Alpine linux desktop with DWM, firefox, VSCode and MSTeams

by: Artur Dziedziczak

January 31, 2021


I’m after my exams so with glass of wine I started to think about some interesting and fun project. Some time ago I found this guy. Most of his videos are about GNU/Linux and privacy topics

I’m not a huge fan of idea that soyboys write soycode in soylanguages like JavaScript or python so I’m not interested in full Gentoo distribution that will take hours to compile and in the and I won’t read most of the source code of programs that I use

I’m more into having minimal setup with some limits. And today I’ll present you Alpine linux [1] desktop with everything you need as a developer

Alpine Linux

If you ever used docker you probably know this distribution. It’s really lightweight, ships with bare minimum that alows you to install necessary software on go

To make this project I was also considering Tiny Core Linux [2] and I even made this same setup but since Tiny Core Linux required to load extensions during boot I decided to make it with Alpine Linux

Software which will be used

  • dwm [3] - suckless window manager
  • dmenu [4] - suckless program launched
  • xorg-server [8] - X Window System display server
  • doas [5] - program to get root priviledges
  • VirtualBox [6] - environment to create Virtual Machines

VirtualBox configuration

First you need to download Alpine Linux ISO which can be found link: here

Then you need to setup your VirtualBox Machine

1 virtual box
Figure 1. VirtualBox application

First we need to create Virtual Machine which will run Alpine Linux. For that you need to clikc on New icon in VirtualBox. When it comes to title of machine pick whatever you like and choose that it’s type of Linux

2 virtual box
Figure 2. VirtualBox new Virtual Machine window

After that we go to next phase which is about seting right amount of RAM. Bare Alpine Linux should work on less than 100mb of RAM but because we will add Firefox and VSCode it’s good if you add at least 1Gb

3 virtual box ram
Figure 3. RAM picker window in VirtualBox

Next step is to add new hard disk on which we will install Alpine. Set it to Create a virtual hard disk now

4 virtual box vdi
Figure 4. Hard disk picker window in VirtualBox

Now we need to choose hard disk type. In our case it does not really matter so we pick default

5 virtual box disc select
Figure 5. Hard disk type picker in VirtualBox

Last steps ar to pick how our disk will alocate data. Dynamically allocated by default is fine and last step is to set its size. For that choose more than 10Gb. This will be needed as VS Code and Firefox installed with Flatpak takes some space

6 virtual box dynamically allocated
Figure 6. Had disk allocation type
7 virtual box drive
Figure 7. Had disk size

After these steps Virtual Machine is ready. Now we need to mount previously downloaded Alpine Linux ISO. To do that you need to enter Machine settings and go to storage menu segment

8 virtual box select iso
Figure 8. Virtual Box Storage settings

Click on Empty which should be right bellow Controller: IDE. Then on the right side you should have menu which allow to mound images. It’s this small blue disk. When you click on it you need to provide path to Alpine Linux ISO

After choosing image click OK at the bottom and let the fun begin

9 virtual box image dropbox
Figure 9. ISO picker in VirtualBox

Alpine Linux installation

After you run your Virtual Machine one of the first screens that you will see is this Alpine Linux login prompt. To login you need to use default root account. Just type there root and press enter

2 alpine after login
Figure 10. Alpine Linux after VirtualBox started machine

Previous steps should allow you to login. First command after login is setup-alpine which configures base Alpine Linux environment and installs base system

Write setup-alpine and press enter. After that pick your keyboard layout. For me it’s pl, pl

1 install language
Figure 11. setup-alpine with keyboard layout

Then press enter couple of times as default settings will work for our purposes. Stop a second to pick root password

2 install root password
Figure 12. Root password prompt

Then some more default settings till you see some information about disk selection. Here write sda and after that write sys


This is really important. If you don’t pick the disk and choose sys Alpine Linux won’t be installed on Virtual Hard Drive

3 install set drive
Figure 13. Set drive and type of Alpine Linux installation

After these steps you should have Alpine Linux installed on your drive. In VirtualBox machine menu click on File → Close…​ and shutdown machine

fully installed

After it’s shutdown you need to go to Virtual Machine settings and remove Alpine Linux ISO from place where it was previously mounted


If you don’t do this step when you start Virtual Machine again you will be booted to fresh Alpine Linux environment but not the one you installed

Setting up graphical environment

First start the machine again. In login prompt write root and then provide password you set during installation

Now we will install xorg-server and dwm with its dmenu. You can do that manually by writing apk add xorg-server but since it’s not avaialbe in core repositories of Alpine Linux you need to add ones provided by community. It’s not a big ammount of work but Alpine Linux comes with handy script that allows you to setup xorg-server and it’s basic dependencies

Xorg setup

To install xorg server on Alpine Linux you need to run this script

Listing 1. Command to setup xorg server in Alpine Linux

When you check what is inside this script cat $(which setup-xorg-base) you can see that what is does is adding community repositories and then install xorg-server with basic dependencies

After that we should create our normal user. To do that type

User setup

Now we need to add new user so we don’t user root account all the time

Listing 2. Command to add user in Alpine Linux
adduser name_of_user_you_want

This will create directory in /home and make basic configuration for newly created user. After that we need to install some program that will allow us to get super user priviledges. Most

of Linux distributions comes with sudo which allows that but in our case we will go with something smaller. By watching this Mental Outlaw guy I found one of his videos where he shows how to use doas program. It’s much simpler to configure than sudo and for most of cases it should be fine to use it. It’s not as configurable as sudo but the configuration process is just simpler

Listing 3. doas installation and configuration
apk add doas
echo "permit name_of_user_you_want as root" >> /etc/doas.conf

And that’s the full configuration you need. We could dig into groups setting but if it’s not some server with users you really don’t need that

After that type exit to go back to login prompt and then login with newly created user credentials


Now we will download, compile and setup dwm. For that we need some dependencies

Listing 4. Script to install dwm, dmenu dependencies
doas apk add git make gcc g++ libx11-dev libxft-dev libxinerama-dev
 ncurses dbus-x11 adwaita-gtk2-theme adwaita-icon-theme ttf-dejavu xterm

As dwm must be configured by changing its source code it’s good to clone it to some directory that can be used later

Listing 5. Commands to fetch, compile and install dwm, dmenu
mkdir dwm-source && cd dwm-source
git clone
cd dwm
doas make clean install
cd ..
git clone
cd dmenu
doas make clean install

After these command we should have dwm and dmenu installed. But dwm is not starting by default. For that we need to add some configuration for .xinitrc and .profile

Listing 6. Script to setup dwm on startup
echo "exec dwm" >> ~/.xinitrc
cat >> .xinitrc << EOF
if test -z "$DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS" ; then
    eval `dbus-launch --sh-syntax`
EOF >> ~/.xinitrc
echo "exec startx" >> ~/.profile

After all these commands type exit and login again

Firefox, VS Code

After you logged in it’s good to dig a bit into how to use dwm, dmenu as it’s much different than you would expect from casual window manager

  • alt + p - opens dmenu where you can run applications
  • alt + [1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0] - switch to specyfic tag. Tags are more or less workspaces in which you can start applications.

Finally we will setup Firefox and VS code. Firefox can be installed from community repository of Alpine Linux but we will do something different. There is something called flatpak on Linux. What this does it allows you to install packages for a lot of Linux distributions that come with all necessary dependencies to run them

Listing 7. Scripts to install applications from flatpak
doas apk add flatpak
doas flatpak remote-add --if-not-exists flathub

doas flatpak install flathub com.visualstudio.code
doas flatpak install flathub org.mozilla.firefox
doas flatpak install flathub

Final look

Figure 14. htop with all processes
all apps
Figure 15. All flatpak applications in one place


It was a fun project to make desktop version of Alpine Linux. I really working with Alpine and I think it’s possible in the future I will compleately move to Alpine Linux as it’s really intuitive to work with. Another thing that hooked me into using Alpine Linux is how lightweight it is. I think with minimum configuration you can really get bellow 50mb of RAM

There are some things that haven’t been installed

  • alsa-utils for audio. Currently audio is not working. I tried to set it up in virutal box but there were some issues I could not pas.
  • arandr which would allow to change resolution in GUI
  • acpictl for laptop features such as battery, docking station etc.

One last thing. If you have some problems setting this up you should check documentation od Alpine Linux [7]. Their article about dwm is amazing

And that’s it! Now I need to go back to finally pass Linear Programming course


[1] “Index | Alpine Linux.”

[2] “Tiny Core Linux, Micro Core Linux, 12MB Linux GUI Desktop, Live, Frugal, Extendable.”

[3] “Dwm - Dynamic Window Manager | Suckless.Org Software That Sucks Less.”

[4] “Tools | Suckless.Org Software That Sucks Less.”

[5] “Doas(1) - OpenBSD Manual Pages.”

[6] “Oracle VM VirtualBox.”

[7] “Dwm - Alpine Linux.”

[8] “X.Org Server,” Wikipedia., Jan. 2021