Hard Drive Failure and Reinstalling Arch

Thoughts Technology Linux

A blown hard drive forced me to reinstall my main work machine today, and in the process, I realised how much I’ve learnt about Linux since switching to Arch.

I got into my office this morning to discover that my main hard drive in my workstation had failed. It just completely refused to spin up. Probably all those weird power failures we’ve been having finally got to it. I wasn’t worried because I have a fairly intensive backup regime which includes separate hard disks for daily and weekly backups (automated through cron), but I was annoyed because my backup regime was built back when I was using Ubuntu, and so didn’t include the root filesystem – only the home drives and webserver.

Using Ubuntu, reinstalling the OS is quite a quick process, and usually, I could wipe the main hard drive, reinstall and restore all my data within a few hours. Recently, however, I switched to Arch linux, which doesn’t have anywhere near as simple an install process (although, being a rolling distribution, you never have to reinstall unless you have a failure). When you install Arch, you get GNU/Linux, just that. No desktop environment, no network (sometimes) and certainly no webserver. Now don’t get me wrong, I quite like this. It lets me build a system the way I want it, without any of the miscellaneous stuff that usually comes with a Linux distro such as Ubuntu or OpenSUSE. It does not, however, make for a fast reinstall.

I resigned myself to not getting any work done today and, after running down the street to get a new hard disk, sat down with the Arch wiki open on my laptop and set about starting my install from scratch. Several hours and many cups of tea later, I’m back up and running on a shiny new install and I have to say I’m impressed with how easy it was.

One of the things I’ve always liked about Arch is that it encourages you to learn how things work. That’s actually why I changed to it in the first place: I wanted to learn more about Linux. The documentation on the Arch website is the best Linux documentation I have ever encountered, and usually answers my questions or solves my problems for me. The beauty of the Arch Way approach is that when you install and use Arch, you learn stuff. Today, I learnt how much of that has stayed with me. I found myself glancing over the installations instructions when I needed to, but most of the config files and setup steps made sense to me because I’d been using them frequently since installing Arch for the first time. I was already familiar with how to get services to run at startup, how to change the hostname, how to replace the old network component with networkmanager, and how to install Gnome 3. I had the usual problems getting the LAMP stack up and running, but that’s not exactly new.

I’m not saying that reinstalling Arch was in any way as quick and painless as reinstalling Ubuntu (far from it), but I did realise just how much I’ve learnt about Linux since switching to Arch. It was a nice reminder.

Oh, and by the way, I’m really enjoying Gnome 3. So much so that I’ve decided not to bother with KDE on this install. I’m planning to do a proper review soon.