tmp/Plank-Themes/* ~/.local/share/plank/themes/
rm -rf /tmp/Plank-Themes

# Breeze cursor
yay -S breeze-snow-cursor-theme

Now you can open gnome-settings and tweaks tools to change themes, icons, cursors etc. to your linking. If you have a high resolution 4K monitor like mw, you can enable the fractional upscaling in the tweaks program. See this link for an example.

pcloud vs DropboxSection titled pcloud vs Dropbox

Recently, dropbox removed support for most of relevant file systems on linux. I was already not a fan of their higher prices. It was time to move on to something better. Then I found, pcloud. This service runs quite well on linux (as well as OSX, I really do not care about anything related to Windows!). pcloud has some interesting features:

Additionally, I found some ultra- great deal over the black Friday weekend! To get support for pcloud in Arch, all you need to do is install it!

yay -S pcloud-drive

EditorsSection titled Editors

My choice of editor is neovim and sublime text. Please refer to my previous post for details on setting up Sublime Text 3. Following is the setup required to install it:

# Install editors
yay -S hugo neovim vim
# Sublime Text Repository
curl -O
sudo pacman-key --add sublimehq-pub.gpg
sudo pacman-key --lsign-key 8A8F901A
rm sublimehq-pub.gpg

echo -e "\n[sublime-text]\nServer =" | sudo tee -a /etc/pacman.conf

#Now we can install *sublime-text* as:
yay -S sublime-text/sublime-text

This brings us to the conclusion of this installation guide. Hope some of you find it useful. Please drop your comments below if you have any suggestions for improvements etc.


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