Arch With LVM on LUKS

Arch Linux installation with LVM on a LUKS-encrypted drive

8 minute read

Edit (2020-06-16): use dd to create swap file instead of fallocate
Edit (2021-07-01): fix typo in GRUB_CMDLINE: cryptodevice -> cryptdevice
Edit (2021-11-04): fix terminology mess-up: LUKS on LVM -> LVM on LUKS

Disclaimer: some of the steps in the Arch Linux installation procedure change from time to time, so I would recommend checking out the awesome Arch Linux installation guide in the Arch wiki to get a fully up-to-date picture of the process.

It is well known that Arch Linux does not have the easiest installation process of all Linux distributions. In my opinion, for technical users this is a big plus, as you get to know your system better simply by having to set it up from scratch. This comes with the perk that you only install the packages you need, leading to a smaller and arguably snappier system.

In this guide, I’m documenting my latest Arch Linux installation on my laptop, where I set up a logical volume with LVM on top of a fully-encrypted disk with LUKS. Encrypting your disk in your mobile devices should be a requirement if you value your security and/or privacy. Nowadays it has almost no performance penalties and it provides countless benefits.

There is a video version of a very similar installation process by LearnLinuxTV here. You may want to use that instead if you’d rather follow a video tutorial.

When we are done, we will have a system with a LUKS-encrypted physical volume with two logical partitions, / and /home. We will use GRUB 2 as our bootloader.

So, assuming you have an USB burnt with an Arch image ready to go, just plug it in, select it in your boot menu and start it.

Network configuration

If you are using wired ethernet, you probably already have a connection. If you are using wifi, use the following to configure it.

# show interfaces
ip addr

Select your wifi, enter your password and select ‘connect’.

The image I used (downloaded some time during the last half of May 2020) was broken and did not manage to connect to my wifi with wifi-menu. To solve that, I switched down the interface. Not sure why this worked, but keep it in mind in case you can’t get a connection either.

ip link set wlan0 down

Setting up pacman mirrors

Update the repository index and edit the mirror list if the connection is slow:

pacman -Syyy
# uncomment desired mirrors
vim /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist
# re-update repository index
pacman -Syyy

Disk setup

Check your drives:

fdisk -l

We’ll be installing Arch on the SSD /dev/nvme0n1. This will probably be different for you. Let’s now prepare the disk. We’ll be creating two 500 MB partitions (for EFI and /boot), and another ext4 partition for the logical volume.

fdisk /dev/nvme0n1
#  below is the fdisk command line
#  let's start with listing the partitions
:  p
#  let's create a new 500 MB partition for EFI
:  n, enter, enter, +500M
#  and let's set the type to EFI
:  t, 1
#  now, let's create the /boot partition
:  n, enter, enter, +500M
#  let's set its type to 'Linux Filesystem'
:  t, 20
#  finally, let's create the LVM partition
:  n, enter, enter, enter
#  and let's set the type to 'Linux LVM'
:  t, 30
#  check everything is fine
:  p
#  write changes and exit
:  w

Our partitions are ready and we can start creating the LVM and files systems. At this point we have three partitions:

  1. /dev/nvme0n1p1 for EFI. We’ll format it with FAT.
  2. /dev/nvme0n1p2 for /boot. We’ll format it with EXT4.
  3. /dev/nvme0n1p3 for LVM. We’ll set up LUKS in this disk.

So, let’s create the file systems:

mkfs.fat -F32 /dev/nvme0n1p1
mkfs.ext4 /dev/nvme0n1p2

Set up LVM on top of a LUKS drive

In this part, we set up the disk encryption using LUKS, and then we prepare the Logical Volume Manager with a couple of partitions on top of it.

Now we need to set up encryption in the third disk.

cryptsetup luksFormat /dev/nvme0n1p3

After that, you will need to type YES in capital letters and then enter your passphrase. Do not forget it ;) Next, we need to open the encrypted device.

cryptsetup open --type luks /dev/nvme0n1p3 myvolume

You can give it any name (myvolume in my case), but remember it. Enter your passphrase.

Next, we need to configure LVM and create two partitions for the system and home. Let’s first create the physical volume.

pvcreate --dataalignment 1m /dev/mapper/myvolume

Switch myvolume with whatever name you chose. Now, on to the volume group creation. I called my volume group volumegroup. My naming skills are over 9000.

vgcreate volumegroup /dev/mapper/myvolume

And finally, we are ready to create the logical volumes.

# first we create the system partition - I used 50 GB
lvcreate  -L 50GB volumegroup -n root
# then, we create the home partition with the rest of space
lvcreate -l 100%FREE volumegroup -n home

I create the root partition with the name root and the home partition with the name home. Also, I used all the space in the disk for my partitions, so I won’t be able to use LVM snapshots. If you want this functionality, then reserve some free space to that purpose.

And now, let’s create the file systems.

mkfs.ext4 /dev/volumegroup/root
mkfs.ext4 /dev/volumegroup/home

And mount them, along with the /boot partition.

mount /dev/volumegroup/root /mnt
mkdir /mnt/home
mount /dev/volumegroup/home /mnt/home
mkdir /mnt/boot
mount /dev/nvme0n1p2 /mnt/boot
mkdir /mnt/etc

Starting actual Arch installation

Now our disk and partitions are set up an mounted, so let’s generate the fstab file.

genfstab -U /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab

Now we are ready to actually starting the regular installation of Arch. First use pacstrap to install the base package, the linux kernel and firmware. Then, chroot into the newly installed system.

pacstrap -i /mnt base linux linux-firmware
# switch to the installation disk
arch-chroot /mnt

We are now already operating from our installed system. We need to install some additionaly goodies. I’ve listed here some essentials. Particularly, you need the lvm2 package.

pacman -S linux-headers intel-ucode base-devel neovim \
networkmanager wpa_supplicant wireless-tools netctl dialog lvm2

Install as many shit as your heart desires. You can feel guilty later when neofetch lists the number of packages in the thousands. Now we enable the network manager so that systemd starts it automatically.

systemctl enable NetworkManager

Edit your hostname.

/etc/hostname # contains a single line with the host name.

And create the etc/hosts file with the following contents.

----------	localhost
::1		    localhost	myhostname.localdomain	myhostname

Remember to modify substitute myhostname with your host name.

This step is important. We need to enable encryption in the hooks of mkinitcpio.conf. To do so, edit the line which starts with HOOKS= in /etc/mkinitcpio.conf and add encrypt and lvm2. It should look like this:

HOOKS=(base udev autodetect modconf block encrypt lvm2 filesystems keyboard fsck)

And then run mkinitcpio.

mkinitcpio -p linux

If you installed another kernel, just substitute it in the command.

Now, uncomment your locale (remove the leading #) and generate it.


User management

Now, we set up the root password and create a user with superuser permissions. To do so, we add it to the wheel group, which we will add as superusers.

# change root password
# add user 'username'
useradd -m -g users -G wheel username
# change 'username' password
passwd username

Now, make users in the wheel group superusers by uncommenting a line in visudo.

# edit the visudo file
EDITOR=nvim visudo
%wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL

Bootloader configuration

First install GRUB2 and some utilities

pacman -S grub efibootmgr dosfstools mtools os-prober

And edit /etc/default/grub and edit it so that the following lines are present.

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="loglevel=3 cryptdevice=/dev/nvme0n1p3:volumegroup:allow-discards quiet"

Make sure that the name of the volume group is correct, as well as the partition it is located. Mount the first partition we created as the EFI partition.

mkdir /boot/EFI
mount /dev/nvme0n1p1 /boot/EFI

And finally, install grub.

grub-install --target=x86_64-efi --bootloader-id=grub_uefi --recheck

Set up grub locale and generate the grub configuration file.

mkdir /boot/grub/locale
cp /usr/share/locale/en\@quot/LC_MESSAGES/ /boot/grub/locale/
grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

Swap file creation

This is optional, but I usually like to use a swap file. To create and activate a swap file of 8 GB, run the following. Use, of course, whatever size suits your system.

dd if=/dev/zero of=/myswap bs=1M count=8192 status=progress
chmod 600 /myswap
mkswap /myswap
echo '/myswap none swap defaults 0 0' | tee -a /etc/fstab

Last words

That is it, you can now install whatever display server you need, if any. Just follow the Arch Linux wiki for instructions on how to proceed from here. At this point I would usually install xorg-server, ly-git, mesa or nvidia and i3-gaps. Then I would deploy my .dotfiles, but that is another story.

In this guide we have shown the complete procedure to install Arch Linux with LUKS encryption on an LVM drive with two logical partitions for root and home respectively. When you boot up, just after grub, you need to enter your encryption password to be able to proceed. Otherwise, the data in your LVM partitions won’t be accessible.

I hope this guide helped!

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