Lance R. Vick

Arch Linux Terminals in Android

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So I got a shiny new Transformer Prime and of course the first thing I wanted to do was make sure I had a reasonable way to use it to develop on the go.

Option one was dual-boot... however everything I read indicated I would have vastly reduced battery life, and I would lose the ability to do important android tasks, like play angry birds.

Another solution was running a system like Ubuntu in a chroot then using a VNC connection to loop back to it. That seemed like a terrible waste of memory/battery/disk space when all I wanted was a sane terminal development environment where I could use python, nodejs, vim, etc.

Then I realized Arch Linux supports Arm, is very lean, and it should be able to run against an Android kernel without issue provided I got the userland all set up properly. I set out to do just that and the result has been working out beautifully for me. I have android running full time, get my long battery life etc, but a full development environment is as acessible as hitting the terminal icon when I need it. I use native Vim to take notes and program, and I have native htop to monitor my system, etc.

A few people have been asking me how to do this, so I decided to hammer out a guide which is as follows.

Root your device

I am going to assume that if you are even interested in something like this, you have already rooted your device, and know that its required. If for some reason you have not, I advise doing a google for "My device + rooting" and then coming back here with a rooted device :)

Set Up SSH server (optional)

Technically optional, but highly reccomended. Unless you have a hardware keyboard typing out a lot of commands can be pretty painful. Setting up an SSH server on your device will let you connect to it remotely on a computer with a bigger screen and real keyboard.

I found Dropbear SSH Server to be super easy to work with but there are plenty of other options.

Ensure you have enough space on root device

I would advise making sure you have at least a couple gigs of free space. Also I would strongly advise you work on your internal device memory and not an SD card. A full distro has lots of read/writes that will quickly destroy most microsSDs. I speak from experience. They also tend to be much slower.

This guide will assume you are working in /data/local/arch. Anywhere is fine, just adjust steps accordingly.

Set up Arch Environment

cd /data/local/
mkdir arch
cd arch
tar xzf Arch*.tar.gz
rm Arch*.tar.gz
mount -o bind /dev dev
mount -t proc proc proc
mount -t sysfs sysfs sys
ln -s /proc/self/fd dev/fd
echo "nameserver" >> /data/local/arch/etc/resolv.conf

Enter environment and update

chroot . /bin/bash
source /etc/profile
export TERM=xterm-256color
export HOME=/root
mount /dev/pts
pacman -Syuu

Create regular user

useradd -m -G wheel,net_raw lrvick # your username here obviously

Set up Init script

You will want to set up an init script for your Android terminal emulator to run that can drop you into your environment.

I use the following:

Assuming the script is located at "/data/local/arch/" you can set up terminal emulators with the auto-run command:

su -c "sh /data/local/arch/"

For connectbot this can be found in:

Hosts > long-press host > Edit Host > post-login automation

For Terminal Emulator:

Menu > Preferences > Initial Command

Thats it! Now every time you open a terminal it should drop you into a complete arch linux envornment. Please post with any issues or even just to let me know this worked out for you, so I can feel like these sorts of posts are worth my time writing :-)