Making Arch Linux & i3 WM usable

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Aug 2, 2020
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This guide helps with making Arch Linux and i3 window manager usable. In this guide I use a script to install Arch Linux. If you are installing Arch for the first time I recommend to do it manually, this will give you a better understanding of how to install an OS.

Some of the programs included in this guide

Dotfiles


Before I start, I would like to point out that all my configuration files, so called dotfiles, for my Arch Linux installation can be found on Github. After this configuration is applied your desktop environment will look like this

Screenshot of my setup
Screenshot of my setup

Getting started


Get the latest version from the Arch website. Burn the ISO to a USB drive with for example Rufus and boot into the live environment.

Connect to the internet


  1. Turn the networking interface on ip link set [interface] up
  2. Save the wifi configuration wpa_passphrase [ssid] [password] > /etc/wpa_supplicant/my_essid.conf
  3. Check if the connection is working wpa_supplicant -c /etc/wpa_supplicant/my_essid.conf -i [wireless device]
  4. Execute the program in the background wpa_supplicant -B -c /etc/wpa_supplicant/my_essid.conf -i [wireless device]
  5. Retrieve an IP adress dhclient [wireless device]

Using archfi to install the base


Archfi is a simple bash script wizard to install Arch Linux after you have booted on the official Arch Linux install media.

Download the script

$ wget archfi.sf.net/archfi
$ wget matmoul.github.io/archfi

Launch the script

$ sh archfi

Install i3


Install display server and the i3 window manager

$ sudo pacman -S i3-gaps xorg-server xorg-xinit
$ nano /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc # or vi, vim, emacs, etc etc

Remove the final chunk of code containing twm and apps. Replace with: exec i3

Save, return to console, and execute:

$ startx

Now hit Meta+Enter to show a console and begin to rice starting at file /etc/i3/config.

Installing programs


All programs to make i3 usable.

Terminal


Install kitty with the following command

$ sudo pacman -S kitty

TODO: zsh, ohmyzsh en theme met altigen

Microcode


Install the intel-ucode package

$ sudo pacman -S intel-ucode

Enable early loading, this updates the microcode very early during boot, before the initramfs stage, so it is the preferred method.

Refind:

$ sudo nano /boot/refind_linux.conf

Example config with microcode and separate boot partition.

"Arch Linux         " "root=UUID=5c18e74a-3e4b-4143-9481-66db2b6da794 rw add_efi_memmap initrd=/intel-ucode.img initrd=/initramfs-linux.img"

CPU frequency scaling


Install the thermald and cpupower packages:

$ yay -S thermald cpupower

To set the maximum clock frequency (clock_freq is a clock frequency with units: GHz, MHz):

$ cpupower frequency-set -u clock_freq

To set the minimum clock frequency:

$ cpupower frequency-set -d clock_freq

To monitor cpu frequency realtime:

$ watch grep \"cpu MHz\" /proc/cpuinfo

Battery notifications


I would like to get a notification when my battery is below 15% and suspend when 5% battery or less is detected:

$ sudo nano /etc/udev/rules.d/99-lowbat.rules

Add the following to the file:

# Send notification when battery is low
SUBSYSTEM=="power_supply", ATTR{status}=="Discharging", ATTR{capacity}=="[15-6]", RUN+="/home/niek/Scripts/System/battery.sh"
# Suspend the system when battery level drops to 5% or lower
SUBSYSTEM=="power_supply", ATTR{status}=="Discharging", ATTR{capacity}=="[0-5]", RUN+="/usr/bin/systemctl suspend"

Make a script in the following location /home/niek/Scripts/System/battery.sh

#!/bin/sh
battery_level=`acpi -b | cut -d ' ' -f 4 | grep -o '[0-9]*' | head -1`
notify-send "Battery low" "Battery level is ${battery_level}%!"

File manager and appearance


Install nautilus with the following command:

$ sudo pacman -S nautilus

Install lxappearance and gtk-chtheme with the following command:

$ sudo pacman -S lxappearance gtk-chtheme

Now install a gtk theme, for example materia-gtk-theme. Start with lxappearance and choose the theme, then choose it in gtk-chtheme.

Trackpad


Install xf86-input-synaptics and xf86-input-libinput.

$ sudo pacman -S xf86-input-libinput xf86-input-synaptics

Enable touch to click

$ sudo nano /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/30-touchpad.conf

Add the following to the file:

Section "InputClass"
	Indentifier "libinput touchpad catchall"
	MatchIsTouchpad "on"
	MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
	Option "Tapping" "On"
	Driver "libinput"
EndSection

libinput-gestures

Install libinput-gestures from the AUR.

$ yay -S libinput-gestures

Add user to the input group

$ sudo gpasswd -a $USER input

Autostart the application by adding the following line to the .xinitrc file

libinput-gestures &

Copy the configuration file to the following location

nano $HOME/.config/libinput-gestures.conf

Theme for the bootmanager


If all went well, rEFInd was installed during configuration with archfi. Now we want to install a nice theme to make it look good. I like this one. To install the theme, execute the following command:

sh -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/noraj/refind-theme-regular/master/install.sh)"

I had the problem that my windows install was not detected. I fixed this by adding a small delay in the config.

# Delay for the specified number of seconds before scanning disks.
# This can help some users who find that some of their disks
# (usually external or optical discs) aren't detected initially,
# but are detected after pressing Esc.
# The default is 0.
#
scan_delay 1

Also, set use_graphics_for to linux so we get a cleaner boot process.

# Launch specified OSes in graphics mode. By default, rEFInd switches
# to text mode and displays basic pre-launch information when launching
# all OSes except macOS. Using graphics mode can produce a more seamless
# transition, but displays no information, which can make matters
# difficult if you must debug a problem. Also, on at least one known
# computer, using graphics mode prevents a crash when using the Linux
# kernel's EFI stub loader. You can specify an empty list to boot all
# OSes in text mode.
# Valid options:
#   osx     - macOS
#   linux   - A Linux kernel with EFI stub loader
#   elilo   - The ELILO boot loader
#   grub    - The GRUB (Legacy or 2) boot loader
#   windows - Microsoft Windows
# Default value: osx
#
use_graphics_for linux

Plymouth


Install plymouth from the AUR.

$ yay -S plymouth

Add plymouth to the HOOKS array in mkinitcpio.conf. It must be added after base and udev for it to work:

$ sudo nano /etc/mkinitcpio.conf

#HOOKS=(base udev plymouth ...)

Add the following to the kernel parameters

quiet splash loglevel=3 rd.udev.log_priority=3 vt.global_cursor_default=0

Lockscreen


Install betterlockscreen from the AUR.

$ yay -S betterlockscreen

Cache the desired wallpaper:

$ betterlockscreen -u Path/To/Wallpaper.jpg -b 0.5

Optional: use the alias function to improve the experience. Place the following in .zshrc

alias lock="betterlockscreen -l blur -t 'Hard work beats talent.' > /dev/null"
alias suspend="betterlockscreen -s blur -t 'Hard work beats talent.' > /dev/null"

Notification deamon


Install deadd with the following command:

$ yay -S deadd-notification-center

Copy the config in to the following file:

$ nano .config/deadd/deadd.conf

Volume and brightness indicator


Install volnoti-brightness-git from the AUR.

$ yay -S volnoti-brightness-git

The following section of the i3 config file is using volnoti

# brightness
bindsym XF86MonBrightnessUp exec   --no-startup-id "xbacklight -inc 10 && volnoti-show >
bindsym XF86MonBrightnessDown exec --no-startup-id "xbacklight -dec 10 && volnoti-show >

# volume
bindsym XF86AudioRaiseVolume exec --no-startup-id "amixer set Master 5%+ && volnoti-sho>
bindsym XF86AudioLowerVolume exec --no-startup-id "amixer set Master 5%- && volnoti-sho>
bindsym XF86AudioMute exec --no-startup-id "amixer set Master toggle && if amixer get M>

Screenshot tool


Install deepin-screenshot with pacman.

sudo pacman -S deepin-screenshot

Add the following line to the i3 config.

bindsym Print exec --no-startup-id "deepin-screenshot"

Autotiling


The autotiling ****AUR package can be used for automatic switching horizontal / vertical window split orientation resulting in a similar behavior to the spiral tiling of bspwm. After installation add the following to your ~/.config/i3/config and reload i3.

exec_always --no-startup-id autotiling

Media control


First, install the playerctl package:

$ sudo pacman -S playerctl

Since I have no dedicated media control keys, I use mod+i, mod+o and mod+p:

# media controls
bindsym $mod+i exec --no-startup-id "playerctl previous"
bindsym $mod+o exec --no-startup-id "playerctl play-pause"
bindsym $mod+p exec --no-startup-id "playerctl next"

Redshit


Redshift adjusts the color temperature of your screen according to your surroundings. This may help your eyes hurt less if you are working in front of the screen at night. To install redshift:

sudo pacman -S redshift

Copy the sample config file to the following location:

$ nano .config/redshift/redshift.conf

Adjust the settings like temperature and location. Now add the following line before exec i3 to the .xinitrc file so it starts automatically:

redshift &

Useful programs


Some useful programs that can be installed with pacman

  • Arandr - control external screens
  • Evince - PDF viewer

Conclusion

In this article we have installed Arch Linux, i3 window manager and several programs to make this setup work for a daily driver.

Thanks for reading! If you have found a mistake, want to ask a question or have a comment, please send me an email.

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