Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 1: Creating a USB Installer

February 05, 2015

Introduction and Motivation

This is part one in series on dual booting Arch Linux and Mac OS X on a MacBook Pro. This part covers creating a bootalbe USB installer. Part Two discusses how to prepare the MacBook Pro. Installing the base Arch Linux operating system and getting the dual boot between Arch and OS X working is covered in Part Three. Setting up the system, configuring Xorg, installing Gnome and Awesome are all covered in Part Four.

My day job has transitioned to system administration and infrastructure automation (Chef!). All of our virtual infrastructure (with rare exceptions) is based on Linux so I am keenly interested in learning more about its underpinnings. Setting up Arch Linux and sorting through its configuration challenges seems like a good way to jump into the deep end of the Linux pool.

Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 1 - Creating a USB Installer
Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 2 - Preparing for Dual Boot
Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 3 - Base Installation
Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 4 - System Configuration

Download an Arch Linux ISO

Visit the Arch download site and grab an ISO.

Convert the ISO to UDRW Format

The image needs to be in Read/Write Universal Disk Image Format (UDRW) format. Use the command line tool hdiutil to convert the file.

$ hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o destination_file.img source_file.iso

The resulting image will actually be called destination_file.img.dmg as hdiutil will append that suffix. The file format extension won't matter, so you can ignore it.

Prepare the USB Drive

While some of this can be done using GUI tools, not all of it can, so I'll describe all the steps using the command line.

Find the name of the USB drive

Insert the drive and then run this command:

$ diskutil list

The output will look something like this:

/dev/disk0
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:      GUID_partition_scheme                        *500.1 GB   disk0
   1:                        EFI                         209.7 MB   disk0s1
   2:          Apple_CoreStorage                         399.5 GB   disk0s2
   3:                 Apple_Boot Recovery HD             650.0 MB   disk0s3
   5:                 Apple_Boot Boot OS X               134.2 MB   disk0s5
/dev/disk1
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:                  Apple_HFS MacOSX                 *399.2 GB   disk1
/dev/disk2
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:      GUID_partition_scheme                        *2.0 GB     disk2
   1:       Microsoft Basic Data UNTITLED 1              2.0 GB     disk2s1

In this case the USB is /dev/disk2.

Prepare the drive

Prepare the USB by making it all free space. This will delete all data on the USB drive.

$ diskutil partitionDisk /dev/disk2 1 "Free Space" "unused" "100%"

Substitute the proper designation for your USB drive.

Copy the ISO

Now we can copy the converted image to the USB drive.

$ dd if=destination_file.img.dmg of=/dev/disk2 bs=1m

The dd command does not show any output before it has finished the copy process, so be patient and wait for it to complete. When the command does complete OS X will try to mount the drive and fail as it won't recognize the formatting. Click ignore or eject.

Eject the drive

If you clicked ignore above you can eject the drive from the command line.

$ diskutil eject /dev/disk2

Now the bootable image is ready to be used. Proceed to Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 2 - Preparing for Dual Boot.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.