systemd-boot - LUKS - ext4

Why another guide on encryption?

Using grub to boot an encrypted system often leads to long waits while grub decrypts the luks container just to get to the kernels.

This load time is a weakness of the current grub implementation - and while it will probably be solved in due time - we need to find ways around it.

For example you can use a separate partition for boot, $esp and root and leave boot unencrypted. This works and grub will happily boot. If you want to dual boot several variations of Linux and throw in a Windows and a couple of ISO - this is the way to go.

But what if you requirements are simple? You just want an encrypted Manjaro? And you want the installation to be as simple as possible?

systemd-boot is a bootloader which do not get much attention on Manjaro - since most Manjaro installations is created using Calamares installer which in turn installs grub. I recall a setting for an iso-profile setting the efi_bootloader="grub" - but it didn't work very well so I decided to learn how to implement systemd-boot the most simple way - later create a merge request to the tools.

Before you begin

First - I am assuming you know your device path - for the safety of less experienced readers - I am using a device path /dev/sdy you most likely do not find on your system.

Second - I am assuming you are using a root TTY as no commands is prefixed with sudo.

TIP: Don't use a graphical environment - switch to TTY - because the live system may lock screen and other unpleasant thing while you are using the terminal - thus breaking what ever you were doing.

Third - I will be using command line partitioning - no menu interfaces - pure command line.

Fourth - This guide will work for any device - it be internal, removable USB or otherwise attached to your system. To ease the pain of writing the same device over and over I made use of an environment variable - I assume you set the same too.

TIP If your circumstances allows for it - you can use ssh to install remotely using another device on your network.

Let's begin

If you have not done so already open a root TTY and set the device variable - remember it only exist in the current shell


Ensure your device is not mounted anywhere

umount -f "$INS"

Now to the serious stuff

The stuff that needs disclaimers - you are on your own kind of stuff.

Clean the disk's partition tables

sgdisk --zap-all "$INS"

Create a new GPT partition table

sgdisk --mbrtogpt "$INS"

Randomize the dev

dd if=/dev/urandom of=$INS status=progress

Create the $esp partition

sgdisk --new 1::+512M --typecode 1:ef00 --change-name 1:"EFI System" "$INS"

Create the root partition

sgdisk --new 2::: --typecode 2:8304 --change-name 2:"Linux x86-64 root" "$INS"

Wipe everything from the partitions

wipefs -af "$INS"1

wipefs -af "$INS"2

Format the partitions

Format $esp partition using FAT32

mkfs.vfat -vF32 "$INS"1

Root LUKS container

Create the LUKS container - the --iter-time argument can be changed (default>10000) - the more iterations the better. --tries can be changed defaults to three (3) times.

cryptsetup -v --iter-time 5000 --type luks2 --iter-time 50000 --hash sha512 --tries 5 --use-urandom luksFormat "$INS"2

Open the LUKS container

cryptsetup open "$INS"2 cryptroot

Format the container using your preferred file system - If your device is flash based you can use f2fs which is created for flash or you can use ext4 which is a defacto standard for Linux.

mkfs.ext4 /dev/mapper/cryptroot


Mount your LUKS container on the systems temporary mountpoint

mount /dev/mapper/cryptroot /mnt

Then create the folder for booting systemd ($esp)

mkdir /mnt/boot

And mount the $esp partition

mount "$INS"1 /mnt/boot

Installing a base Manjaro system

This article is only scratching the surface of the new system. We only install a basic bootable system using the base meta package, (if you use f2fs add the package f2fs-tools) along with kernel and some required tools - and don't forget network connectivity

basestrap /mnt base linux510 nano mkinitcpio bash-completion networkmanager f2fs-tools

Configuring the base system

Configuring the system is the tedious - extremely boring - but crucial part, usually abstracted by tools like Manjaro Architect.

Chroot into the mountpoint

manjaro-chroot /mnt /bin/bash


The vconsole.conf file contains information about the type of keymap you are using - in this case a danish keymap - but it could us for a default US english keymap.

echo KEYMAP=dk > /etc/vconsole.conf

The hostname file contains the name of your computer on a network - this must be unique - you can of course select another name

echo manjaro > /etc/hostname

The hosts file contains information local to your system. The is almost empty - edit the file and append below IP addresses and the hostname from your hostname file

nano /etc/hosts localhost manjaro.localdomain manjaro

The ever important system time - the example is for Denmark but it could be Europe/Paris if you live in that area.

ln -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/Europe/Copenhagen /etc/localtime

Unix systems expects the hardware clock to run in UTC and the system then corrects the clock using the timezone information - this is a point where Windows and Linux disagree causing trouble for dual-booters - which we are not.

hwclock --systohc

Enable the network and timesync (don't use --now in chroot, it will fail)

systemctl enable NetworkManager systemd-timesyncd

Now we create a locale configuration - this configuration defines system messages and how time, date and other units are displayed.

nano /etc/locale.gen

Uncomment the locales you want to use - e.g. using English for messages and German for date and time uncomment both. In this example - again for Denmark.

en_DK.UTF-8 UTF-8

To actually use preferences the necessary files needs generated - this is done using the locale-gen command


The locale.conf file contains a reference to the locale files just created. Please see the Arch Wiki page on locales for additional entries you can add.

echo LANG=en_DK.UTF-8 > /etc/locale.conf

And finally set the root password - do not skip as you will not be able to login into the rebooted system.



This is the interesting part you have worked yourself down to. Because we are using LUKS encrypted root partition we need to make some system parts available at boot time.

We need to make the initramfs aware of the encryption we use and it need to accept input from the user on encryption phrase used to decrypt the system.


Those settings is defined in the file mkinitcpio.conf - we need to edit that file so suit our purpose

nano /etc/mkinitcpio.conf

Edit the HOOKS line to include keyboard, keymap, sd-vconsole and sd-encrypt. This is required to get past the decryption phase. And the order of appearance is important - they must appear before autodetect.

HOOKS="systemd keyboard keymap sd-vconsole block sd-encrypt autodetect modconf filesystems fsck"

Use the mkinicpio command to generate the initramfs - it will copy the files to the boot ($esp) partition.

mkinitcpio -P -d /boot


Now install the systemd bootloader to the boot ($esp) partition

bootctl --path=/boot install

To get the UUID for the device we need to exit chroot and the rest of the configuration can be done outside.


For the bootloader to actually load we need create a configuration file to specify the kernel, initrd and kernel options.

The configuration must match your system's kernel and initrd also DEVICE-UUID must the UUID of the physical device hosting the LUKS container. We can use lsblk to output the UUID and write it directly to the entry configuration.

lsblk -no PATH,UUID "$INS"2 > /mnt/boot/loader/entries/manjaro.conf

We also need the filenames of the kernel and to avoid typos - we use ls and pipe the output to the same file - just appending instead

ls /mnt/boot/init* /mnt/boot/vmlinuz* >> /mnt/boot/loader/entries/manjaro.conf

Now open the file using nano

nano /mnt/boot/loader/entries/manjaro.conf

Amend the file to look like this (the order of the lines are not important)

title   Manjaro
linux   /vmlinuz-5.10-x86_64
initrd  /initramfs-5.10-x86_64.img 
options root=/dev/mapper/cryptroot

This new configuration file is then added to the file loader.conf

nano /mnt/boot/loader/loader.conf
default manjaro


This article does not take into account the amd/intel microcode and maintenance due to kernel upgrades or booting different kernels.

To learn more - read up on systemd-boot on the Arch Wiki.

To facilitate tedious maintenance tasks you can install the systemd-boot-manager package from official repo.

Just a few things worth noting.

  • With systemd-boot, we also need to handle microcode loading by hand in the entries
  • It is probably worth pointing out that these entries will need to be added/updated as new kernels are installed and removed
  • Lastly, systemd-boot-manager will handle both those things for you in an automated fashion. It can automate the installation of systemd-boot, the creation and removal of entries, the addition of microcode updates and has options setting defaults automatically. It has full support for luks/lvm/btrfs/zfs/etc. -- @dalto

Test your install

Unmount your devices

# umount -R /mnt

Close the LUKS container

# cryptsetup close /dev/mapper/cryptroot

If you are installing to an USB device - sync device before removing it

# sync

And reboot

# reboot

Install Manjaro Edition

You now have a the minimal for a system to boot and make a network connection - where you go from here is really up to you.

Option 1

Pick from the big-big box of Linux Lego and customize your own favorite system.

Option 2

On your favorite system you can use two files from your root

  • /rootfs-pkgs.txt
  • /desktopfs-pkgs.txt

Sanitize the lists combining them into one list - then feed them to pacman to install them into your new root file system.

Start with root filesystem and pipe it into a new file

cat /rootfs-pkgs.txt | awk '{print $1;}' > ~/iso-pkglist.txt

Continue with the desktop filesystem and append it to the file

cat /desktopfs-pkgs.txt | awk '{print $1;}' >> ~/iso-pkglist.txt

Then feed the entire list to pacman and direct the installation to your mounted root using the convenient options of not confirming and only install if not already installed.

pacman -Syy --no-confirm --needed --root /mnt - < ~/iso-pkglist.txt

You will now require a few extra steps - which requires chroot.

Administrative user

It is important to hold back on user creation until you have installed the packages making up the Manjaro look and feel otherwise your user will have only desktop defaults. All theming etc. is stored in /etc/skel and upon user creation these files as used as a skeleton.

The first created should be an administrative user - replace $USERNAME with an actual username

useradd --create-home --user-group -G network,scanner,lp,wheel $USERNAME

Then set a password for the user

passwd $USERNAME

Display manager

To enable a graphical login you must enable the display manager. Which one depends on the environment


systemctl enable sddm


systemctl enable lightdm


systemctl enable gdm


You have only scratched the surface and there is work to be done - installing Xorg, applications, themes - what ever you fancy - it's really up to you how this adventure ends.

Have fun - I did.