Get the Debian/Ubuntu ready and customized the way you like in 10 minutes

If you are still answering the same-old questions again and again during Debian/Ubuntu system installation, or your are upgrading your system but bumped into a situation, which might take more than 10 minutes to resolve but you still hang on to it, I admire your determination but you might have missed some wonderful things that make all such experiences dramatically different, and smooth — the preseeded Debian/Ubuntu installation. Within 10 minutes, you can have the system ready, in any way you like it to be, without much/any of your intervention, with the aid of the preseeded Debian/Ubuntu installation.

The following are compiled from the enclosed references, so that it is the only place I need to refer back to refresh myself regarding the preseeded Debian/Ubuntu installation.


The Problem and Goal

Dustin Kirkland has written an inspiration blog about the preseeded Ubuntu Server installation. His blog explains the problem quite well:

I install the Ubuntu Server a lot… Most of my daily installations are throwaway KVM virtual machines on my development laptop. I have answered the same questions in Ubuntu’s installer thousands of times… “Yes, I still speak English, my keyboard is US, please do remove all partitions and yes that partition layout is just fine!”

Of course these questions are preseedable in Ubuntu. You just need to craft that magic preseed file, but that’s necessarily trivial. In this post, I am sharing just such a layout with you at http://bit.ly/uinstall.

— Dustin Kirkland

Check it out, it’s a good reading, and take a look at the preseed file as well. However, it’s been over two years since the blog was written, and things have changed, especially, the following is no longer true any more:

Append the following options to your kernel command line (ESC, then F6 at the boot screen):

priority=critical locale=en_US url=http://bit.ly/uinstall

And your installation should proceed from start to finish, with no questions asked!

This post will explain what is the minimum that you need to type on that kernel boot command line, and what can be possibly pre-configured in the preseed file.


How it works

What you need:

How it works: when the mini.iso netboot starts, type in the magic words, and the Debian/Ubuntu installer will follow your instructions from the preseed file, instead of going into the the same-old routine to ask you the same-old questions again.


The preseed file

Here is a sample preseed file, that contains all useful configuration preseed settings that I could find from the Internet, divided up into sections, tweaked to the way I preferred my installation would be, and well commented for you to customize it yourself.

A few important notes about the preseed configuration:

  • Keyboards and language are US/English
  • Networking is default DHCP
  • Target disk is completely repartitioned/reformatted
  • Default username/password is user/user
  • Additionally install a couple of tools, which I considered essential for the nearly-bare-bone system. You can surely install more after the system boots up.
    • Of all the additionally installed tools, the localepurge packages is preseeded to avoid being prompted for answers during the installation.
    • The tmpreaper is another annoying packages that will halt the installation waiting for your response. So I deliberately included it and preseeded it to silence the questions.
  • The top of the file lists all the urls that I found from the Internet on preseed file samples.
  • This preseed file collects all preseed setting from them all and rearrange them into logical sections.
  • I use GRUB Legacy instead of default GRUB 2 for booting, and it is installed to PBR instead of MBR (I don’t wan’t to put my linux boot loader in MBR — too dangerous there. Otherwise, so many of my bootable OSs will be fighting to take hold of it. Some monopoly will even just use it without asking first).
  • The APT is configured to not install recommended packages by default, and
  • The debconf’s priority is forced to critical to minimize questions asked during installation.
  • Places that need your further customization are marked with # *!*.
  • Alternative settings are available from comments above.
#### preseed: Preconfiguration file for ubuntu
# http://d-i.alioth.debian.org/manual/example-preseed.txt
# http://www.debian.org/releases/testing/example-preseed.txt
# https://help.ubuntu.com/12.04/installation-guide/example-preseed.txt
# http://lackof.org/taggart/hacking/d-i_preseed/preseed.cfg

# http://wiki.debian.org/DebianInstaller/Preseed
# https://help.ubuntu.com/12.04/installation-guide/amd64/appendix-preseed.html

# https://www.soljerome.com/blog/2011/06/28/preseeding-ubuntu-10-04/
# http://www.siriad.com/preseed/preseed.cfg

# http://blogs.cae.tntech.edu/mwr/2007/04/17/unattended-debian-installations-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-preseedcfg/

# Reformat from email text
# sed -i -r 's/d-i  */d-i /; s/  *([sb][teo])/\t\1/' preseed

##############
# Networking
##############

d-i netcfg/choose_interface     select eth0

# default DHCP networking
d-i netcfg/get_nameservers      string
d-i netcfg/get_ipaddress        string
d-i netcfg/get_netmask  string 255.255.255.0
d-i netcfg/get_gateway  string
d-i netcfg/confirm_static       boolean true

# Any hostname and domain names assigned from dhcp take precedence over
# values set here. However, setting the values still prevents the questions
# from being shown, even if values come from dhcp.
d-i netcfg/get_hostname string vhost
d-i netcfg/get_domain   string vdomain
# The wacky dhcp hostname that  some ISPs use as a password of sorts.
d-i netcfg/dhcp_hostname        string vdomain
# Disable that annoying WEP key dialog.
d-i netcfg/wireless_wep string

#d-i mirror/http/proxy  string


########################
# Installation
########################

# *!*
d-i debian-installer/locale     string en_US
d-i debian-installer/splash     boolean false

# Controls whether to use NTP to set the clock during the install
d-i clock-setup/ntp     boolean true
# NTP server to use. The default is almost always fine here.
#d-i clock-setup/ntp-server     string ntp.example.com

### Finishing
# Avoid that last message about the install being complete.
d-i finish-install/reboot_in_progress note
# weather to prevent the installer from ejecting the CD during the reboot
d-i cdrom-detect/eject  boolean true
# weather to make the installer shutdown when finished, not
#  to reboot into the installed system.
d-i debian-installer/exit/halt  boolean false
# weather to power off the machine instead of just halting it.
d-i debian-installer/exit/poweroff      boolean false

### Mirror settings
# *!*
d-i mirror/country      string US
d-i mirror/http/mirror  string us.archive.ubuntu.com
d-i mirror/http/directory       string /ubuntu/

### Apt setup
d-i apt-setup/backports boolean true
d-i apt-setup/contrib   boolean true
d-i apt-setup/multiverse        boolean true
d-i apt-setup/non-free  boolean true
d-i apt-setup/proposed  boolean true
d-i apt-setup/universe  boolean true
# Enable deb-src lines
d-i apt-setup/universe/source boolean true

# Select which update services to use
d-i apt-setup/services-select    multiselect    security
d-i apt-setup/security_host     string  security.ubuntu.com
d-i apt-setup/security_path     string /ubuntu

# Configure APT to not install recommended packages by default.
d-i base-installer/install-recommends boolean false
# don't try and do automatic updates; that's bcfg2's job
d-i pkgsel/update-policy        select none

# Force debconf priority to critical.
debconf debconf/priority select critical
# Override default frontend to readline,
debconf debconf/frontend select readline
# but allow user to select.
#debconf debconf/frontend seen false

#################################
# Disk Partitioning/Boot loader
#################################

d-i partman-auto/purge_lvm_from_device  boolean true

# Using the default partitioning scheme and wiping any existing partitions.

d-i partman-auto/disk   string /dev/sda
d-i partman-auto/method string regular
# - regular: use the usual partition types for your architecture
# - lvm:     use LVM to partition the disk
# - crypto:  use LVM within an encrypted partition
d-i partman-auto/choose_recipe select atomic
# - atomic: all files in one partition
# - home:   separate /home partition
# - multi:  separate /home, /usr, /var, and /tmp partitions
d-i partman/default_filesystem  string ext3

# This makes partman automatically partition without confirmation.
d-i partman/choose_partition    select finish
d-i partman/confirm_write_new_label     boolean true
d-i partman/confirm_nooverwrite boolean true
d-i partman/confirm     boolean true

## how partitions are mounted
# The default is to mount by UUID, but you can also choose "traditional" to
# use traditional device names, or "label" to try filesystem labels before
# falling back to UUIDs.
d-i partman/mount_style select  traditional

### Booting

# To skip installing lilo
d-i lilo-installer/skip boolean true
#d-i grub-installer/skip        boolean false

# To use GRUB Legacy instead of default GRUB 2
d-i grub-installer/grub2_instead_of_grub_legacy boolean false
# Optional password for grub, in clear text
#d-i grub-installer/password password r00tme

# Use the following option to add additional boot parameters for the
# installed system (if supported by the bootloader installer).
# Note: options passed to the installer will be added automatically.
d-i debian-installer/add-kernel-opts string

# This is fairly safe to set, it makes grub install automatically to the MBR
# if no other operating system is detected on the machine.
#d-i grub-installer/only_debian boolean true
# This one makes grub-installer install to the MBR if it also finds some other
# OS, which is less safe as it might not be able to boot that other OS.
#d-i grub-installer/with_other_os boolean true

# Alternatively, if you want to install to a location other than the mbr,
# use these lines:
d-i grub-installer/only_debian boolean false
d-i grub-installer/with_other_os boolean false
d-i grub-installer/bootdev  string (hd0,0)

d-i grub-pc/install_devices multiselect /dev/sda


#################
# Localizations
#################

# Keyboard localization
d-i console-setup/ask_detect    boolean false
d-i console-setup/layoutcode    string us
d-i console-keymaps-at/keymap   select us
d-i console-setup/variantcode   string
#d-i console-setup/variantcode  string dvorak

# Timezone
d-i clock-setup/utc     boolean true
# *!*
d-i time/zone   string  America/Toronto


#################
# User Creation
#################

d-i user-setup/allow-password-weak      boolean true
d-i user-setup/password-weak    boolean true

d-i user-setup/encrypt-home     boolean false

# -- create a root user (with login capabilities) having the password ‘r00tme’.
#d-i passwd/root-login  boolean true
#d-i passwd/make-user   boolean false
#d-i passwd/root-password password r00tme
#d-i passwd/root-password-again password r00tme

d-i passwd/root-login   boolean false
d-i passwd/make-user    boolean true
# *!*
d-i passwd/user-fullname        string  user
d-i passwd/username     string    user
d-i passwd/user-password    password    user
d-i passwd/user-password-again password user
d-i passwd/user-uid     string    1001
d-i passwd/user-default-groups  string  adm tty disk lp mail news uucp man dialout fax voice cdrom floppy tape sudo audio dip www-data backup operator list irc src gnats shadow video sasl plugdev staff games users nogroup crontab syslog fuse messagebus mlocate ssh lpadmin sambashare vboxsf
# cat /etc/group | awk -F':' '{print $1}' | xargs

#######################
# Software Selections
#######################

### Base system installation

### Package selection
# see https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Tasksel
#tasksel tasksel/first multiselect standard, web-server
# Leave empty for minimum installation
tasksel tasksel/first multiselect

# Individual additional packages to install
# a minimum X by fluxbox that start by 'startx', with notepad, file browser and ACPI support
# with xwininfo (x11-utils) & lndir (xutils-dev)
d-i pkgsel/include      string   gpm acpi-support cryptsetup openssh-server localepurge tmpreaper build-essential rsync curl less jed wdiff athena-jot xterm x11-utils xutils-dev xclip leafpad meld xserver-xorg xserver-xorg-video-vesa xinit fluxbox

# Whether to upgrade packages after debootstrap.
# Allowed values: none, safe-upgrade, full-upgrade
d-i pkgsel/upgrade select none


#######################
# X configuration
#######################
# Monitor autodetection is recommended.
xserver-xorg xserver-xorg/autodetect_monitor boolean true
# weather you have an LCD display.
xserver-xorg xserver-xorg/config/monitor/lcd boolean true
# X has three configuration paths for the monitor. Here's how to preseed
# the "medium" path, which is always available. The "simple" path may not
# be available, and the "advanced" path asks too many questions.
xserver-xorg xserver-xorg/config/monitor/selection-method \
       select medium
xserver-xorg xserver-xorg/config/monitor/mode-list \
       select 1024x768 @ 60 Hz


#######################
# Packages Preseeding
#######################
# Depending on what software you choose to install, or if things go wrong
# during the installation process, it's possible that other questions may
# be asked. You can preseed those too, of course. To get a list of every
# possible question that could be asked during an install, do an
# installation, and then run these commands:
#   debconf-get-selections --installer > file
#   debconf-get-selections >> file

# == Packages Preseeding Begin

### Pkg:localepurge
#
localepurge     localepurge/nopurge     multiselect     en_US
# Really remove all locales?
localepurge     localepurge/none_selected       boolean false
# Also delete localized man pages?
localepurge     localepurge/mandelete   boolean true
# localepurge will not take any action
localepurge     localepurge/remove_no   note
# Inform about new locales?
localepurge     localepurge/dontbothernew       boolean false
# Display verbose output?
localepurge     localepurge/verbose     boolean false
# Display freed disk space?
localepurge     localepurge/showfreedspace      boolean true
# Accurate disk space calculation?
localepurge     localepurge/quickndirtycalc     boolean true

### Pkg:tmpreaper
#
# default value for TMPREAPER_TIME now set via /etc/default/rcS
tmpreaper       tmpreaper/TMPREAPER_TIME        note
# tmpreaper can now be adjusted through /etc/tmpreaper.conf
tmpreaper       tmpreaper/confignowexists       note
# Please first read README.security
tmpreaper       tmpreaper/readsecurity  note
# Please first read README.security
tmpreaper       tmpreaper/readsecurity_upgrading        note

# == Packages Preseeding End


#######################
# Advanced options
#######################
# https://help.ubuntu.com/12.04/installation-guide/i386/preseed-advanced.html


### Running custom commands during the installation
# http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1977570
# http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1314680

# This first command is run as early as possible, just after
# preseeding is read.
#d-i preseed/early_command string anna-install some-udeb

# This command is run immediately before the partitioner starts. It may be
# useful to apply dynamic partitioner preseeding that depends on the state
# of the disks (which may not be visible when preseed/early_command runs).
#d-i partman/early_command \
#       string debconf-set partman-auto/disk "$(list-devices disk | head -n1)"

# This command is run just before the install finishes, but when there is
# still a usable /target directory. You can chroot to /target and use it
# directly, or use the apt-install and in-target commands to easily install
# packages and run commands in the target system.
#d-i preseed/late_command string apt-install zsh; in-target chsh -s /bin/zsh
#d-i preseed/late_command string in-target update-alternatives --set editor /usr/bin/vim.tiny;echo "taggart     ALL=(ALL) ALL">>/target/etc/sudoers;sync
#
#d-i preseed/late_command       string \
#    in-target wget http://www.siriad.com/preseed/postinst.sh -O /root/postinst.sh; \
#    in-target /bin/bash /root/postinst.sh

#--------
# http://comments.gmane.org/gmane.linux.debian.user/431697
#
# With that many commands it is probably better to put all of those into
# a script and then run the script.  Something like this which is an
# edit of what I do here.
#
#  d-i preseed/late_command string wget -O/target/var/tmp/bootstrap http://example.com/bootstrap; in-target sh /var/tmp/bootstrap
#
# Then redirect all output to a file in /var/tmp or /root or some other reboot
# persistent location and see what output is emitted there.  Something like
# this:
#
#  #!/bin/sh
#  exec >>/root/bootstrap.out 2>&1
#  set -x
#  mkdir . . .
#--------

## My custom commands
#  wget -O /target/var/tmp/postinst.tgz `cat /proc/cmdline | xargs -n 1 | grep url=http: | sed -r 's,(.*/).*,\1,`/postinst.tgz ; \
#  wget -O /target/var/tmp/postinst.tgz "$(cat /proc/cmdline | xargs -n 1 | grep url=http: | sed -r 's,(.*/).*,\1,)"/postinst.tgz ; \
d-i preseed/late_command string \
  wget -O /target/var/tmp/postinst.tgz http://my.web/path/postinst.tgz ; \
  wget -O /target/var/tmp/ubuntu.locales.tz2 http://my.web/path/ubuntu.locales.tz2 ; \
  in-target tar zxf /var/tmp/postinst.tgz -C /tmp/ ; \
  in-target rm -v /var/lib/locales/supported.d/*; \
  in-target tar xvjf /var/tmp/ubuntu.locales.tz2 -C / ; \
  in-target /usr/sbin/locale-gen --purge; \
  in-target /bin/sh /tmp/postinst/postinst.sh; \
  echo "%sudo   ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL">>/target/etc/sudoers;sync; \
  in-target groupmod -g 1001 user; \
  in-target apt-get -y purge virtualbox-guest-utils virtualbox-guest-x11 virtualbox-ose-guest-x11; \
  in-target apt-get -y install dkms; \
  in-target touch /root/postinst.done

You can download the above preseed file from http://paste.debian.net/9417/. Also, here is the first part of my postinst.sh, which was downloaded in the late_command as postinst.tgz, and expanded later to /tmp/postinst/postinst.sh, then executed.

#!/bin/sh
exec >>/root/postinst.out 2>&1
set -x

# Script begins
type bash
cd `dirname $0`
pwd
PATH=$PATH:.

# fix sudoers
#sed -i 's/^%sudo.*ALL:ALL.*/%sudo      ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL/' /etc/sudoers

# == add apt sources

# the Medibuntu - Ubuntu multimedia repository
wget --output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list http://www.medibuntu.org/sources.list.d/$(lsb_release -cs).list && sudo apt-get --quiet update && sudo apt-get --yes --quiet --allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring && sudo apt-get --quiet update
add-apt-repository -y ppa:jon-severinsson/ffmpeg

# == my customization
...

The magic revealed

As you can see from enclosed references, there are lots of way to let the net boot CD to use the preseed file. Which one works and which ones don’t? What is the minimum that you need to type on that kernel boot command line, and how exactly to do it?

When the mini.iso boots up, on seeing the installer screen, press TAB, you will be prompted with boot: and the default kernel boot commands. At the end of it, appended the following kernel boot options (your preseed file url will be different from mine of course, so replace my URL with the address to your preseed configuration file):

auto=true url=http://my.web/path/preseed-u

That’s the minimum that you need to type. All the rest are specified in the preseed file.

The “auto” command launches the installation in the automated mode, where the configuration of hostname, locale and keymap are postponed so that they can be answered from the preseed file loaded from the network. You could use “install url=…” but you’d have to answer these questions manually, regardless of what you have in the preseed config.

http://wiki.debian.org/DebianInstaller/Preseed

However, I found that’s not true or no longer true any more. The configuration of domain and host name, and keymap are still being asked, even if you have them in your preseed file as shown above. So if you want to kickstart the preseeded installation without a single questions asked, append the following more options to kernel boot prompt:

console-keymaps-at/keymap=us hostname=myhost domain=example.com locale=en_US

Note

  • This is what I found from the Internet, but I didn’t try out myself, because I’ll type less into the installer than into the kernel boot options.
  • It is claimed that it “was tested on Ubuntu 10.04 and 10.10 and worked without asking keyboard or locale related questions.”
  • The locale=en_US does not seem to be necessary to me, but all other preceed articles state that it is necessary.

Further

My Ubuntu preseed file tested fine for Ubuntu 12.04 (Precise), 13.04 (Raring), and 13.10 (Saucy).

Troubleshooting

  • If you’re debugging a new preseed setup, I suggest that you set DEBCONF_DEBUG=5 on the kernel command line — it causes the messages that end up in syslog (and so on the ALT-F4 screen) to be verbose enough that you can generally tell which preseed values you have forgotten when a question pops up. When you’re presented with a question, flip to the F4 screen, and the last debconf variable mentioned is probably the one you need to set in order to not see that question again.
  • If your preseed value is being ignored and whilst using DEBCONF_DEBUG=5 to watch the debconf output you see “FSET blah false” it just means that a piece of code really wants that question to be seen, and such questions are not normally preseedable – the only way to avoid them is to avoid the situation that gives rise to that question being asked.

http://wiki.debian.org/DebianInstaller/Preseed

Debian Preseed Installation

I don’t want to maintain two version of my preseed files (one for Ubuntu and one for Debian), because it means either I have to make changes in two places or the two preseed files get out of sync eventually. Instead, this small piece of command line code will get me a Debian preseed file:

sed '\#apt-setup/security_#d; s/us.archive.ubuntu.com/ftp.us.debian.org/; \#mirror/http#s/ubuntu/debian/; /grub/s/hd0,0/hd0/' preseed-u > preseed-d

The preseed-u is my Ubuntu preseed file and preseed-b Debian. It tested fine for me, as of yesterday, except that the boot loader installation failed, for both of the mini.iso files that I listed above (sid and daily-builds). I switched between the GRUB Legacy and GRUB 2 back and forth but it turned out to me that nothing works. My latest theory is that Debian installer is ignoring my preseeded grub preference, and is using grub 2 all the time; and in the meantime, the grub 2 boot loader installation always fail when installing to PBR. So my finial script change the grub installation from PBR to MBR, but I didn’t bother testing it in the end.

If you get the same boot loader installation failure, continue on the installation without installing the boot loader, then use the SuperGRUB to boot your installed OS (then install the boot loader after it boots up). Do NOT use the rescue mode of the Debian installer to install boot loader for your installed OS, because it’ll be too much trouble: You’ll be shown the first few screens of the installer, and have to go through each and every one of them, including locale & kbd-chooser, hostname, domain name, source site, downloading packages, configure timezone, etc, etc!


Conclusion

With Debian/Ubuntu, it’s much simpler to add more tools to your system than trying to slim it down. Using the mini.iso net install can give you the minimum system you want; and this post is all you need to know about Debian/Ubuntu preseeded installation, in one single place.


References

2 thoughts on “Get the Debian/Ubuntu ready and customized the way you like in 10 minutes

  1. Hello,
    I am setting up my preseed file and installing ubuntu-desktop but I want to get rid from some packages so I used the command :
    d-i preseed/early_command apt-get remove libreoffice;
    But this is not working its is returning code error 127. I tried it again with sudo to give a root privilege but still facing the same problem.
    Any suggestions?

  2. Have you tried to put that in `preseed/late_command`, as shown in above example?

    To me, the advantage of preseeded installation is that you have full control of everything. In other words, your current approach, install everything then removed some, might be the easiest way, but it is at the same time not the most efficient way. I personally like to keep minimum installation, so I explicitly list what I want to install, as shown above in the `pkgsel/include` line, so I don’t need to do install-them-first then get-rid-of-them-next. And that keeps down the installation time too.

    After the system is created and running fine, I can then install whatever I want, as it is quite easy to do so, ’cause I have a kept a list of packages that I normally install.

    Again, this is only my preference, if you like to explore more options, I’d be happy to include a link to your solutions to the problems you bump into along the way.

    Thanks!

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