One of the things I do is give away older computers with Ubuntu on them. I've given away quite a few and the installs can take a while, plus I like to install flash and dvd decryption for the new users. I learned about preseed from this post. It didn't have all the information I needed to create this, so that is why I'm sharing my experience.

Preseed is Debian's/Ubuntu's answer to unattended installation. It will do everything for you, from partitioning to setting up users. You just need to create a text file, make it available, and tell the installer where it is. First, here is my preseed for ubuntu hardy.

### Network configuration
d-i netcfg/choose_interface select eth0
d-i netcfg/get_hostname string ubuntu

### Mirror settings
d-i mirror/country string enter information manually
d-i mirror/http/hostname string ftp.deathcat.dci
d-i mirror/http/directory string /ubuntu
d-i mirror/http/proxy string

### Partitioning
d-i partman-auto/init_automatically_partition
d-i partman-auto/disk string /dev/sda
d-i partman-auto/method string regular
d-i partman-auto/purge_lvm_from_device boolean true
d-i partman-auto/expert_recipe string boot-root :: 100 50 100 ext3 \
    $primary{ } \
    $bootable{ } \
    method{ format } \
    format{ } \
    use_filesystem{ } \
    filesystem{ ext3 } \
    mountpoint{ /boot } \
    . \
    512 512 200% linux-swap \
    method{ swap } \
    format{ } \
    . \
    512 10000 1024 reiserfs \
    method{ format } \
    format{ } \
    use_filesystem{ } \
    filesystem{ reiserfs } \
    mountpoint{ / } \
    . \
    512 10000 1024 reiserfs \
    method{ format } \
    format{ } \
    use_filesystem{ } \
    filesystem{ reiserfs } \
    mountpoint{ /tmp } \
    . \
    1000 10000 2000 reiserfs \
    method{ format } \
    format{ } \
    use_filesystem{ } \
    filesystem{ reiserfs } \
    mountpoint{ /var } \
    . \
    3000 10000 4000 reiserfs \
    method{ format } \
    format{ } \
    use_filesystem{ } \
    filesystem{ reiserfs } \
    mountpoint{ /usr } \
    . \
    100 10000 100000000 reiserfs \
    method{ format } \
    format{ } \
    use_filesystem{ } \
    filesystem{ reiserfs } \
    mountpoint{ /home } \
d-i partman/confirm_write_new_label boolean true
d-i partman/choose_partition \
    select Finish partitioning and write changes to disk
d-i partman/confirm boolean true

### Clock and time zone setup
d-i clock-setup/utc boolean true
d-i time/zone string America/Denver

### Installation setup
d-i prebaseconfig/reboot_in_progress note

d-i debconf/priority select critical
debconf debconf/priority select critical

base-config base-config/intro note
base-config base-config/login note

# The user's name and login.
passwd passwd/user-fullname string Ubuntu
passwd passwd/username string ubuntu
# And their password, but use caution!
passwd passwd/user-password ubuntu ubuntu
passwd passwd/user-password-again ubuntu ubuntu

# install desktop + standard packages
tasksel tasksel/first multiselect ubuntu-standard, ubuntu-desktop
d-i finish-install/reboot_in_progress note

# post install scripts
d-i preseed/late_command string \
    cd /target; \
    wget ftp://ftp.deathcat.dci/pub/ubuntu/scripts/post-install; \
    chmod +x ./post-install; \
    chroot ./ ./post-install; \
    rm -f ./post-install

A lot of stuff is in there as you can see. Let's look at the part under Network Configuration. The first line, d-i netcfg/choose_interface select eth0, tells the installer to use eth0 for networking during the install. This does absolute nothing during a PXE boot install, which is irratating if you are installing on to laptops with a wireless card. The next line, d-i netcfg/get_hostname string ubuntu, tells the install to give the new install the hostname ubuntu.

Now, to the Mirror settings section. This section tells the installer I want to manually set the location of the installer packages to http://ftp.deathcat.dci/ubuntu and not to use a proxy.

The Partitioning portion is the most perplexing. It was for me anyway. I like to set up several partitions, for /boot, swap, /, /var/, /usr, and /home. I also like to use reiserfs for speed. The first two lines tell the installer to automatically wipe /dev/sda and prepare to partition it. The next line tells it to use regular partitions opposed to lvm and after that is installer is told to not warn when deleting an lvm. Now, for the meat and potatoes of the partition. This one line (Yes, that is one line and must be so to function) defines how the installer should do the actual partitioning.

d-i partman-auto/expert_recipe string boot-root :: 100 50 100 ext3 \
    $primary{ } \
    $bootable{ } \
    method{ format } \
    format{ } \
    use_filesystem{ } \
    filesystem{ ext3 } \
    mountpoint{ /boot } \

The first thing is leave the 100 50 100 ext3 on the first line. Don't attempt to place the backslash after the :: and continue on the next. It doesn't work. I wish it did. Anyway, the first 100 says to give this partition a minimal size of 100MB. The 50 is the priority. The lower it is, the more likely it will be filled to maximum size, which is the second 100. Ext3 is the partition type to mount this partition as. $primary{ } ensures this partition will be a primary partition and $bootable{ } will set the boot flag. method{ format } tells it to format this partition and not preserve the filesystem as does the next line. Preseed is redundant, isn't it? Use_filesystem{ } tells it to auto detect the filesystem for mounting this time. Filesystem{ ext3 } says use ext3 for formating. Finally, mountpoint{ /boot } tells the installer to mount this to /boot. The "." terminates the configuration of the one partition. Read the rest of that line for more examples.

The three lines after that one big one, tell the installer to write the partitions to disk, format, and not ask questions.

The Clock and time zone setup section sets up the hard clock to use UTC and the timezone to that of Denver, Colorado.

The Installation Setup tells the system to first reboot automatically after install. It also tells the system to crash if debconf doesn't like the rest of the file.

The user's name and login portion is self-explanatory. You'll note that the password ubuntu is written four times, twice on two lines. Why it is required to type it more than once, I don't know. Preseed is redundant!

The next section tells the installer to install the ubuntu-standard and ubuntu-desktop packages and their dependencies. It also tells the installer to reboot after install...again.

At the end of the preseed, I have the installer download a file and execute it in a chroot of the new install. This is that file with comments detailing what's going on.



cd /tmp

# Setup auto login
UBUNTUUSER=$( getent passwd 1000 | cut -d : -f 1 )
wget "$SCRIPTURL/gdm.conf-custom"
sed "s/AutomaticLogin=ubuntu/AutomaticLogin=$UBUNTUUSER/g" \
    gdm.conf-custom > gdm.conf-custom2
mv /etc/gdm/gdm.conf-custom /etc/gdm/gdm.conf-custom.orig
cp gdm.conf-custom2 /etc/gdm/gdm.conf-custom
rm -f gdm.conf-custom gdm.conf-custom2

# Setup ubuntu sources
wget "$SCRIPTURL/sources.list"
rm -f /etc/apt/sources.list
cp sources.list /etc/apt/sources.list
rm -f sources.list

# Get updates
apt-get update
apt-get -y upgrade

# Install flash, vlc, and dvd playing software
apt-get -y install \
    gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly-multiverse \
    gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad-multiverse \
    gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad \
    gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly \
    gstreamer0.10-ffmpeg \
    libxine1-ffmpeg \
    libdvdread3 \
    flashplugin-nonfree \

# Setup DVD decryption

exit 0

And that's it. One more note before I finish. To make this entirely hand-free, you will have to past a few arguments at boot: The locale, keymap, network interface to use, and the location of the preseed file. I do this in my pxelinux.cfg/default.

label ubuntu
  kernel ubuntu/hardy/i386/linux
  append vga=normal initrd=ubuntu/hardy/i386/initrd.gz \
  locale=en_US.UTF-8 debian-installer/keymap=us \
  netcfg/wireless_wep= netcfg/choose_interface=eth0 \
  netcfg/get_hostname=ubuntu \
  preseed/url=ftp://ftp.deathcat.dci/pub/linux/ubuntu/preseed/easy.cfg --
Posted by Tyler Lesmann on July 6, 2008 at 12:58
Tagged as: linux preseed pxe ubuntu
#1 Ace wrote this 7 years, 6 months ago

Giving the keymap, locale... is not needed in newer versions. I append this:
auto=true priority=critical preseed/url=http://yourserver/preseed.cfg

the auto=true makes the installer wait till the network is configured with all the questions about keymap etc... !

#2 Tyler Lesmann wrote this 7 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for the extra info!

#3 Ace wrote this 7 years, 6 months ago

Of course I did it all from a PXE networtk install... with a DHCP server, and the installer takes the first network card and assigns that with dhcp...

#4 Ace wrote this 7 years, 6 months ago

Hmmm... I can't find the gdm.conf in /etc/gdm... in Lucid (10.4)... ?

#5 qpx94 wrote this 7 years ago

Hi all,

nice article!
Did you ever try to preseed backtrack 4 ?


#6 tlesmann wrote this 7 years ago

qpx94: Can't say that I have. :)

#7 stiqs wrote this 6 years, 1 month ago

Why didn't you just add the packages in the preseed itself?

#8 Tyler Lesmann wrote this 6 years, 1 month ago

@stiqs Back when I posted this originally, those packages were not in the default apt sources. Note that I'm overwriting /etc/apt/sources.list at line 19 of the post-install script to acquire these packages.

There may be a better way to add custom sources with newer debian/ubuntu releases. In that case, you could specify the packages during the normal install phase.

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