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Home/Edge Cloud/Virtual instances/Customize initial setup

Customize the initial setup for your Virtual Machine

Why automate the initial setup?

Automating the initial setup saves time and effort, eliminates manual tasks, reduces errors, ensures consistency, enables scalability, and allows you to focus on more valuable tasks. This is where the User Data field in the Virtual Machine setup page can assist you. By using the User Data field, you can:

  • Set a password for a VM 
  • Create a user
  • Configure groups
  • Add an SSH key
  • Add repositories and Install packages
  • Write files
  • Configure network interfaces

You can access and use the User Data field in three ways:

From the Customer Portal

By default, the User Data field is disabled for new Virtual Machines (VMs). Enable it by switching on the toggle and adding your User Data content in the textbox.

User Data conten

From Gcore’s API

To add the User Data field when creating a new VM via Gcore API, provide your User Data content in base64 format via user_data in the payload request.

Let’s say you want to add the User Data field as below:

#cloud-config
password: your_password
chpasswd: { expire:False }
ssh_pwauth: True
power_state:
  mode: reboot
  timeout: 30
  condition: True

First, you must encode this content in base64 format. You can use the base64 command line tool to do so.

echo -n '#cloud-config
password: your_password
chpasswd: { expire:False }
ssh_pwauth: True
power_state:
  mode: reboot
  timeout: 30
  condition: True' | base64

The encoded base64 result should look similar to this:

I2Nsb3VkLWNvbmZpZwpwYXNzd29yZDogeW91cl9wYXNzd29yZApjaHBhc3N3ZDogeyBleHBpcmU6RmFsc2UgfQpzc2hfcHdhdXRoOiBUcnVlCnBvd2VyX3N0YXRlOgogIG1vZGU6IHJlYm9vdAogIHRpbWVvdXQ6IDMwCiAgY29uZGl0aW9uOiBUcnVl

Then, make an API request with the user_data field provided in the payload to create a new VM:

curl 'https://api.gcore.com/cloud/v2/instances/{projectId}/{regionId}' 
...
--data-raw {
"user_data":"I2Nsb3VkLWNvbmZpZwpwYXNzd29yZDogeW91cl9wYXNzd29yZApjaHBhc3N3ZDogeyBleHBpcmU6RmFsc2UgfQpzc2hfcHdhdXRoOiBUcnVlCnBvd2VyX3N0YXRlOgogIG1vZGU6IHJlYm9vdAogIHRpbWVvdXQ6IDMwCiAgY29uZGl0aW9uOiBUcnVl",...}
...

From Terraform

A new Virtual Machine with the User Data field setup can also be created using Terraform. Encode your User Data field value to base64 format first, then provide the encoded value to the user_data field in the Terraform definition file as below:

resource "gcore_instance" "instance" {

  region_id = your_region_id
  project_id = your_project_id

  name = "your_instance_name"
  ...
 
  user_data = "I2Nsb3VkLWNvbmZpZwpwYXNzd29yZDogeW91cl9wYXNzd29yZApjaHBhc3N3ZDogeyBleHBpcmU6RmFsc2UgfQpzc2hfcHdhdXRoOiBUcnVlCnBvd2VyX3N0YXRlOgogIG1vZGU6IHJlYm9vdAogIHRpbWVvdXQ6IDMwCiAgY29uZGl0aW9uOiBUcnVl"

  ...
}

The User Data field features were built based on cloud-init, an industry-standard multi-distribution method for cross-platform cloud VM initialization.

What is cloud-init?

Cloud-init is an industry-standard software for automating the initialization of cloud Virtual Machines. You can use cloud-init to perform a number of initial tasks when your VM is booted for the first time, such as installing packages, running a shell script, or configuring the network interfaces.

Cloud-init supports all major Linux distributions:

  • Alpine Linux
  • ArchLinux
  • Debian
  • DragonFlyBSD
  • Fedora
  • FreeBSD
  • Gentoo Linux
  • NetBSD
  • OpenBSD
  • Photon OS
  • RHEL/CentOS/AlmaLinux/Rocky Linux/EuroLinux
  • SLES/openSUSE
  • Ubuntu

It uses a YAML-based syntax, allowing the desired setup to be easily represented.

Set a password for a Virtual Machine

By default, Gcore Virtual Machine does not allow SSH authentication using username and password alone; only machines with a matching SSH key are allowed to access the VM.

To override this default configuration, set ssh_pwauth: True in the User Data field. Below is an example configuration of how to set your Virtual Machine to be accessible using a default username and password.

#cloud-config  
password: your_password
chpasswd: { expire: False }  
ssh_pwauth: True
power_state:
  mode: reboot
  timeout: 30
  condition: True
  • The password field sets the password value for your Virtual Machine's default username. Depending on the VM image, the username may vary. For example, if you create a Virtual Machine using the Ubuntu distro, your default username will be ubuntu

  • With the chpasswd: { expire: False } configuration, you do not need to change the password of your default user after you access the VM

  • ssh_pwauth: True allows your Virtual Machine to be accessible using a username and password

  • The power_state block option tells cloud-init to wait 30 seconds for the cloud-init process to finish before shutting down the system

After the Virtual Machine is up and running, you can access the VM using the ssh command below:

ssh your_default_username@your_instance_ip_address

Provide your password value; you should now be able to access the Virtual Machine.

Create a user

With the User data field, you can create a new user in the Virtual Machine.

Let’s say you want to create a user called guest with the same password as the first user. Here’s the example of a cloud-init script for creating this guest user:

#cloud-config
...
users:
  - name:             	guest
    sudo:                 ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL
    passwd:           	SHA-512_encrypted_value_of_guest_password
    groups:           	users,admin
    lock_passwd:      	false
    shell:                /bin/bash
power_state:
  mode: reboot
  timeout: 30
  condition: True

Description of configuration parameters:

  • sudo: Gives superuser rights to the guest user by setting the value ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL.

  • passwd: Provides an encrypted value of your password according to the SHA-512 encryption method. To generate the SHA-512 encrypted value, you can use the mkpasswd command line tool:

mkpasswd -m sha512crypt guest
  • groups: Lists all groups the guest user will belong to. In this configuration, the user will be automatically added to the users and admin groups. If you want to add the user to other groups, first make sure that these groups exist.

  • lock_passwd: When set to false, this value allows you to access the Virtual Machine with a username and password.

  • shell: When set to bin/bash, this value defines the default shell as bash for the guest user.

After you configure user data, wait a few minutes for your Virtual Machine to launch and use the guest user to access the VM:

1. Run the following command: ssh guest@your_instance_ip.

2. Type guest and press Enter.

You should now be able to log in to your guest user account.

To check for the groups that the guest user belongs to, run the command groups. You should see the users and admin groups listed, indicating that the guest user belongs to the users and admin groups.

Enable root user

When creating a Virtual Machine, you can enable user access to the root by adding the following line to the User data field:

#cloud-config
disable_root: false 

For details on how to enable user access to root after creating a Virtual Machine, read our guide.

Configure user groups

You can also configure user groups, such as creating a new one. For example, you can create a new user group called regular-users by adding the below line to the User Data field:

#cloud-config
...
groups:
  - regular-users
power_state:
  mode: reboot
  timeout: 30
  condition: True

After your VM is ready, access it via ssh and run the following command to list all user groups in the system:

compgen -g

The regular-users group should be displayed at the bottom of the result.

Add an SSH key

There are times when you want your new Virtual Machine to be accessible from other machines. For example, some of your colleagues may also want to use your VM, or you might want to set up a cluster of Virtual Machines to create an Apache Hadoop or Apache Spark cluster. To do so, you need to add the public SSH keys of other machines to the User Data field.

Below is an example of how to add a public SSH key of another machine to the new Virtual Machine:

#cloud-config
...
ssh_authorized_keys:
  - ssh-rsa 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 account-name@hostname

Once the Virtual Machine is up and running, you can view the content of authorized_keys by running the below command:

cat ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

You should see the configured ssh-rsa key listed in the result. The other machines should also be able to access this Virtual Machine via SSH.

Add repositories and install packages

When using the Virtual Machine, the default installed packages are usually not sufficient for you to perform your tasks. For example, if you’re a software engineer, you need to use docker to build the application image, or use nmap and traceroute to debug your application network.

Adding the below configuration into your User Data field helps you install the docker, nmap, and traceroute tools when the VM boots up.

#cloud-config
...
apt:
  sources:
    docker.list:
      source: deb [arch=amd64] https://download.docker.com/linux/ubuntu $RELEASE stable
      keyid: 9DC858229FC7DD38854AE2D88D81803C0EBFCD88
package_update: true
package_upgrade: true
packages:
  - apt-transport-https
  - ca-certificates
  - gnupg-agent
  - software-properties-common
  - gnupg
  - docker-ce
  - docker-ce-cli
  - nmap
  - traceroute
power_state:
  mode: reboot
  timeout: 30
  condition: True

With packages that are available in the default VM repository like nmap and traceroute, you only need to include them in the packages block. However, with packages that are not available in the default instance repository— like docker-ce and docker-ce-cli—you need to add the Docker repository first using apt sources.

After installing, restart the Virtual Machine so that these packages are added to the system path. Including the power_state block at the end of the User Data field is helpful because it allows you to use these tools as soon as the Virtual Machine is ready.

Write files

Sometimes it may be helpful to have existing files for usage after the Virtual Machine is ready. For example, you could have a YAML file that contains example scripts for working with Docker. Using the feature below, you can create a file named useful-docker-script.yaml in the /root directory.

#cloud-config
...
write_files:
  - path: /root/useful-docker-script.yaml
    content: |
     # This script is for building the   
# docker Image in order to push it later to your DockerHub 
docker build -t dockerhub-username/docker-image-name . 

# This script is for logging in to your DockerHub
      docker login

    # This script is for pushing the image to your DockerHub space
      docker push dockerhub-username/docker-image-name

Access the Virtual Machine once it is available, and run the following command to check whether the new file useful-docker-script.yaml has been created:

cd /root
ls

You should see a result similar to the below:

useful-docker-script.yaml

Run the following command to view the content of the file useful-docker-script.yaml.

cat useful-docker-script.yaml

You should see a similar output to this:

# This script is for building the
# docker Image in order to push it later to your DockerHub
 docker build -t dockerhub-username/docker-image-name .

 # This script is for logging in to your DockerHub
 docker login

 # This script is for pushing the image to your DockerHub space
 docker push dockerhub-username/docker-image-name

Configure network interfaces

You can also configure network interfaces using the User Data field. For example, you can add a static IP address to your Virtual Machine network interface. Having a static IP address offers benefits such as:

  • Allowing you to host a web server using the static IP
  • Allowing other Virtual Machines access to your VM reliably using the static IP

When your Virtual Machine is created, cloud-init will generate a new file named 50-cloud-init.yaml in the /etc/netplan directory and create a new network interface based on that file. To add a static IP address to the network interface, you need to create another file in the /etc/netplan other than 50-cloud-init.yaml. When cloud-init creates the network interface, it will try to merge the content of these two configuration files. As a result, the static IP address will be added to the network interface. Below is an example content of the 50-cloud-init.yaml file.

network:
    version: 2
    renderer: networkd
    ethernets:
        enp3s0:
            dhcp4: true
            match:
                macaddress: fa:16:3e:1f:37:3c
            mtu: 1500
            set-name: enp3s0

To add a static IP to the enp3s0 network interface, you can add the below content to the User Data field.

#cloud-config
...
write_files:
  - content: |
        network:
            version: 2
            renderer: networkd
            ethernets:
              enp3s0:
                addresses:
                - 192.170.1.25/24
                - 2020:1::1/64
                nameservers:
                  addresses:
                  - 8.8.8.8
                  - 8.8.4.4
    path: /etc/netplan/00-add-static-ip.yaml
    permissions: 0644
power_state:
  mode: reboot
  timeout: 30
  condition: True

Cloud-init will execute two steps based on this configuration.

  • First, cloud-init will create a new file named 00-add-static-ip.yaml in /etc/netplan with instructions to add static IP addresses for both IPv4 (192.170.1.25) and IPv6 (2020:1::1.) The permission of the file is 0644, which means it is readable by any user and writable by cloud-init.

  • When the Virtual Machine is rebooted (using the power_state block configuration), cloud-init will try to merge the network configuration for both 00-add-static-ip.yaml and 50-cloud-init.yaml files so that you can add static IP addresses to the enp3s0 network interface.

Access the Virtual Machine once it is ready, and run the following command:

ip a

You should see something similar to this:

1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN group default qlen 1000
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
    inet 127.0.0.1/8 scope host lo
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
    inet6 ::1/128 scope host
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
2: enp3s0: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc fq_codel state UP group default qlen 1000
    link/ether fa:16:3e:6f:bc:a4 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
    inet 192.170.1.25/24 brd 192.168.1.255 scope global enp3s0
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
    inet 95.85.94.142/24 metric 100 brd 95.85.94.255 scope global dynamic enp3s0
       valid_lft 86289sec preferred_lft 86289sec
    inet6 2020:1::1/64 scope global
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
    inet6 fe80::f816:3eff:fe6f:bca4/64 scope link
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

Notice in the enp3s0 interface, the static IP address for IPv4 is 192.170.1.25 and for IPv6 it is 2020:1::1.

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