Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 3: Base Installation

February 05, 2015

Introduction and Motivation

This is the third part in a series on dual booting Arch Linux and Mac OS X on a MacBook Pro. This part covers partitioning the drive, the base Arch installation, and getting the dual boot setup. Part One covered creating a bootable USB drive with the Arch Linux installer. Part Two discussed how to prepare the MacBook Pro. 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

Determine the MacBook Pro version

Determine the version of MacBook Pro you have. These instructions are for a Mid 2010 model or 6,2 in Apple parlance. Minor hardware differences may make these instructions not work if you have a significantly different MacBook Pro, e.g., one with a SSD.

Boot from the Arch USB Drive

Insert the USB drive containing the bootable Arch ISO (from Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 1 - Creating a USB Installer) and boot or restart the MBP. Hold the left Option key down until the drive selection window appears.

Select the EFI Boot disk using the arrow keys, and press enter to start.

Select the Arch Linux option from the boot menu, or let the time out do it for you. Once the initial boot completes (should be fairly quick) you see a prompt like this:

Arch Linux 3.17.6-1-ARCH (tty1)

archiso login: root (automatic login)
root@archiso ~ #

Congratulations, you've got root.

Get connected

You'll need to be connected to the Internet to complete the setup. The easiest way is via Ethernet. If you don't have Ethernet available, skip ahead to the Setup Wireless section at the start of Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 4 - System Configuration, and setup wireless now. These instructions assume you have working Ethernet.


$ dhcpcd

This will start the DHCP client and get an IP address lease from your LAN. You can verify that you have working connectivity by pinging something, Google for example.

$ ping -c 3

Determine drive mapping

In order to proceed you'll need to know the drive mapping scheme. The easiest way to get that information is via

$ fdisk -l

which lists the existing partitions. If you created two partitions when preparing the MBP, you should see a partition with a Type of Apple HFS/HFS+ with a size that matches the size you set aside for Arch. In my case this was /dev/sda4. All the partitioning commands below will use /dev/sda4, you should substitute the designation for your drive.


Now that we know the drive designation we can use cgdisk tp setup the partitions for our install. Run

$ cgdisk /dev/sda

to see the current state of the disk and to access the partitioning utility. The output will be similar to what is shown below.

Part #  Size      Partition type      Partition name
        3.0 Kib   free space
1       200 Mib   EFI System          EFI system partition
2       78.8 Gib  Apple Core Storage  Macintosh HD
3       619.9 MiB Apple boot          Recovery HD
4       223.4 Gib Apple HFS/HFS+      Untitled 1
        128.0 Mib free space

We are going to add 6 partitons:

Linux boot loader 128 Mib
swap 8 Gib
boot 256 Mib
root 40 Gib
var 12 Gib
home ~160 Gib

The Linux boot loader will later be blessed as bootable using OS X. The final result should look like this:

Part #  Size        Partition type      Partition name
        3.0 Kib     free space
1       200 Mib     EFI System          EFI system partition
2       78.8 Gib    Apple Core Storage  Macintosh HD
3       619.9 MiB   Apple boot          Recovery HD
4       128.0 Mib   Apple HFS+          Linux boot loader from Apple
5       8.0 Gib     Linux swap          swap
6       256.0 Mib   Linux filesystem    boot
7       40.0 Gib    Linux filesystem    root
8       12.0 Gib    Linux filesystem    var
9       163.1 Gib   Linux filesystem    home

To navigate around cfdisk, use the left and right arrow keys to select a command and use the up and down arrow keys to select the partition and/or the free space. Once you have the partitions set the way you desire, select the Write option to create the new partitions.

Begin by deleting the Untitled 1 HFS partition created when you setup the MBP. Next subdivide it into the 6 new partitions. You can use K, M, and G to specify sizes. Accept the starting location offered by the tool when creating a new partition, then enter the size desired. You can use the L option to look up filesystem type codes. Apple HFS+ is af00, Linux filesystem is 8300 (the default), and Linux swap is 8200. Finally give the new partition a name. Repeat for each partition. On the last partition accept the default size offered to use up all remaining space. This means you should do home last to give it as much space as possible.

Select Write and then confirm that you want to overwrite the disk. Once the display returns you can Quit from cgdisk.

Running fdisk -l again should show your new partition scheme. If it doesn't look like you want or expected, repeat the cgdisk process to fix things.

Format the partitions

Now it's time to format the partitions.

$ mkfs.ext2 /dev/sda6
$ mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda7
$ mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda8
$ mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda9

And create the swap and use it.

$ mkswap /dev/sda5
$ swapon /dev/sda5

Note that we skipped /dev/sda4 as that will be setup using OS X later.

Mount the filesystem

In order to acces the new partitions they must be mounted. First mount your root partition.

$ mount /dev/sda7 /mnt

And within the root mount just created, create mount points and mount boot, var, and home.

$ mkdir /mnt/boot && mount /dev/sda6 /mnt/boot
$ mkdir /mnt/var && mount /dev/sda8 /mnt/var
$ mkdir /mnt/home && mount /dev/sdc9 /mnt/home

Install Arch

With the partitions created and formated, and with the filesystem mounted, the operating system can now be installed using pacstrap.

$ pacstrap /mnt base base-devel

This will install ~140 packages and could take a while based on your download speeds. Sit back and watch the progress.

Set fstab

Once the packages are installed it's time to record your file system settings in fstab. Use the genfstab command to generate your fstab

$ genfstab -p /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab

You can view the fstab using less

$ less /mnt/etc/fstab

Initial Configuration

Now you can set up your desired hostname, proper time zone, the hardware clock, create a user account for yourself, and enable sudo.

First you need to chroot into the new system.

$ arch-chroot /mnt /bin/bash

Set your hostname.

$ echo arch > /etc/hostname

Set your time zone. I'm in the US Central time zone so I used Chicago. Adjust this to your location.

$ ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/Chicago /etc/localtime

And set the hardware clock.

$ hwclock --systohc --utc

Create your user account and generate a password for it.

$ useradd -m -g users -G wheel -s /bin/bash you && passwd you

While you're at it, create a root password too.

$ passwd

You'll want sudo installed so that when you are signed in to your account you can run commands requiring root privilege. pacman is the command line package manager for Arch, so we'll use that.

$ sudo pacman -S sudo

Edit /etc/sudoers and uncomment the wheel line. The -G wheel portion of the useradd command above added you to the wheel group. By uncommenting this group in the sudoers file you'll allow all wheel members to run commands as sudo. You need to use visudo to edit this file.

$ visudo

Set your locale.

sudo vi /etc/locale.gen

and uncomment the locales you want. For me this was en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8 and en_US ISO-8859-1.

Generate the locale.

$ locale-gen

And set the /etc/locale.conf and export your settings.

$ echo LANG=en_US.UTF8 > /etc/locale.conf
$ export LANG=en_US.UTF-8

Double check /etc/mkinitcpio.conf to make sure keyboard is after autodetect in the HOOK section.

$ less /etc/mkinitcpio.conf

Then run:

$ mkinitcpio -p linux

Bootloader configuration and setup

This is somewhat confusing. The best way to do this is to boot directly from your MBP's EFI boot loader, which means creating a boot.efi.

Grab the package:

$ pacman -S grub-efi-x86_64

And then, edit /etc/default/grub and alter GRUB\_CMDLINE\_LINUX_DEFAULT to look like this:


which I believe is the default setting.

Then you can generate the boot.efi with GRUB which you just installed. You’ll want to put this on a USB device because you’re going to be switching into OS X in a minute.

$ grub-mkconfig -o boot/grub/grub.cfg
$ grub-mkstandalone -o boot.efi -d usr/lib/grub/x86_64-efi -O x86_64-efi --compress=xz boot/grub/grub.cfg

This is going to create a file in the current directory called boot.efi. Copy it to a USB device. Check your devices then make a directory to mount your USB. Copy the boot.efi file onto your USB drive. You may have to determine the path to the USB drive.

$ mkdir /mnt/usbdisk && mount /dev/sdb /mnt/usbdisk
$ cp boot.efi /mnt/usbdisk/

Exit and reboot to OS X

Now you can exit chroot and unmount everything, and reboot back to OS X.

Exit chroot.

$ exit

Unmount all filesystems. And reboot.

$ reboot

Restart the computer and boot into OS X. Run Disk Utility and select /dev/sda4 which is the "Linux boot loader from Apple" partition created earlier. Using Disk Utility erase this partition by selecting "Mac OS X Journaled" and clicking on Erase. This is where the Grub2 image will go.

Open up Terminal and issue the following sequence of commands to create directories and files necessary for this partition.

$ cd /Volumes/disk0s4
$ mkdir System mach_kernel
$ cd System
$ mkdir -p Library/CoreServices
$ cd Library/CoreServices
$ touch SystemVersion.plist

Copy the boot.efi image from the USB drive as a peer to SystemVersion.plist.

$ cp /Volumes/usbdrive/boot.efi .

Edit SystemVersion.plist to look like this:

<xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<plist version="1.0">
    <string>Arch Linux</string>

Next "bless" the partition so that it is bootable.

$ sudo bless --device /dev/disk0s4 --setBoot

Now when you boot or restart the MBP, a Grub menu with Arch Linux should appear. To boot into OS X you'll need to hold down the left Option key. Test this and make sure it works before proceeding to Arch Linux on a MacBook Pro Part 4 - System Configuration.

Author's profile picture

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.