Tags: archlinux wsl windows

Written on March 05, 2020 / 5 minute read

Installing Arch Linux on WSL, the Arch Way™️

My company’s official OS is Windows 10. GNU/Linux is not allowed, not even Ubuntu or Red Hat. PAINFUL.

But lately, not so much, since there is Windows Subsystem for Linux.

Of course, I’m not going to want to use Ubuntu, I want the distribution, Arch Linux.

The only way to install it seems following this guide, but even though giving a quick look at the code everything seems rather okay, there’s a magic prebuilt rootfs (and no generation scripts) and I don’t really want to inspect its contents thoroughly to see if there’s anything malicious.

So, I tried to find a way to install it manually from a rootfs downloaded from archlinux.org.

Note: another machine already running a GNU/Linux distro natively, preferrably Arch Linux, is required.

Fixing the rootfs

Rootfs’s downloaded from Arch mirrors contain the actual root filesystem under /root.x86_64.

We have to fix that, because when Windows extracts it it expects the root of the tar to be the root of the system

So, on the native Arch machine:

fakeroot -- bash -c 'bsdtar -xf [path/to/arch-rootfs.tar] && \
bsdtar -czaf arch-wsl.tar.gz root.x86_64/*'

Copy the new rootfs to the Windows machine.

Installing the rootfs

Pick a suitable location for your WSL installation, such as \Users\%username%\WSL\ArchLinux. Picking a handy location makes it easy to copy files from WSL to somewhere else.

Note: apparently, you can only copy files from WSL and not to. Either they won’t show up in WSL at all, giving out ‘Input/output error’ on access, or it will crash Windows.

Then run in the command prompt:

wsl --import DistroName \path\to\WSL\dir \path\to\arch-wsl.tar.gz

It looks like paths with spaces won’t work with this tool on the command line, so make sure you cd into the path and use relative paths from there if your path has spaces.

Anyway, that’s about it. You can already run wsl or bash with no arguments to get into your WSL shell.

There’s a few catches, however, so go on.

First Arch setup

  • Initialize the pacman keyring

    pacman-key --init
    pacman-key --populate archlinux

    Run again if it fails.

  • Pick a mirror in /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist
  • Set up timezone, localization (see Arch installation guide)
  • Add a DNS server to /etc/resolv.conf
  • pacman -Syu

Making AUR packages

The system is almost ready, except… you can’t make any package.

That’s because unless you’re running WSL 2 which runs an actual Linux kernel, Microsoft hasn’t implemented Unix SYSV IPC, which is used by fakeroot.

A workaround is to use fakeroot-tcp from AUR which uses TCP/IP sockets instead of Unix IPC, the problem is that in order to make it you need fakeroot

The easiest solution is to build the package on a real Arch machine, then send it over and install it. The a-bit-less-easy solution is to make the package (it will fail). Then you overwrite libfakeroot.so in /usr/lib with the one you just built (in src/fakeroot-tcp), run makepkg -R and it should work fine this time.

Running GUI apps

I use vcxsrv. However, setting up an X server isn’t enough at times.

If you’re running GNOME GUI utilities, you’ll likely run into the following issues:

  • gnome-keyring is not running as SSH agent
  • Programs that use gsettings will not run, not store settings, mysteriously crash without any errors
  • Lack of theming
  • Lack of inter-process communication (i.e. DBus is not running)

Over time I developed this set of scripts that will fix that for you, creating a session environment file that you will have to make sure is always loaded so programs will run properly:


Other stuff

If you’re in my same situation and you’re using Arch on WSL at work just because you must use Windows, it may be possible you’re also using an SSH client called SecureCRT.

If you are, you may want to check out my script shcrt. I’m planning to rewrite it in Python using urwid for a better (and faster) experience, but I haven’t started yet.

That’s it ;)

Let me know if you found this useful. Also let me know any suggestions: I have to deal with Windows’ crap every day at work, if you know something that will make it less painful, send me an email!

Written on March 5, 2020

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