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Installing a LUKS-Encrypted Arch Linux on a Vultr VPS

I’ve been a happy customer of Vultr  for three years now. For one, this little corner of the Internet is hosted on one of their VPS, along with other services I have self-hosted. Recently, I have decided to migrate to a new VPS with more disk space and more powerful vCPUs.

In this article, I describe how I have set up the host (an Arch Linux system on a LUKS-encrypted partition) of jasminejasmine being my shiny new server—I have taken the habit to name my servers and personal computers after Disney princesses. . I had done a similar thing for mulan, jasmine’s predecessor. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the time to document mulan installation steps three years ago. Needless to say, I had plenty of opportunities to regret this oversight while I painfully redicovered how to make this work.

Hopefully, most of what is in this write-up will stand the test of time and remain true three years from now, when I migrate again 😅.

Booting on the Installation ISO

It is no surprise that Vultr does not propose an out-of-the-box LUKS-encrypted Arch Linux installation in their OSes library. As a consequence, I had to boot my brand new VPS on the Arch Linux ISO .

  1. In the Vultr dashboard, I visited the “ISOs” page (in the “Orchestrations” menu) to add the latest Arch Linux installation ISO.
  2. Then, I went to the management panel of jasmine, more precisely in the “Settings” tab. I visited the “Custom ISO” page, and attached the Arch Linux ISO. This prompted a reboot.

jasmine happily booted the image, but the resulting system was lacking a SSH server to connect to. Instead, I used the “View Console” feature to get a shell access to my VPSIt is noteworthy that I had to disable one of my Firefox extensions: Vimium. Vimium provides me vim-like keystrokes in the browser, and the keys I am using for motion (t, s, r, and n) were not forwarded to the console. .

The Arch Linux installation ISO’s default keymap is qwerty, a keyboard layout I am helpless with. The first command I always use in this situation is loadkeys, which allows me to switch to the fr-bepo  layout.


In this article, I am using ; as the terminal prompt for ease of copy/pasting .

; loadkeys fr-bepo

Remote Access to jasmine

The next step was to start a SSH server I could connect to using my terminal emulator. A virtual console is nice enough, but when your muscle memory commands you to hit Ctrl-W to delete the word before your cursor as soon as you are connected to a shell, you don’t want to stay in a browser tab for obvious reasons.

  1. I set up a password for the root user using passwd.
  2. I modified the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file to let me connect with the root user using a password (PermitRootLogin yes).
  3. I started the SSH server using systemctl start sshd.

From there, I could connect jasmine from my terminal emulator.

# after modifying /etc/hosts to add `jasmine` IP there
; ssh root@jasmine

Disk Partitions

Now that I was enjoying the comfort of my terminal emulator of choice (kitty ), the serious business could start. Moving forward, my next task was to set up the disk layout and the filesystems.


Did you know that Vultr VPS are using legacy boot and not UEFI? I surely did, three years ago, but sadly I had forgotten. So I did a first installation setup with a EFI partition layout (GPT, /boot formatted with VFAT, etc.), only to discover that my shiny system could not boot.

To create an MBR partition system, fdisk is a nice enough tool. The disk is exposed to the VPS under the name /dev/vda.

; fdisk /dev/vda

Firstly, I created a new MBR.

Command (m for help): o

Then, I created the /boot partition. To be sure I would not run out of space, I allocated 3GBytes for it.

Command (m for help): n
Partition number (1-128, default 1): 
First sector (34-268435422, default = 2048) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: 
Last sector (2048-268435422, default = 268433407) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: +3G

The root partition was to take the remaining space.

Command (m for help): n
Partition number (2-128, default 2): 
First sector (34-268435422, default = 6293504) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: 
Last sector (6293504-268435422, default = 268433407) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: 

I reviewed the resulting partition layout.

Command (m for help): p

Disk /dev/vda: 128 GiB, 137438953472 bytes, 268435456 sectors
Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Disklabel type: dos
Disk identifier: 0xdbc3620d

Device     Boot   Start       End   Sectors  Size Id Type
/dev/vda1          2048   6293503   6291456    3G 83 Linux
/dev/vda2       6293504 268435455 262141952  125G 83 Linux


Command (? for help): w


/boot Partition

No need to be particularly fancy here. I formatted /boot with the ext3 filesystem. As far as I know, this is a reasonable default choice for this partition.

; mkfs.ext3 /dev/vda1

LUKS-Encrypted Root Partition

I mostly followed the Arch Linux Wiki  for this. Generally speaking, the Arch Linux Wiki is a wonderful source of information for anything related to Linux.

I formatted /dev/vda2 with cryptsetup to initialize the encryption scheme.

; cryptsetup -y -v luksFormat /dev/vda2


Be sure to save your LUKS passphrase somewhere, otherwise you are likely to run in trouble at some point. I’ve personally added it to my Bitwarden.

As-is, the partition cannot be used; it needs to be “open” with cryptsetup.

; cryptsetup open /dev/vda2 root

root here is the name given to the usable partition. More precisely, after this command the partition can be manipulated through the /dev/mapper/root logical volume.

Before, I had always used ext4 for my root partition, but for a while I’ve had an interest for alternative filesystems. And so, I decided out of the blue to format /dev/mapper/root with btrfsTime will tell if this was a mistake… The Internet seems to suggest it might be one 😅. . I like the idea of a filesystem compressing its contents by default.

; mkfs.btrfs -d single -m single /dev/mapper/root
; mount -t btrfs -o defaults,noatime,compress=zstd /dev/mapper/root /mnt

Finally, I could mount the two formatted partitions in /mnt.

; mkdir /mnt/boot
; mount /dev/vda1 /mnt/boot

Installing Arch Linux

I have installed the bare minimum with pacstrap. I personally prefer entering in the chroot as soon as possible.

; pacstrap -K /mnt base linux
; genfstab -U /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab
; arch-chroot /mnt

In the rest of the article, I focus on the details that are directly related to our main subject. That is, being able to boot a LUKS-encrypted Arch Linux VPS. To that end, I have chosen to reproduce the exact setup I did three years ago for mulan. It consists in configuring the initramfs to spawn an SSH server (tinyssh ) which let me enter the LUKS passphrase of /dev/vda2 remotely.


Before configuring the boot process, it had to take a small detour and configure the SSH server (sshd from OpenSSH) jasmine will start once it has booted. The main reason is quite simple: I wanted tinyssh and sshd to use the same host key.

tinyssh is limited in terms of the key types it supports, but I personally always default to Ed25519 so I’m fine with that.

ssh-keygen -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key -N '' -t ed25519

I then modified /etc/ssh/sshd_config to ensure sshd would default to it.

# in /etc/ssh/sshd_config, uncomment
HostKey /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ed25519_key

I used this opportunity to also (temporarily) allow login as root using a password. Eventually, I will definitely remove this line from sshd config, but while I’m configuring everything, it’s too convenient to bother with another approach.

# in /etc/ssh/sshd_config, add
PermitRootLogin yes

This line is only useful if root has a password, so I initialized one.

; passwd

I also enabled the sshd service, to let systemd start sshd automatically at boot time.

; systemctl enable sshd


At this point, I knew I had only dealt with the easy bits. The hard part is to be able the damn thing.

I have always used Busybox-based initial ramdisk. While rereading the Arch Linux Wiki, I discovered it was also possible to use systemd, which… well, nobody is surprised by this, I guess. I am a happy adopter of systemd multiple features in general, but for the particular setup I am targeting, using systemd means installing an AUR package . So I decided to stick with Busybox.

I gathered and installed the packages I needed for this to work.

; pacman -S tinyssh mkinitcpio-tinyssh mkinitcpio-netconf mkinitcpio-utils python3

And I modified /etc/mkinitcpio.conf to modify the HOOKS array.

-HOOKS=(base udev autodetect modconf kms keyboard keymap consolefont block filesystems fsck)
+HOOKS=(base udev autodetect modconf block netconf tinyssh encryptssh filesystems keyboard keymap fsck)

I tried to keep it minimal (hence the removal of kms for instance, which does not seem very useful for a remote server considering its about setting display resolution), and I borrowed from the /etc/mkinitcpio.conf file of mulan for netconf, tinyssh and encryptssh.

Turns out mkinitcpio-tinyssh is affected by a long standing bug , but fortunately the patch to /usr/lib/initcpio/install/tinyssh worked like a charm.

   local return_code=1
   if [ ! -d $destdir -a -x /usr/bin/tinyssh-convert ]; then
-      mkdir $destdir
-  fi
-  if [ -s "$osshed25519" -a ! -s $destdir/ -a ! -s $destdir/ -a -x /usr/bin/tinyssh-convert ]; then
-      tinyssh-convert -f $osshed25519 -d $destdir
+      tinyssh-convert $destdir < $osshed25519
       if [ $? -eq 0 ]; then

On my local machine, I generated a brand new SSH key using the Ed25519 key type.

; ssh-keygen -t ed25519 -f jasmine

I copy/pasteed the content of in /etc/tinyssh/root_key on jasmine. It was also a good idea to delete the etc/tinyssh/sshkeydir directory, before running the command to generate the initial ramkdisk.

; mkinitcpio -p linux


This is your periodic reminder that Vultr does not support UEFI and still requires to the legacy MBR to boot. This means systemd-boot is out of the picture. I always feel overwhelmed when i have to configure Grub. However, three years ago I managed to make it work, so I decided to stick to this again.

; pacman -S grub
; grub-install --target=i386-pc /dev/vda
; grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg

/boot/grub/grub.cfg contains a lot of things. I looked for the line

### BEGIN /etc/grub.d/10_linux ###

In the first menuentry after it, I modified one lineMy initial thought was to install the intel-ucode package, and to configure Grub to load Intel’s microcode upgrades at boot time. However, since jasmine is a VPS, it does not directly access the physical CPU it is running onto. As a consequence, this step is not necessary. .

First, the linux line.

        linux   /vmlinuz-linux root=/dev/mapper/root rw cryptdevice=UUID=7e58f868-529
a-4d70-bdfd-31317017c30b:root ip=<server ip>::<server gateway>:<server netmask>::eth0:none logle
vel=3 quiet

The one is the most tricky.

; blkid | grep UUID
/dev/mapper/root: UUID="0a44e4c7-10b7-4e85-8228-7663cf16a631" UUID_SUB="0c9edc1c-31c0-417d-93e2-6f035c68b7cb" BLOCK_SIZE="4096" TYPE="btrfs"
/dev/vda2: UUID="e9695de0-403c-4a6c-b8a2-9891dca2a60a" TYPE="crypto_LUKS" PARTUUID="dbc3620d-02"
/dev/vda1: UUID="fa7a24d2-fc76-4af2-b26c-58548650253f" BLOCK_SIZE="4096" TYPE="ext3" PARTUUID="dbc3620d-01"


There was only one step remaining before rebooting jasmine without the installation ISO attached: configuring the system to ensure remote access. In practice, it means enabling DHCP for the Ethernet interface (named ens3 in jasmine’s case).

I did that by defining a .network unit in /etc/systemd/networkd to enable DHCP so that jasmine can get its ip from Vultr DHCP server.

# /etc/systemd/network/


As a last touch, I enabled both systemd-networkd and systemd-resolved.

; systemctl enable systemd-networkd
; systemctl enable systemd-resolved
; ln -sf ../run/systemd/resolve/stub-resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf

And I was good to go!

I exited the chroot, came back to Vultr dashboard to detach the custom ISO from jasmine, which prompted a reboot of the VPS. A look a the virtual console was enough to confirm tinyssh had started and was waiting for incoming connection. I edited my ~/.ssh/known_hosts to remove jasmine now out-dated line, and tried to connect to jasmine. tinyssh asked me kindly the passphrase for /dev/vda1, before closing the connection.

A new attempt at connection to jasmin using SSH led me to the expected system. Hourray!


Needless to say, while this article is meant to propose a linear story to its readers, my personal journey was everything but. I had to reboot many times into the installation ISO, to mount my root partition and tweak the configuration until it finally worked.

Hopefully, this article lists the various pitfalls I ran into, and how I fixed them. It’ll be helpful for Future Me, and maybe to you before that.