Use .iso and Kickstart files to automatically create Ubuntu VMs

I was looking for a way to automate the creation of VMs for testing various distributed system / cluster software packages. I’ve used Vagrant in the past but I wanted something that would:

  • Allow me to use raw ISO files as the basis for guest VMs.
  • Guest VMs should be set up with bridged IPs that are routable from the host.
  • Guest VMs should be able to reach the Internet.
  • Other hosts on the local network should be able to reach guest VMs. (Setting up additional routes is OK).
  • VM creation should work with any distro that supports Kickstart files.
  • Scripts should be able to create and delete VMs in a scripted, fully-automatic manner.
  • Guest VMs should be set up to allow passwordless ssh access from the “ansible” user.

I’ve previously used virsh’s virt-install tool to create VMs and I like how easy it is to set up things like extra network interfaces and attach existing disk images. The scripts in this repo fully automate the virsh VM creation process.


I put all of my code into a Github repo containing these scripts:

  • create-vm – Use .iso and kickstart files to auto-generate a VM.
  • delete-vm – Delete a virtual machine created with create-vm.
  • get-vm-ip – Get the IP address of a VM managed by virsh.
  • encrypt-pw – Returns a SHA512 encrypted password suitable for pasting into Kickstart files.

I’ve also included a sample ubuntu.ks Kickstart file for creating an Ubuntu host.

Host setup

I’m running the scripts from a host with Ubuntu Linux 18.10 installed. I added the following to the host’s Ansible playbook to install the necessary virtualization packages:

  - name: Install virtualization packages
name: "{{item}}"
state: latest
- qemu-kvm
- libvirt-bin
- libvirt-clients
- libvirt-daemon
- libvirt-daemon-driver-storage-zfs
- python-libvirt
- python3-libvirt
- system-config-kickstart
- vagrant-libvirt
- vagrant-sshfs
- virt-manager
- virtinst

If you’re not using Ansible just apt-get install the above packages.

Sample Kickstart file

There are plenty of documents on the Internet on how to set up Kickstart files.

A couple of things that are special about the included Kickstart file

The Ansible user: Although I’d prefer to create the “ansible” user as a locked account,with no password just an ssh public key, Kickstart on Ubuntu does not allow this, so I do set up an encrypted password.

To set up your own password, use the encrypt-pw script to create a SHA512-hashed password that you can copy and paste into the Kickstart file. After a VM is created you can use this password if you need to log into the VM via the console.

To use your own ssh key, replace the ssh key in the %post section with your own public key.

The %post section at the bottom of the Kickstart file does a couple of things:

  • It updates all packages with the latest versions.
  • To configure a VM with Ansible, you just need ssh access to a VM and Python installed. on the VM. So I use %post to install an ssh-server and Python.
  • I start the serial console, so that virsh console $vmname works.
  • I add a public key for Ansible, so I can configure the servers with Ansible without entering a password.

Despite the name, the commands in the %post section are not the last commands executed by Kickstart on an Ubuntu 18.10 server. The “ansible” user is added after the %post commands are executed. This means that the Ansible ssh public key gets added before the ansible user is created.

To make key-based logins work I set the UID:GID of authorized_keys to 1000:1000. The user is later created with UID=1000, GID=1000, which means that the authorized_keys file ends up being owned by the ansible user by the time the VM creation is complete.

Create an Ubuntu 18.10 server

This creates a VM using Ubuntu’s text-based installer. Since the `-d` parameter is used,progress of the install is shown on screen.

create-vm -n node1 \
-i ~/isos/ubuntu-18.10-server-amd64.iso \
-k ~/conf/ubuntu.ks \

Create 8 Ubuntu 18.10 servers

This starts the VM creation process and exits. Creation of the VMs continues in the background.

for n in `seq 1 8`; do
create-vm -n node$n \
-i ~/isos/ubuntu-18.10-server-amd64.iso \
-k ~/conf/ubuntu.ks

Delete 8 virtual machines

for n in `seq 1 8`; do
delete-vm node$n

Connect to a VM via the console

virsh console node1

Connect to a VM via ssh

ssh ansible@`get-vm-ip node1`

Generate an Ansible hosts file

echo '[hosts]'
for n in `seq 1 8`; do
ip=`get-vm-ip node$n`
echo "node$n ansible_ip=$ip ansible_user=ansible"
) > hosts

Handy virsh commands

  • virsh list – List all running VMs.
  • virsh domifaddr node1 – Get a node’s IP address. Does not work with all network setups,which is why I wrote the get-vm-ip script.
  • virsh net-list – Show what networks were created by virsh.
  • virsh net-dhcp-leases $network – Shows current DHCP leases when virsh is acting as the DHCP server. Leases may be shown for machines that no longer exist.

Known Issues

  • VMs created without the -d (debug mode) parameter may be created in “stopped” mode. To start them up, run the command virsh start $vmname
  • Depending on how your host is set up, you may need to run these scripts as root.
  • Ubuntu text mode install messes up terminal screens. Run reset from the command line to restore a terminal’s functionality.
  • I use Ansible to set a guest’s hostname, not Kickstart, so all Ubuntu guests created have the host name “ubuntu”.

Hope you find this useful.

create-vm script

Download create-vm from Github


# create-vm - Use .iso and kickstart files to auto-generate a VM.

# Copyright 2018 Earl C. Ruby III
# Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
# you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.
# You may obtain a copy of the License at
# Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
# distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS,
# See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
# limitations under the License.


cat << EOF
usage: $0 options

This script will take an .iso file created by revisor and generate a VM from it.

-h Show this message
-n Host name (required)
-i Full path and name of the .iso file to use (required)
-k Full path and name of the Kickstart file to use (required)
-r RAM in MB (defaults to ${RAM})
-c Number of VCPUs (defaults to ${VCPUS})
-s Amount of storage to allocate in GB (defaults to ${STORAGE})
-b Bridge interface to use (defaults to ${BRIDGE})
-m MAC address to use (default is to use a randomly-generated MAC)
-v Verbose
-d Debug mode

while getopts "h:n:i:k:r:c:s:b:m:v:d" option; do
case "${option}"
exit 0
r) RAM=${OPTARG};;
m) MAC=${OPTARG};;
v) VERBOSE=1;;
d) DEBUG=1;;

if [[ -z $HOSTNAME ]]; then
echo "ERROR: Host name is required"
exit 1

if [[ -z $ISO_FQN ]]; then
echo "ERROR: ISO file name or http url is required"
exit 1

if [[ -z $KS_FQN ]]; then
echo "ERROR: Kickstart file name or http url is required"
exit 1

if ! [[ -f $ISO_FQN ]]; then
echo "ERROR: $ISO_FQN file not found"
exit 1

if ! [[ -f $KS_FQN ]]; then
echo "ERROR: $KS_FQN file not found"
exit 1
KS_FILE=$(basename "$KS_FQN")

if [[ ! -z $VERBOSE ]]; then
echo "Building ${HOSTNAME} using MAC ${MAC} on ${BRIDGE}"
echo "======================= $KS_FQN ======================="
cat "$KS_FQN"
echo "=============================================="
set -xv

mkdir -p $VM_IMAGE_DIR/{images,xml}

virt-install \
--connect=qemu:///system \
--name="${HOSTNAME}" \
--bridge="${BRIDGE}" \
--mac="${MAC}" \
--disk="${VM_IMAGE_DIR}/images/${HOSTNAME}.img,bus=virtio,size=${STORAGE}" \
--ram="${RAM}" \
--vcpus="${VCPUS}" \
--autostart \
--hvm \
--arch x86_64 \
--accelerate \
--check-cpu \
--os-type=linux \
--force \
--watchdog=default \
--extra-args="ks=file:/${KS_FILE} console=tty0 console=ttyS0,115200n8 serial" \
--initrd-inject="${KS_FQN}" \
--graphics=none \
--noautoconsole \
--debug \

if [[ ! -z $DEBUG ]]; then
# Connect to the console and watch the install
virsh console "${HOSTNAME}"
virsh start "${HOSTNAME}"

# Make a backup of the VM's XML definition file
virsh dumpxml "${HOSTNAME}" > "${VM_IMAGE_DIR}/xml/${HOSTNAME}.xml"

if [ ! -z $VERBOSE ]; then
set +xv

ubuntu.ks Kickstart file

Download ubuntu.ks on Github.

# System language
lang en_US
# Language modules to install
langsupport en_US
# System keyboard
keyboard us
# System mouse
# System timezone
timezone --utc Etc/UTC
# Root password
rootpw --disabled
# Initial user
user ansible --fullname "ansible" --iscrypted --password $6$CfjrLvwGbzSPGq49$t./6zxk9D16P6J/nq2eBVWQ74aGgzKDrQ9LdbTfVA0IrHTQ7rQ8iq61JTE66cUjdIPWY3fN7lGyR4LzrGwnNP.
# Reboot after installation
# Use text mode install
# Install OS instead of upgrade
# Use CDROM installation media
# System bootloader configuration
bootloader --location=mbr 
# Clear the Master Boot Record
zerombr yes
# Partition clearing information
clearpart --all 
# Disk partitioning information
part / --fstype ext4 --size 3700 --grow
part swap --size 200 
# System authorization infomation
auth  --useshadow  --enablemd5 
# Firewall configuration
firewall --enabled --ssh 
# Do not configure the X Window System
%post --interpreter=/bin/bash
echo ### Redirect output to console
exec < /dev/tty6 > /dev/tty6
chvt 6
echo ### Update all packages
apt-get update
apt-get -y upgrade
# Install packages
apt-get install -y openssh-server vim python
echo ### Enable serial console so virsh can connect to the console
systemctl enable serial-getty@ttyS0.service
systemctl start serial-getty@ttyS0.service
echo ### Add public ssh key for Ansible
mkdir -m0700 -p /home/ansible/.ssh
cat <<EOF >/home/ansible/.ssh/authorized_keys
ssh-rsa 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 ansible@host
echo ### Set permissions for Ansible directory and key. Since the "Initial user"
echo ### is added *after* %post commands are executed, I use the UID:GID
echo ### as a hack since I know that the first user added will be 1000:1000.
chown -R 1000:1000 /home/ansible
chmod 0600 /home/ansible/.ssh/authorized_keys
echo ### Change back to terminal 1
chvt 1
Share Button