Miscellaneous ephemera…

Install scripts

It is now almost exactly two years since the AIF was put out to pasture. At the time, it caused a degree of consternation, inexplicably causing some to believe that it presaged the demise of—if not Arch itself, then certainly the community around it. And I think it would be fair to say that it was the signal event that launched a number of spin-offs, the first of which from memory was Archbang; soon followed by a number of others that promised “Arch Linux with an easy installation,” or something to that effect…

Of course, if you look back at the Installation Guide immediately before the move to the new scripts, for example the version that shipped with the last AIF in October, 2011, it is pretty evident that the current approach is a lot simpler. Sure, there is no curses GUI to step you through each part of the install but the introduction of pacstrap and arch-chroot meant that you no longer need those prompts.

There is also the added advantage that these scripts are useful outside the installation process itself; they can be used for system maintenance and, in the rare event that your recent bout of experimentation at 2am after a few drinks doesn’t pan out the way you anticipated, repair.

One of the other responses to the new approach, however, has been the steady proliferation of “helpful” install scripts. These are essentially bash scripts that emulate the behaviour of the AIF and walk people through an automated install of their system. Well, not really their system, more accurately a system. So you run one of these scripts, answer a few prompts and then, when you reboot, you have a brand spanking new Arch Linux install running KDE with the full panoply of software and, in a few special cases, some customized dot files to “enhance” your experience.

From a certain perspective, I can see how these things appeal. “I wonder if I could script an entire install, from the partitioning right through to the desktop environment?” That sounds like a fun project, right? Where it all comes unstuck, unfortunately, is when the corollary thought appears that suggests sharing it with the wider community would be a good idea. It is at this point that a rigorous bout of self-examination about the outcomes that you are seeking and your base motivations for this act of selflessness are called for.

Whatever those motivations are, whether driven by altruism or the naked desire for fame and fortune that have—from time to time—alighted on these projects when they appear on /r/archlinux and the adoring throngs bestow their favours in equal measures of upvotes and bitcoin, they are grotesquely misplaced. No good comes from these things, I tell you; none.

Why not? Because, in the guise of being helpful, you are effectively depriving people of the single most important part of using Arch: building it themselves. It’s like inviting someone to a restaurant for an amazing haute cuisine meal, sitting them down across the table from you and then them watching as the staff bring out a mouth-watering array of dishes, each of which you ostentatiously savour before vomiting it all back into their mouth.

Now, I am sure there is a small minority (well, at least from my own sheltered experience I imagine it is small) who would relish this scenario, but for most it would qualify as a pretty disappointing date.

Then, after the technicolour table d'hôte, there is the matter of the clean up. Recently, we had someone show up on the Arch boards who had “installed Arch” but who did not understand how to edit a text file; literally had no clue how to open a file like /etc/fstab make some changes and then save it. This is beyond stupid; it is a drain on the goodwill of the community that has to deal with this ineptitude, it is unfair on people to put them in a position where they feel they are at the mercy of their technology, rather than in control of it, and it does nothing to advance the interests of Arch.

If you want to write something like this to improve your scripting skills, by all means proceed. If you want to contribute to Arch, then pick a project to contribute to, some bugs to squash, wiki edits, whatever; just don’t publish another one of these idiotic scripts, because you aren’t doing anyone any favours, quite the contrary.


Flickr Creative Commons image, Measuring spoons by Theen Moy.