Alpine Linux as a Desktop OS

984 words; 5 minute(s)

Table of Contents

Isn't Alpine Linux for Servers?

This is a question I see a lot when people are presented with an example of Alpine Linux running as a desktop OS.

While Alpine is small, fast, and minimal, that doesn't stop it from functioning at a productive level for desktop users.

This post is documentation of how I installed and modified Alpine Linux to become my daily desktop OS.


Note that I cover the installation of Alpine Linux in my other post, so I won't repeat it here: Alpine Linux: My New Server OS.

Basically, get a bootable USB or whatever you prefer with Alpine on it, boot the ISO, and run the setup script.


Once you have gone through all the options and installer finishes without errors, reboot.


Initial Setup

Once Alpine is installed and the machine has rebooted, login is as root initially or su to root once you log in as your user. From here, you should start by updating and upgrading the system in case the ISO was not fully up-to-date.

# Update and upgrade system
apk -U update && apk -U upgrade

# Add an editor so we can enable the community repository
apk add nano

You need to uncomment the community repository for your version of Alpine Linux.

For v3.17, the repositories file should look like this:

nano /etc/apk/repositories
# Add the rest of your packages
apk add linux-firmware iwd doas git curl wget

# Add yourself to the wheel group so you can use the doas command
adduser $USER wheel

Window Manager (Desktop)

The Sway installation guide has everything you need to get Sway working on Alpine.

However, I'll include a brief list of the commands I ran and their purpose for posterity here.

# Add eudev and set it up
apk add eudev
setup-devd udev

# Since I have Radeon graphics, I need the following packages
apk add mesa-dri-gallium mesa-va-gallium

# Add user to applicable groups
adduser $USER input
adduser $USER video

# Add a font package
apk add ttf-dejavu

# Add the seatd daemon
apk add seatd
rc-update add seatd
rc-service seatd start

# Add user to seat group
adduser $USER seat

# Add elogind
apk add elogind polkit-elogind
rc-update add elogind
rc-service elogind start

# Finally, add sway and dependencies
apk add sway sway-doc
apk add                \ # Install optional dependencies:
    xwayland             \ # recommended for compatibility reasons
    foot                 \ # default terminal emulator
    bemenu               \ # wayland menu
    swaylock swaylockd   \ # lockscreen tool
    swaybg               \ # wallpaper daemon
    swayidle               # idle management (DPMS) daemon

Once you have the packages installed and set-up, you need to export the XDG_RUNTIME_DIR upon login. To do this, edit your .profile file.

If you use another shell, such as zsh, you need to edit that shell's profile (e.g., ~/.zprofile)!

nano ~/.profile

Within the file, paste this:

if test -z "${XDG_RUNTIME_DIR}"; then
  export XDG_RUNTIME_DIR=/tmp/$(id -u)-runtime-dir
  if ! test -d "${XDG_RUNTIME_DIR}"; then
    mkdir "${XDG_RUNTIME_DIR}"
    chmod 0700 "${XDG_RUNTIME_DIR}"

Once that's complete, you can launch Sway manually.

dbus-run-session -- sway

Personal Touches

I also added the following packages, per my personal preferences and situation.

doas apk add brightnessctl   \ # Brightness controller
             zsh             \ # Shell
             firefox         \ # Browser
             syncthing       \ # File sync service
             wireguard-tools \ # Wireguard VPN
             gomuks          \ # CLI Matrix client
             neomutt         \ # CLI email client
             thunderbird     \ # GUI email client
             gnupg             # GPG key manager

From here, I use my Syncthing storage to pull all the configuration files I stored from prior desktops, such as my dotfiles.

Resolving Issues

WiFi Issues

I initially tried to set up my Wi-Fi the standard way with iwd, but it didn't work.

Here is what I initially tried (I did all of this as root):

apk add iwd
rc-service iwd start
iwctl station wlan0 connect <SSID> # This will prompt for the password
rc-update add iwd boot && rc-update add dbus boot

Then, I added the Wi-Fi entry to the bottom of the networking interface file:

nano /etc/network/interfaces
auto wlan0
iface wlan0 inet dhcp

Finally, restart the networking service:

rc-service networking restart

My Wi-Fi interface would receive an IP address from the router, but it could not ping anything in the network. To solve the Wi-Fi issues, I originally upgraded to Alpine's edge repositories, which was unnecessary.

Really, the solution was to enable the NameResolvingService=resolvconf in /etc/iwd/main.conf.

doas nano /etc/iwd/main.conf


Once I finished this process, my Wi-Fi is working flawlessly.

Sound Issues

Same as with the Wi-Fi, I had no sound and could not control the mute/unmute or volume buttons on my laptop.

To resolve this, I installed pipewire.

# Add your user to the following groups
addgroup $USER audio
addgroup $USER video

# Install pipewire and other useful packages
apk add pipewire wireplumber pipewire-pulse pipewire-jack pipewire-alsa

Finally, I needed to add /usr/libexec/pipewire-launcher to my .config/sway/config file so that Pipewire would run every time I launched sway.

nano ~/.config/sway/config
# Run pipewire audio server
exec /usr/libexec/pipewire-launcher

# Example audio button controls
bindsym XF86AudioRaiseVolume exec --no-startup-id pactl set-sink-volume @DEFAULT_SINK@ +5%
bindsym XF86AudioLowerVolume exec --no-startup-id pactl set-sink-volume @DEFAULT_SINK@ -5%
bindsym XF86AudioMute exec --no-startup-id pactl set-sink-mute @DEFAULT_SINK@ toggle
bindsym XF86AudioMicMute exec --no-startup-id pactl set-source-mute @DEFAULT_SOURCE@ toggle

Note that I do not use bluetooth or screen sharing, so I won't cover those options in this post.

Other than these issues, I have a working Alpine desktop. No other complaints thus far!