Configuring Parabola (Post-Install)

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This is the guide for setting up Parabola GNU+Linux-Libre, after completing the installation steps outlined in Installing Parabola or Arch GNU+Linux-Libre with Full-Disk Encryption (including /boot). It will cover installing and configuring a graphical desktop environment, as well as some applications that make the system more user friendly.

For this example, we chose the MATE Desktop Environment as our graphical interface.

This guide was valid on 2017-06-02. If you see any changes that should to be made at the present date, please get in touch with the Libreboot project (or make those changes yourself)!

While Parabola can seem daunting at first glance (especially for new GNU+Linux users), with a simple guide, it can provide all the same usability as any Debian-based GNU+Linux distribution (e.g., Trisquel, Debian, and Devuan), without hiding any details from the user.

Paradoxically, as you get more advanced, Parabola can actually become easier to use, when you want to set up your system in a special way, compared to what most distributions provide. You will find over time that other distributions tend to get in your way.

A lot of the steps in this guide will refer to ArchWiki. Arch is the upstream distribution that Parabola uses. Most of this guide will also tell you to read wiki articles, other pages, manuals, and so on. In general, it tries to cherry-pick the most useful information, but nonetheless, you are encouraged to learn as much as possible.

NOTE: It might take you a few days to fully install your system how you like, depending on how much you need to read. Patience is key, especially for new users.

The ArchWiki will sometimes use bad language, such as calling the whole system Linux, using the term open-source/closed-source, and it will sometimes recommend the use of proprietary software. You need to be careful about this when reading anything on ArchWiki.

Some of these steps require internet access. To get initial access for setting up the system (I’ll go into networking later), just connect your system to a router, via an ethernet cable, and run the following command:

# systemctl start dhcpcd.service

You can stop it later (if needed), by using systemd’s stop option:

# systemctl stop dhcpcd.service

For most people, this should be enough, but if you don’t have DHCP enabled on your network, then you should setup your network connection first: Set Up Network Connection in Parabola.

Configure pacman

pacman (package manager) is the name of the package management system in Arch, which Parabola (as a deblobbed, parallel effort) also uses. Like with apt-get on Trisquel, Debian, or Devuan, this can be used to add, remove, and update the software on your computer.

For more information related to pacman, review the following articles on the Arch Wiki:

Updating Parabola

Parabola is kept up-to-date, using pacman. When you are updating Parabola, make sure to refresh the package list, before installing any new updates:

# pacman -Syy

NOTE: According to the Wiki, -Syy is better than -Sy , because it refreshes the package list (even if it appears to be up-to-date), which can be useful when switching to another mirror.

Then, actually update the system:

# pacman -Syu

NOTE: Before installing packages with pacman -S, always update first, using the two commands above.

Keep an eye out on the output, or read it in /var/log/pacman.log. Sometimes, pacman will show messages about maintenance steps that you will need to perform with certain files (typically configurations) after the update. Also, you should check both the Parabola home page and Arch home page, to see if they mention any issues. If a new kernel is installed, you should also update to be able to use it (the currently running kernel will also be fine).

It’s generally good enough to update Parabola once every week, or maybe twice. As a rolling release distribution, it’s a never a good idea to leave your installation too outdated. This is simply because of the way the project works; old packages are deleted from the repositories quickly, once they are updated. A system that hasn’t been updated for quite a while will mean potentially more reading of previous posts through the website, and more maintenance work.

The Arch forum can also be useful, if others have the same issue as you. The Parabola IRC channel (#parabola on freenode) can also help you.

Due to this, and the volatile nature of Parabola/Arch, you should only update when you have at least a couple hours of spare time, in case of issues that need to be resolved. You should never update, for example, if you need your system for an important event, like a presentation, or sending an email to an important person before an allocated deadline, and so on.

Relax! Packages are well-tested, when new updates are made to the repositories; separate ‘testing’ repositories exist for this exact reason. Despite what many people may tell you, Parabola is fairly stable and trouble-free, so long as you are aware of how to check for issues, and are willing to spend some time fixing issues, in the rare event that they do occur (this is why Arch/Parabola provide such extensive documenatation).

Maintaining Parabola

Parabola is a very simple distro, in the sense that you are in full control, and everything is made transparent to you. One consequence is that you also need to know what you are doing, and what you have done before. In general, keeping notes (such as what I have done with this page) can be very useful as a reference in the future (e.g, if you wanted to re-install it, or install the distro on another computer).

You should also read the ArchWiki article on System Maintenance, before continuing. Also, read their article on enhancing system stability. This is important, so make sure to read them both!*

Install smartmontools; it can be used to check smart data. HDDs use non-free firmware inside; it’s transparent to you, but the smart data comes from it. Therefore, don’t rely on it too much), and then read the ArchWiki article on it, to learn how to use it:

# pacman -S smartmontools

Cleaning the Package Cache

This section provides a brief overview of how to manage the directory that stores a cache of all downloaded packages. For more information, check out the Arch Wiki guide for Cleaning the Package Cache.

Here’s how to use pacman, to clean out all old packages that are cached:

# pacman -Sc

The Wiki cautions that this should be used with care. For example, since older packages are deleted from the repository, if you encounter issues and want to revert back to an older package, then it’s useful to have the caches available. Only do this ,if you are sure that you won’t need it.

The Wiki also mentions this method for removing everything from the cache, including currently installed packages that are cached:

# pacman -Scc

This is inadvisable, since it means re-downloading the package again, if you wanted to quickly re-install it. This should only be used when disk space is at a premium.

pacman Command Equivalents

If you are coming from another GNU+Linux distribution, you probably want to know the command equivalents for the various apt-get-related commands that you often use. For that information, refer to Pacman/Rosetta, so named, because it serves as a Rosetta Stone to the esoteric pacman language.


your-freedom is a package specific to Parabola, and it is installed by default. What it does is conflict with packages from Arch that are known to be non-free (proprietary) software. When migrating from Arch (there is a guide on the Parabola wiki for migrating (i.e,. converting) an existing Arch system to a Parabola system), installing it will also fail, if these packages are installed, citing them as conflicts; the recommended solution is then to delete the offending packages, and continue installing your-freedom.

Add a User

This is based on the Arch Wiki guide to Users and Groups.

It is important (for security reasons) to create and use a non-root (non-admin) user account for everyday use. The default root account is intended only for critical administrative work, since it has complete access to the entire operating system.

Read the entire document linked to above, and then continue.

Add your user with the useradd command (self explanatory):

# useradd -m -G wheel -s /bin/bash *your_user_name*

Set a password, using passwd:

# passwd *your_user_name*

Like with the installation of Parabola, use of the diceware method is recommended, for generating secure passphrases.

Configure sudo

Now that we have a normal user account, we’ll want to configure sudo, so that user is able to run commands as root (e.g., installing software); this will be necessary to flash the ROM later on. Refer to ArchWiki’s sudo documentation.

The first step is to install the sudo package:

# pacman -S sudo

After installation, we must configure it. To do so, we must modify /etc/sudoers. This file must always be modified with the visudo command. visudo can be difficult for beginners to use, so we’ll want to edit the file with nano, but the trick is that we just can’t do this:

# nano /etc/sudoers

Because, this will cause us to edit the file directly, which is not the way it was designed to be edited, and could lead to problems with the system. Instead, to temporarily allow us to use nano to edit the file, we need to type this into the terminal:

# EDITOR=nano visudo

This will open the /etc/sudoers file in nano, and we can now safely make changes to it.

To give the user we created earlier to ability to use sudo, we need to navigate to the end of the file, and add this line on the end:

your_username ALL=(ALL) ALL

Obviously, type in the name of the user you created, instead of your_username. Save the file, and exit nano; your user now has the ability to use sudo.


systemd is the name of the program for managing services in Parabola; It is a good idea to become familiar with it. Read the Arch Wiki article on systemd, as well as their Basic systemctl usage article, to gain a full understanding. This is very important! Make sure to read them.

An example of a service could be a VPN (allowing you to connect to an outside network), an applet in the system tray that tells you the weather for your city, a sound manager (to make sure you can hear sound through speakers or headphones), or DHCP (which allows you to get an IP address, to connect to the internet). These are just a few examples; there are countless others.

systemd is a controversial init system; A forum post has an explanation behind the Arch development team’s decision to use it.

The manpage should also help:

# man systemd

The section on unit types is especially useful.

According to the wiki, systemd's journal keeps logs of a size up to 10% of the total size that your root partition takes up. On a 60GB root, this would mean 6GB. That’s not exactly practical, and can have performance implications later, when the log gets too big. Based on instructions from the wiki, I will reduce the total size of the journal to 50MiB (that’s what the wiki recommends).

Open /etc/systemd/journald.conf, and find this line:


Change it to this:


Restart journald:

# systemctl restart systemd-journald

The wiki recommends that if the journal gets too large, you can also simply delete (rm -Rf) everything inside /var/log/journald, but recommends backing it up. This shouldn’t be necessary, since you already set the size limit above, and systemd will automatically start to delete older records, when the journal size reaches it’s limit (according to systemd developers).

Finally, the wiki mentions temporary files, and the utility for managing them.

# man systemd-tmpfiles

To delete the temporary files, you can use the clean option:

# systemd-tmpfiles --clean

According to the manpage, this “cleans all files and directories with an age parameter”. According to ArchWiki, this reads information in /etc/tmpfiles.d and /usr/lib/tmpfiles.d, to know what actions to perform. Therefore, it is a good idea to read what’s stored in these locations, to get a better understanding.

I looked in /etc/tmpfiles.d/ and found that it was empty on my system. However, /usr/lib/tmpfiles.d contained some files. The first one was etc.conf, containing information and a reference to this manpage:

# man tmpfiles.d

Read that manpage, and then continue studying all the files.

The systemd developers tell me that it isn’t usually necessary to manually touch the systemd-tmpfiles utility, at all.

Interesting Repositories

In their kernels article, the Parabola wiki mentions a repository called \[kernels\], for custom kernels that aren’t in the default base. It might be worth looking into what is available there, depending on your use case.

I enabled it on my system, to see what was in it. Edit /etc/pacman.conf, and below the extra section add:

Include = /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist*

Now, sync with the newly-added repository:

# pacman -Syy

Lastly, list all available packages in this repository:

# pacman -Sl kernels

In the end, I decided not to install anything from it, but I kept the repository enabled regardless.

Setup a Network Connection in Parabola

Read the ArchWiki guide to Configuring the Network.

Set the Hostname

This should be the same as the hostname that you set in /etc/hostname, when installing Parabola. You should also do it with systemd. If you chose the hostname parabola, do it this way:

# hostnamectl set-hostname parabola

This writes the specified hostname to /etc/hostname. More information can be found in these manpages:

# man hostname
# info hostname
# man hostnamectl

Check /etc/hosts, to make sure that the hostname that you put in there during installation is still on each line: localhost.localdomain localhost parabola
::1       localhost.localdomain localhost parabola

You’ll note that I set both lines; the second line is for IPv6. Since more and more ISPs are providing this now, it’s good to be have it enabled, just in case.

The hostname utility is part of the inetutils package, and is in the core repository, installed by default (as part of the base package).

Network Status

According to ArchWiki, udev should already detect the ethernet chipset, and automatically load the driver for it at boot time. You can check this in the Ethernet controller section, when running the lspci command:

# lspci -v

Look at the remaining sections Kernel driver in use and Kernel modules. In my case, it was as follows:

Kernel driver in use: e1000e
Kernel modules: e1000e

Check that the driver was loaded, by issuing dmesg | grep module_name. In my case, I did:

# dmesg | grep e1000e

Network Device Names

According to the ArchWiki guide on Configuring Network Device Names, it is important to note that the old interface names that you might be used to (e.g., eth0, wlan0, wwan0, etc.), if you come from a distribution like Debian or Trisquel, are no longer applicable. Instead, systemd creates device names starting with en (for ethernet), wl (for wi-fi), and ww (for wwan), with a fixed identifier that it automatically generates. An example device name for your ethernet chipset would be enp0s25, and is never supposed to change.

If you want to enable the old names, ArchWiki recommends adding net.ifnames=0 to your kernel parameters (in Libreboot context, this would be accomplished by following the instructions in How to replace the default GRUB configuration file).

For background information, read Predictable Network Interface Names.

To show what the device names are for your system, run the following command:

# ls /sys/class/net

Changing the device names is possible, but for the purposes of this guide, there is no reason to do it.

Network Setup

Aside from the steps mentioned above, I choose to ignore most of Networking section on the wiki; this is because I will be installing the MATE Desktop Environment, and thus will be using the NetworkManger client (with its accompanying applet) to manage the network.

If you wish to choose a different program, here are some other network manager options that you could use.

Configuring the Graphical Desktop Environment

Since we are going with the MATE Desktop Environment, we will primarily be following the instructions on the Arch Linux Package Repository page, but will also refer to the General Recommendations on ArchWiki.

Installing Xorg

The first step is to install Xorg; this provides an implementation of the X Window System, which is used to provide a graphical intefrace in GNU+Linux:

# pacman -S xorg-server

We also need to install the driver for our hardware. Since I am using a Thinkpad X200, I will use xf86-video-intel; it should be the same on the other Thinkpads, as well as the Macbook 1,1 and 2,1.

# pacman -S xf86-video-intel

For other systems, you can try:

# pacman -Ss xf86-video- | less

When this is combined with looking at your lspci output, you can determine which driver is needed. By default, Xorg will revert to xf86-video-vesa, which is a generic driver, and doesn’t provide true hardware acceleration.

Other drivers (not just video) can be found by looking at the xorg-drivers group:

# pacman -Sg xorg-drivers

Xorg Keyboard Layout

xorg uses a different configuration method for keyboard layouts than Parabola, so you will notice that the layout you set in /etc/vconsole.conf earlier might not actually be the same in xorg.

Check ArchWiki’s article on Xorg’s keyboard configuration, for more information.

To see what layout you currently use, try this on a terminal emulator in xorg:

# setxkbmap -print -verbose 10

I’m simply using the default Qwerty (US) keyboard, so there isn’t anything I need to change here; if you do need to make any changes, ArchWiki recommends two ways of doing it: manually updating configuration files or using the localectl command.

Installing MATE

Now we have to install the desktop environment itself. According to the Arch Linux Package Repository, if we want all of the MATE Desktop, we need to install two packages:

# pacman -Syy mate mate-extra

The last step is to install a Display Manager; for MATE, we will be using lightdm (it’s the recommended Display Manager for the MATE Desktop); for this, we’ll folow the instructions on the MATE wiki, with one small change: the lightdm-gtk3-greeter package doesn’t exist in Parabola’s repositories. So, instead we will install the lightdm-gtk-greeter package; it performs the same function.

We’ll also need the accountsservice package, which gives us the login window itself:

# pacman -Syy lightdm-gtk3-greeter accountsservice

After installing all the required packages, we need to make it so that the MATE Desktop Environment will start automatically, whenever we boot our computer; to do this, we have to enable the display manager, lightdm, as well as the service that will prompt us with a login window, accounts-daemon:

# systemctl enable lightdm
# systemctl enable accounts-daemon

Now you have installed the MATE Desktop Environment,If you wanted to install another desktop environment, check out some other options on ArchWiki.

Configuring Network Manager in MATE

Now that we have installed the Mate Desktop environment, and booted into it, we need to set up the network configuration in our graphical environment.

The MATE Desktop wiki recommends that we use Network Manager; an article about Network Manager can be found on ArchWiki.

We need to install the NetworkManager package:

# pacman -S networkmanager

We will also need the Network Manager applet, which will allow us to manage our networks from the system tray:

# pacman -S network-manager-applet

Finally, we need to start the service (if we want to use it now), or enable it, (so that it will activate automatically, at startup).

# systemctl enable NetworkManager.service

If you need VPN support, you will also want to install the networkmanager-openvpn package.

NOTE: You do not want multiple networking services running at the same time; they will conflict, so, if using Network Manager, you want to stop/disable any others from running. Examples of other services that will probably intefere with Network Manager are dhcpcd and wifi-menu.

You can see all currently-running services with this command:

#  systemctl --type=service

And you can stop them using this command:

# systemctl stop service_name.service

If you want to disable those services, meaning that you no longer want them to start when the computer boots up, you will need to use systemctl's disable option, instead of stop.

Now you have a fully-functional graphical environment for your Parabola installation, including networking. All you have to do is reboot, and you will be prompted to log in, with a familiar graphical login prompt. You can also now, more easily modify the GRUB configuration, install new applications, and/or make whatever other changes you want to your system.

Copyright © 2014, 2015 Leah Rowe

Copyright © 2017 Elijah Smith

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation with no Invariant Sections, no Front Cover Texts, and no Back Cover Texts. A copy of this license is found in ../fdl-1.3.html

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