A couple of years ago I wrote "Why Arch Linux Rocks" and "Getting the most from Arch Linux." I've made a number of attempts to get more involved in the Arch project and community, but mostly I've been too busy working and using Arch to do actual work. Then a few weeks ago when I needed to do something minor with my system--I forget what--and I found myself thinking "this Arch thing is pretty swell, really."
This post is a collection of the clever little things that make Arch great.
I'm using abs as a macro for all of the things about the package build system that I enjoy.
Arch packages are easy to build for users: you download a few files read a bash script in the PKGBUILD file and run the makepkg command. Done. Arch packages are also easy to specify for developers: just specify a "build()" function and some variables int eh PKGBUILD file.
Arch may not have as many packages as Debian, but I think it's clear that you don't need comprehensive package coverage when making packages is trivially easy.
If you use Arch and you don't frequent that AUR, or if you ever find yourself doing "./configure; make; make install" then you're wasting your time or jeopardizing the stability of your server.
The default package management tool for Arch Linux, pacman, is a completely sufficient utility. This puts pacman ahead of a number of other similar tools, but to be honest I'm not terribly wild about it. Having said that, I think that yaourt is a great thing. It provides a wrapper around all of pacman's functionality and adds support for AUR/ABS packages in a completely idiomatic manner. The reduction in cost of installing this software is quite welcome.
It's not "official" or supported, because it's theoretically possible to really screw up your system with yaourt but if you're cautious, you should be good.
The main yaourt functions that I use regularly are the "-Ss" which provides a search of the AUR, and the -G option. -G just downloads the tarball with the package specification (e.g. the PKGBUILD and associated files) from the AUR and untars the archive into the current directory.
With that accomplished, it's trivial to build and install the package, but you get to keep a record of the build files for future reference and possible tweaking. So basically, you this is the way to take away the tedium of getting packages from the AUR, while giving you more control and oversight of package installation.
If you've installed Arch, then you're already familiar with the rc.conf file. In case you didn't catch how it works, rc.conf is bash script that defines certain global configuration values, which in turn controls certain aspects of the boot process and process initialization.
I like that it's centralized, that you can do all kinds of wild network configuration in the script, and I like that everything is in one place.
In point of fact, one of primary reasons I switched to Arch Linux full time, was because of the network configuration tool, netcfg. Like the rc.conf setup, netcfg works by having a network configuration files which define a number of variables which are sourced by netcfg when imitating a network connection.
It's all in bash, of course, and it works incredibly well. I like having network management easy to configure, and setup in a way that doesn't require a management daemon.
Previous points have touched on this, but the "BSD-style" init system is perfect. It works quickly, and boot ups are stunningly fast: even without an SSD I got to a prompt in less than a minute, and probably not much more than 30 seconds. With an SSD: it's even better great. The points that you should know:
Daemon control scripts, (i.e. init scripts) are located in /etc/rc.d. There's a pretty useful "library" of shell functions in /etc/rc.d/function and a good template file in``/etc/rc.d/skel` for use when building your own control scripts. The convention is to have clear and useful output and easy to understand scripts, and with the provided material this is pretty easy.
In /etc/rc.conf there's a DAEMON variable that holds an array. Place names, corresponding to the /etc/rc.d file name, of daemons in this array to start them at boot time. Daemons are started synchronously by default (i.e. order of items in this array matters and the control script must exit before running the next script.) However, if a daemon's name is prefixed by an @ sign, the process is started in the background and the init process moves to the next item in the array without waiting.
Start-up dependency issues are yours to address, but using order and background start-up this is trivial to implement. Background start ups lead to fast boot times.