Initial Setup (Arch Linux)

If at any point it is impossible to access your Raspberry Pi, then connect the micro SD card (containing your operating system) back to your main computer and edit any files necessary to get working again.

We can now insert the SD card into the Raspberry Pi, and connect the power (there is no on/off switch).

We should set up SSH on our main computer so that we can connect to the piserver simply with ssh piserver. On our main computer we edit ~/.ssh/config

Host piserver

Substituting in the IP address of the Raspberry Pi. We could:

  • Try lots of random IP addresses until we find the right one (they're usually 192.168.1.x, and we can ping to narrow down the list),
  • Search for machines with nmap -sL | grep -i pi
  • Search for machines with open Port 22 with sudo nmap -sT --open -p 22
  • Use the MAC address on the Raspberry Pi obtained from ip link list and look at the list of devices on our DHCP server (i.e. our router),
  • Set a static IP address on the Raspberry Pi with ip addr add,
  • Set a static IP address for the Raspberry Pi on our DHCP server, or
  • Set up Service Discovery (Avahi) so that we can ssh piserver.local which works no matter what IP address the was given to the RPi from the DHCP server.

Users and Sudo

The Arch Linux ARM OS comes with two users:

  • root with password root (the super-user), and
  • alarm with password alarm.

This is very easy to use but ultimately insecure, so we will remove access to both accounts.

We need to SSH into the piserver and switch to the root account.

# On your computer
ssh [email protected]

# Now on the Raspberry Pi
su - root

We install some basic tools:

  • sudo is used for security, allowing us to execute root commands without logging in as root.
  • pacmatic is a simple wrapper around pacman which can give warnings when doing system upgrades. python-html2text is an optional dependency that formats some news items better.
  • vim is the one true text editor.
  • htop is an excellent, intuitive monitoring tool.
  • mosh is an excellent, secure SSH-esque connection that works better on a poor connection and when roaming.
pacman-key --init
pacman-key --populate archlinuxarm
pacman -Syu --needed sudo pacmatic python-html2text vim htop mosh

We can optionally delete some unnecessary tools (find them with pacman -Qent:

pacman -Rs net-tools netctl vi wireless_tools wpa_supplicant

We create our (adminstrative) user and set its password, substituting <YOU> for the username we like the most

useradd --groups wheel --create-home <YOU>
passwd <YOU>

We give the adminstrative group wheel sudo privileges by properly using visudo -f /etc/sudoers.d/wheel


We add our SSH key from our PC:

ssh-copy-id <YOU>@piserver

Now we should logout, and SSH in as our new user to test everything is working including doing a sudo command.

Then we proceed to remove the default alarm user and lock root.

sudo userdel --remove alarm
sudo passwd --lock root

The only way to login as root is to switch to it with sudo su - root from your new administrative user account.

Hostname, Locale, Keymap, Timezone

We set a hostname, locale, keymap, and, if we don't want to use UTC, our local timezone.

sudo hostnamectl set-hostname piserver

# Set the locale - uncomment the locale:
sudoedit /etc/locale.gen
sudo localectl set-locale en_GB.UTF-8
sudo locale-gen

# Set the keymap - view a list of keymaps with:
# localectl list-keymaps
sudo localectl set-keymap uk

# Optionally, set our local timezone
sudo timedatectl set-timezone $(tzselect)

# Set /etc/hosts    localhost
::1          localhost    piserver.localdomain piserver

Setting the keymap now is helpful if you ever need to plug in a keyboard.

Personal Preferences (Completely Optional)

  • [ ] Move into the appendix and expand out.

Configure ~/.pam_environment for cross-shell environment variables.


This is a little more annoying than just using .bashrc, but it does let us switch between shells more easily.

Install the fish shell and enable it for our user:

sudo pacmatic -S --needed fish
chsh -s /usr/bin/fish $USER


We should make SSH more secure with some minor tweaks using sudoedit /etc/ssh/sshd_config.

PermitRootLogin no
AllowGroups wheel
PasswordAuthentication no

Ensure you used ssh-copy-id to copy over your SSH key before enabling PasswordAuthentication no or else you will lose SSH access to the RPi.

Then, we can test our changes are valid and reload the service to pick up the new config:

sudo sshd -T
sudo systemctl reload sshd



We enable time synchronisation because it is important for many different services. The built-in systemd-timesyncd service is easy to use.

sudo systemctl enable --now systemd-timesyncd.service
sudo timedatectl set-ntp true

Pacman Cache

Pacman will build up an infinite collection of cached system packages in /etc/cache/pacman/pkg. This is not useful, and it is likely we have limited disk space on the PiServer. We can remove old cached packages using a pacman hook that runs after we execute certain pacman commands.

Keeping some old versions is useful for the (very) rare occasion that you want to downgrade.

Ensure the hooks directory is created sudo mkdir -p /etc/pacman.d/hooks.

Install sudo pacman -S --needed pacman-contrib.

To remove all versions of an uninstalled package, we sudoedit /etc/pacman.d/hooks/paccache-remove.hook

Operation = Remove
Type = Package
Target = *

Description = Removing package cache for uninstalled packages...
When = PostTransaction
Exec = /usr/bin/paccache -ruk0

To keep the last 3 versions of each package we still have installed, we sudoedit /etc/pacman.d/hooks/paccache-upgrade.hook

Operation = Upgrade
Type = Package
Target = *

Description = Removing old cached packages...
When = PostTransaction
Exec = /usr/bin/paccache -rk3

Trim Flash Drives

To avoid data loss ensure trim is supported. The following command gives non-zero DISC-GRAN and DISC-MAX values if it is suppotred.

sudo lsblk --discard

Flash-based systems should be "trimmed" regularly to ensure optimal performance. This process physically clears the flash blocks for deleted files, which allows writes to those blocks to happen faster in the future.

SD cards and SSD drives normally support trim, while USB flash drives normally do not.

It is possible trim when the file is deleted, but this is normally unnecessary. Therefore, we will enable /usr/lib/systemd/system/fstrim.timer which trims all supported filesystems in /etc/fstab weekly.

sudo systemctl enable --now fstrim.timer

On encrypted file systems, this will leak which areas of the drive are empty.

SD Card Longevity

Flash NAND storage has limited write durability. This can be worse than we think since even a tiny 1 byte write can cause an entire erase-block to be re-written, which might be 2 MB.

In general, leaving plenty of free space allows wear-levelling to function more effectively and increases the speed of the storage.

We can figure out what is writing to the disk with sudo iotop -bktoqqq.

Filesystem Options

We can mount the filesystem to reduce metadata writes with noatime and lazytime. The former stops writing file access times entirely, and the latter batches all file time updates to every minute.

/dev/mmcblk0p2  /       ext4    rw,noatime,lazytime     0 0

View existing mounts with their options with cat /proc/mounts.

In addition to this, we can add a more dangerous mount option commit=3600. This batches up all writes to the storage to commit every hour. Generally, this should not be used if you are storing or modifying any files on the RPi—which is certainly the case for our PiServer.

Check the validity of /etc/fstab with sudo mount -a.

We can commit all changes to the filesystem using sync.

Journaling Options

The journal size for systemd is 10% of the filesystem, capped at 4 GiB. This is almost certainly fine for most situations, but it can be reduced in order to leave more free space for very small microSD cards.

The journal normally syncs to disk every 5 minutes for non-critical messages, this can be increased to batch up writes further. This is not recommended as it is likely to make debugging more difficult.

sudo mkdir -p /etc/systemd/journald.conf.d/
sudoedit /etc/systemd/journald.conf.d/00-journal-sdcard.conf

It is also possible to keep log entries entirely in-memory with Storage=volatile, but this is likely to make debugging more difficult.

Other Options

We can keep swap disabled both because it is very slow on an RPi, and also because when it is in-use it causes a lot of writes.

  • [ ] Consider setting up a tmpfs for /var/log, /var/cache/samba.

I would not recommend doing the following suggestion because /var/tmp is supposed to survive reboots: mount /var/tmp in-memory with tmpfs /var/tmp tmpfs nodev,nosuid,size=50M 0 0.

Boot Time

We can improve the boot time by disabling unnecessary systemd services using systemd-analyze blame and systemd-analyze critical-chain.

For example, disabling:

  • lvm2-monitor.service
  • lvm2-lvmetad.service

Unused Services

pacman -Rs net-tools netctl wireless_tools vi wpa_supplicant


  • [ ] Fix network issues reported by netdata:
  • [ ] Does this save?
sudo sysctl -a | grep netdev
sudo sysctl net.core.netdev_budget=3000
sudo sysctl net.core.netdev_budget_usecs=4000

Extra Security

There are further steps that we can take, however they offer increasingly diminishing returns. We do not consider MAC/ACLs/SELinux because they are, apparently, a PITA.

Firewall - UFW



umask 027 However, it might be really inconvenient.


Since it's headless we don't need those ports.

TBD: What does this protect against exactly?

We cannot just disable the USB controller because that would also disable the ethernet.

Other Tips


A few tips for /etc/pacman.conf

# Misc options

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