Chrx: A Linux Distro Installer For Chromebooks

Published by Lamin Kanteh on

Gallium OS homepage

Chromebook’s journey from being a disregarded competitor against big players like Microsoft and Apple to now being considered a well-established entity capable of toppling either giant has been nothing but inspiring.

Prior to joining the Chrome platform bandwagon, I was among those skeptical about what realities and benefits the platform can offer over its more mature rivals.

But after spending several months with my Dell Chromebook 13 – albeit, not a Pixel Slate or Pixelbook, it is still a wonderful device – I was taken aback by some of the interesting things Chromebooks are capable of doing.

You only need to boot up a Chrome OS-powered device to realize how streamlined and fluid the operating system is and for all the things you could indulge in with the computer, there is always that sense of freedom, freedom to do much more than surf the web or write a paper with your machine.

I won’t call myself an advanced Chrome user – if there is such a thing – but what I’ve discovered far exceeded the meager expectations that I had for the platform. One among a sundry of things I found out I could do with my Chromebook is give it a makeover with a brand-new traditional Linux-powered operating system.

Having Linux run on your Chrome device has turned into something of a culture of its own right as I would come to realize and there are several tried and tested tools available to allow you to run the Linux distro of your choice with little to no hassle.

Among these tools is Crouton. Though this Linux installation medium isn’t the centerpiece of this article, it is worth explaining a bit.

Crouton

One of the reasons I think Chromebooks are so popular within the enthusiast realm is the love affair it shares with Linux – Chrome OS is actually a limited Linux derivative – and this extends to large parts of the operating system’s inner workings.

One of the best ways to examine how closely related the two platforms (GNU/Linux and Chrome OS) are to one other is to actually run them side by side.

Yes! You heard correctly, you can run a full-fledged GNU/Linux distro within Chrome OS itself without ever having to reboot your device.

This is made possible by what is Crouton.

Crouton or Chromium OS Universal Chroot Environment is a collection of scripts that are bundled together to create a ghettoized file location or a container of the sort, within the main Chrome OS itself where a Linux distro can run from.

Though the intruder OS using chroot is running atop the native Chrome operating system, it resides within a different binary environment but still has access to all hardware resources.

Despite Crouton’s apparent limitless potential, it is a security nightmare.

Since both the guest OS (Linux Distro) is tied to the primary OS (Chrome) and despite the latter’s inability to access files beyond the boundaries of its container, it still has access to all hardware.

This means, should, in a worst-case scenario, a root exploit of any kind be successfully achieved on your guest OS, direct penetration of the main Chrome OS is all but certain.

Chrx: A Crouton Alternative

Like I’ve highlighted above, using Crouton does come with negative consequences and the best way to address this is to set up a dual-boot environment that would effectively negate some of the bottlenecks associated with Crouton.

Jesse initially recommended Chrx to me and to be very honest, — due to circumstances, some of which were avoidable if I wasn’t such a noob and some others that unfortunately weren’t — at first, I had a very difficult time setting up Chrx to dual-boot a Linux Distro.

First, I kept forgetting to type “Shell” in (Crosh) the Chrome OS command-line interface before typing in the commands necessary to initiate the downloads for the Chrx packages.

Then, there was me messing up again and confidently punching in:

curl -Os https://chrx.org/go && sh go 

Then, wondering why nothing happened. It’s after much troubleshooting that I later realized that I had incorrectly entered the command above (the one below is the right one):

cd ; curl -Os https://chrx.org/go && sh go 

Humor me for a moment, who comes up with these things?

At this point, I was already starting to get a little frustrated with myself and was about to call it quits (did I mention that I managed to soft-brick my Chromebook too?) but after some search and few hints from Jesse, things actually began to work and Chrx was running in no time.

Suffice to say, the whole process wasn’t a really smooth experience.

What is Chrx?

What is Chrx you asked? Well, here is a summarized version for you.

Chrx is a command-line installer that allows you to install several Linux distributions on your Chromebook in a dual boot configuration.

The medium is set up in a way most of the work is done for you – and online—relieving you of the need for a physical medium or any other third-party requirements to install and a run Linux on your Chromebook.

Derived from ChrUbuntu, Chrx still retains some original ChrUbuntu code but has managed to become a better and improved version of its predecessor.

There is so much to Chrx apart from just being a Linux distro installer, the medium also allows you to install any package in the Ubuntu repositories using the -p PACKAGE option.

This allows you to add more functionality to the Linux operating system you enjoy with the platform already compatible with several Chromebook models.

List of compatible models

List of compatible models for Chrx
Compatible models

How to use Chrx

Chrx is built to be as easy to use as possible allowing anyone with little to no knowledge of the inner workings of Chrome or any Linux distro to be able to blissfully use it.

Step 1: Enable Developer Mode

To run Chrx, you will first need to enable Developer Mode on your Chromebook. Follow these simple and well-defined steps to set yourself up.

Step 2: Open Crosh and Run The Chrx command

In this step, you will need to open the Chrome OS terminal, do that by pressing CTRL+ALT+T, and while in the crosh terminal, enter shell at the prompt.

Step 3: Run Chrx

You can now run chrx by entering this command:

cd ; curl -Os https://chrx.org/go && sh go

Step 4: Allocate Disk Space For The Linux Distribution

Step four is really important as it is at this point the space reserved for Linux is allocated.

Depending on how much physical disk space you have installed on your Chromebook (mine has about 32GB of total disk space in it), the minimum allocated space should not be less than 5GB.

I recommend reserving about 10GB for Linux but the choice is all yours though.

Press Enter after Disk space allocation and wait for about a second or two while prechecks are completed, then press Enter again.

The process performs a power-wash of your device but since you’ve just turned on Developer Mode (which does the same thing too), and hopefully, you’ve done well to back up your important documents and there isn’t any file of importance left in your system.

Chrx Disk allocation

Step 5:  Open Crosh again and Repeat Step 3

Repeating step 3 begins the Linux installation process in earnest. Chrx uses GalliumOS as its default Distro but you can select from the list of approved Distros like Lubuntu or even Ubuntu.

List of supported operating systems

supported operating systems fo chrx
Supported operating systems
Chrx installing Linux

Time completion solely depends on your network as the resources needed to install GalliumOS are online and must be downloaded from the specified repository.

There are two stages to the installation. The first part installs the main OS and the second part deals with resources from the Ubuntu repository.

As you might imagine, the download process is dependent on the speed of your internet connection.

Chrx Linux installation complet

After hitting Enter to reboot, you will have a choice of hitting CTRL-D to load Chrome OS again or CTRL-L for Gallium OS.

You default user name and password will be set to chrx, so it is highly recommended to change both as soon as you log into Gallium.

Finishing Touches

For additional software, you can follow guides in this specified Gallium wiki. it’d be helpful in working you through mounting Google Drive as well as install other programs. On that note, you might also be interested in perusing some of our carefully-selected Linux tools for Chrome OS.

Conclusion

Despite hitting several bumps with Chrx, the program itself works great once you know what to do and when. Picking Gallium OS as its go-to Linux Distro seems to be a well-calculated choice too as it is lightweight and quite lenient on system resources.

I would recommend Chrx to anyone looking to get Linux running on their Chromebooks and if you happen to be one of them, please do take some time to share your experience with us in the comments.


Lamin Kanteh

I live, breath, and dream technology. I've only known myself to push the boundaries on what's possible in my mental scope in relation to technology. And having been a writer for the good part of the past three years (covering varying subjects on the major mobile platforms), No place has ever felt more like home than Chrome OS. And as you may know, Chrome OS is ushering us into a future of the unknown and I'm here to help in the process of easing the way into that future via ItsChromeOS.

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juzek666
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juzek666

Hi, dualbooting Linux and flashing recomended firmware will get some impact on ChromeOS? Autoupdate and GoogleApps store on ChromeOS will be working?

Lamin Kanteh
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Lamin Kanteh

No, it does not. Both Auto-update and the Play Store should work normally even after setting up the dual-booting configuration with Linux

drwei
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drwei

Thanks for well-written instructions with the personal touch, but I have a fundamental question that didn’t seem to be answered clearly. If I were to install as you suggested, and boot into Gallium, the Chromium OS would then NOT be running. I would need to download a browser into Linux, which could be Chrome, or any other, and run it from there, correct? That brings up the other issue of concern, hardware support in the Linux distro that I download. That was the whole reason for Crouton in the first place, to use Chromium’s hardware access for the Linux install.… Read more »