Many people love Manjaro as a clean and easy way to get into Arch or even Linux in general. But there are many people who claim that Manjaro has diverted too far away from Arch to give it that consideration. So, let’s compare both Arch and Manjaro, how they are different, and why more people might need to make the distinction that Manjaro isn’t Arch.
So first, what is Arch?
Arch Linux is an independent rolling release distribution that is known for being very customizable, and bleeding edge, but not for being easy to install. Your hand isn’t held at all when you install Arch. You are forced to either learn how to install your system manually from scratch, including partitioning through a terminal, installing the actual Linux kernel, and setting up your bootloader and DEs. Basically, the customization isn’t an option. It’s a requirement because you’re building it.
There is a TUI installer being worked on, but it’s not finished as of today and is still in the experimental stages, and Arch still doesn’t hold your hand during regular usage. Occasionally, there will be an update the requires manual intervention during the update to fix something. In fact, most of the “Latest News” posts on the Arch Linux homepage are things telling users that they need to manually intervene to fix an update.
This makes Arch sound terrible, but it’s quite cool when you really get into Linux because you configure your system almost however you want with the only things it doesn’t let you do are stuff where you straight up must recompile things with different flags or things of that nature. Arch is also popular thanks to it’s amazing wiki for documentation and the Arch User Repository which has many community driven user generated packages and installation scripts.
What is Manjaro?
Manjaro is also a rolling release distribution based on top of Arch. It has many similarities to Arch, but Manjaro is closer to a more traditional distribution that you would just install and use like Ubuntu or Fedora. It comes with its own set of packages, although some of the packages are slightly older because Manjaro holds back packages until they are fully tested. Manjaro does this with 3 repositories, Stable, Testing, and Unstable, each with progressively newer and less tested packages. Unstable would be the closest to Arch, but like Arch you are on your own if something happens.
Manjaro should in theory be easier to run than Arch because it has the more stable package base and preinstalls tools such as Pamac for installing packages. You also don’t have the issue with Arch where every time you need to do almost any task, you must know what package you need and install it. Manjaro preinstalls everything you’d need to do basic work out of the box which makes it easier for Linux beginners. Keeping that in mind however, I still wouldn’t call Manjaro a beginner distribution just because it still is technically considered to be Arch based.
Now given that Manjaro is Arch based, there are still a few similarities. They both use Pacman for the default package manager, they both have relatively newer packages compared to although distros, although Arch will still always be more bleeding edge. They also both support things like the AUR. Bug fixes on Arch should also still work on Manjaro, and if you are reading the ArchWiki 8 times out of 10 the ArchWiki’s information should also work on Manjaro.
However, Arch and Manjaro are different distros. Asking a question about Manjaro on the Arch forums will get you laughed out because Manjaro is not just just an installer for Arch. Calling Manjaro an Arch installer is like calling Ubuntu just Debian with a different installer. Manjaro and Arch are completely different things. There are loads of differences between Manjaro and Arch just like how there’s loads of differences between Ubuntu and Debian.
The main key difference is the packages. Since Manjaro uses its own repositories compared to Arch, this can and will lead to things breaking. For example, you must be careful when you use an AUR package on Manjaro because AUR packages are built for running on Arch; not Manjaro. So if you are installing an AUR package and it depends on a newer package that is older on Manjaro, the package can break, or worse, your entire system could break.
Another difference of Manjaro is that it has its own package management system in addition to pacman called pamac (and yes, the naming scheme is not helpful). Pamac includes a GUI frontend for package management and a CLI utility that is slightly easier to understand compared to pacman. For example, a system update is “pamac update’ instead of “pacman –Syu”. On top of that, Manjaro has a bunch of distribution specific things. For example, it has a separate settings manager with several tools. This includes a tool that lets automatically install hardware drivers and there is a Kernel tool that lets you switch between kernels with a graphical interface. There are also subtle differences in how Manjaro works compared to Arch which can break things.
Even though Manjaro isn’t an Arch installer, there are certainly distros that are just Arch (or atleast similar enough to Arch) with an easy installer. If what you’re looking for is an Arch based system, I would recommend installing these types of distros instead. Some of these distros would include EndeavourOS. EndeavourOS is very close to vanilla Arch, and is essentially Arch with a much better installer, and a convenient welcome app for configuring the system and setting it up.
There are also distros like Anarchy Linux. You can also just straight up use a script like the preinstalled cli “archinstall” script mentioned earlier, or another like AUI and Archfi. So, if you are looking for a distro like Arch with an Installer, these are the better options.
Of course, Manjaro does have its places and use cases, but Manjaro seems to be commonly mismarketed as a way to get into Arch Linux for beginners. But Manjaro is not Arch (nor should it be considered a beginner distro, but that’s a whole other topic).