How-To: Install Arch Linux on an encrypted Btrfs partition

These are the steps I followed to install Arch Linux on my SSD. There are two partitions: /dev/sda1 for /boot and /dev/sda2 for the rest of the system. The last one is encrypted with dm-crypt and formatted in Btrfs. The first one stays unencrypted as it is needed by the BIOS to boot the system (although it seems possible to have it encrypted too, but I didn’t try).

Please use common sense and do not copy/paste commands without first trying to understand what they do! And also remember to backup everything: I am not responsible for any loss of data!

I consider that you just booted on your Arch Linux install medium (note that the “SSD preparation” step can be done from an already installed system as it might take some time).

Keyboard layout

# loadkeys be-latin1

SSD preparation

We will fill up the SSD with random data.

Create a temporary encrypted container on /dev/sda:

# cryptsetup open --type plain /dev/sda container

Check it exists:

# fdisk -l
Disk /dev/mapper/container: 232.9 GiB, 250059350016 bytes, 488397168 sectors

Wipe it with pseudorandom encrypted data (use of /dev/urandom is not required as the encryption cipher is used for randomness):

# dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/mapper/container

(Took me 1 hour on my 250 GB Samsung 840 EVO)

Close the container:

# cryptsetup luksClose container


Create two GPT partitions:

# gdisk /dev/sda
  • /dev/sda1: 128 MiB for /boot
  • /dev/sda2: the remaining space for the system

Prepare boot partition:

# mkfs.ext2 /dev/sda1

Prepare encrypted partition:

# cryptsetup --cipher aes-xts-plain64 --hash sha512 --use-random --verify-passphrase luksFormat /dev/sda2

Open encrypted partition:

# cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sda2 root

Format encrypted partition in Btrfs:

# mkfs.btrfs /dev/mapper/root
# mount -o noatime,discard,ssd,defaults /dev/mapper/root /mnt

Create Btrfs subvolumes:

# cd /mnt
# btrfs subvolume create __active
# btrfs subvolume create __active/rootvol
# btrfs subvolume create __active/home
# btrfs subvolume create __active/var
# btrfs subvolume create __snapshots

System configuration

Mount subvolumes in /mnt:

# cd
# umount /mnt
# mount -o subvol=__active/rootvol /dev/mapper/root /mnt
# mkdir /mnt/{home,var}
# mount -o subvol=__active/home /dev/mapper/root /mnt/home
# mount -o subvol=__active/var /dev/mapper/root /mnt/var

Mount boot partition:

# mkdir /mnt/boot
# mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/boot

Install system

# pacstrap /mnt base base-devel btrfs-progs

Generate fstab

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

Edit /mnt/etc/fstab and add the following options:

/dev/mapper/root    /       btrfs   noatime,discard,ssd,autodefrag,compress=lzo,space_cache,subvol=__active/rootvol ...
/dev/mapper/root    /home   btrfs   noatime,discard,ssd,autodefrag,compress=lzo,space_cache,subvol=__active/home    ...
/dev/mapper/root    /var    btrfs   noatime,discard,ssd,autodefrag,compress=lzo,space_cache,subvol=__active/var     ...
/dev/sda1           /boot   ext2    ...

Chroot into the new system

# arch-chroot /mnt

Configure hostname, timezone, locale, keymap, etc.

Add the encrypt hook in /etc/mkinitcpio.conf (before filesystems) so that it looks something like this:

HOOKS="base udev autodetect modconf block encrypt filesystems keyboard fsck"

Rebuild the boot images:

# mkinitcpio -p linux

Set root password:

# passwd

Configure SYSLINUX:

# pacman -S syslinux gptfdisk
# syslinux-install_update -iam

Edit /boot/syslinux/syslinux.cfg:

LABEL arch
    APPEND root=/dev/mapper/root rootflags=subvol=__active/rootvol cryptdevice=/dev/sda2:root rw

Exit chroot.

Unmount everything:

# umount /mnt/{home,var,boot}
# umount /mnt


# reboot