Thursday, December 11, 2014

Snappy Ubuntu Core and cloud-init

Snappy Ubuntu Core was announced this week.  In yesterday's blog post (Snappy Ubuntu Core and uvtool) I showed how you can use uvtool to create and manage snappy instances.

Now that we've got that covered, let’s look deeper into a very cool feature - the ability to customize the instance and automate its startup and configuration.  For example, at instance creation time you can specify a snappy application to be installed.  cloud-init is what allows you to do this, and it is installed inside the Snappy image. cloud-init receives this information from the user in the form of 'user-data'.

One of the formats that can be fed to cloud-init is called ‘cloud-config’.  cloud-config is yaml formatted data that is interpreted and acted on by cloud-init.  For Snappy, we’ve added a couple specific configuration values.  Those are included under the top level 'snappy'.
  • ssh_enabled: determines if 'ssh' service is started or not.  By default ssh is not enabled.
  • packages: A list of snappy packages to install on first boot.  Items in this list are snappy package names.
When running inside snappy, cloud-init still provides many of the features it provides on traditional instances.  Some useful configuration entries:

  • runcmd: A list of commands run after boot has been completed. Commands are run as root. Each entry in the list can be a string or a list.  If the entry is a string, it is interpreted by 'sh'.  If it is a list, it is executed as a command and arguments without shell interpretation.
  • ssh_authorized_keys: This is a list of strings.  Each key present will be put into the default user's ssh authorized keys file.  Note that ssh authorized keys are also accepted via the cloud’s metadata service.
  • write_files: this allows you to write content to the filesystem.  The module is still expected to work, but the user will have to be aware that much of the filesystem is read-only. Specifically, writing to file system locations that are not writable is expected to fail.
Some cloud-init config modules are simply not going to work.  For example, traditional packages will not be installed by 'apt' as the root filesystem is read-only.

Example Cloud Config

Its always easiest to start from a working example.  Below is one that demonstrates the usage of the config options listed above.  Please note that user data intended to be consumed as cloud-config must contain the first line '#cloud-config'.
    #cloud-config
    snappy:
      ssh_enabled: True
      packages:
        - xkcd-webserver

    write_files:
     - content: |
        #!/bin/sh
        echo "==== Hello Snappy!  It is now $(date -R) ===="
       permissions: '0755'
       path: /writable/greet

    runcmd:
     - /writable/greet | tee /run/hello.log

Launching with uvtool

Follow yesterday's blog post to get a functional tool.  Then, save the example config file above to a file, and launch you're instance with it.

$ uvt-kvm create --wait --add-user-data=my-config.yaml snappy1 release=devel

Our user-data instructed cloud-init to do a number of different things. First, it wrote a file via 'write_files' to a writable space on disk, and then executed that file with 'runcmd'. Lets verify that was done:

$ uvt-kvm ssh snappy1 cat /run/hello.log
==== Hello Snappy!  It is now Thu, 11 Dec 2014 18:16:34 +0000 ====

It also instructed cloud-init to install the Snappy 'xkcd-webserver' application.
$ uvt-kvm ssh snappy1 snappy versions
Part            Tag   Installed  Available  Fingerprint     Active 
ubuntu-core     edge  141        -          7f068cb4fa876c  *      
xkcd-webserver  edge  0.3.1      -          3a9152b8bff494  *


There we can see that xkcd-webserver was installed, lets check that it is running:

$ uvt-kvm ip snappy1
192.168.122.80
$ wget -O - --quiet http://192.168.122.80/ | grep <title>
<title>XKCD rocks!</title>

Launching on Azure

The same user-data listed above also works on Microsoft Azure.   Follow the instructions for setting up the azure command line tools, and then launch the instance with and provide the '--custom-data' flag.  A full command line might look like:
$ imgid=b39f27a8b8c64d52b05eac6a62ebad85__Ubuntu-core-devel-amd64-20141209-90-en-us-30GB
$ azure vm create snappy-test $imgid ubuntu \
  --location "North Europe" --no-ssh-password \
  --ssh-cert ~/.ssh/azure_pub.pem --ssh \

  --custom-data my-config.yaml


Have fun playing with cloud-init!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Snappy Ubuntu Core and uvtool

Earlier this week, Ubuntu announced the Snappy Ubuntu Core . As part of the announcement, a set of qemu based instructions were included for checking out a snappy image on your local system.  In addition to that method, we’ve been working on updates to bring support for the transactional images to uvtool. Have you used uvtool before?  I like it, and tend to use for day to day kvm images as it’s pretty simple. So let’s get to it.

Setting up a local Snappy Ubuntu Core environment with uvtool


As I’ve already mentioned Ubuntu has a very simple set of tools for creating virtual machines using cloud images, called 'uvtool'.  Uvtool offers a easy way to bring up images on your system in a kvm environment. Before we use uvtool to get snappy on your local environment, you’ll need install the special version that has snappy supported added to it:

$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:snappy-dev/tools
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install uvtool
$ newgrp libvirtd


You only need to do 'newgrp libvirtd' during the initial setup, and only if you were not already in the libvirtd group which you can check by running the 'groups' command. A reboot or logout would have the same effect.

uvtool uses ssh key authorization so that you can connect to your instances without being prompted for a password. If you do not have a ssh key in '~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub', you can create one now with:

$ ssh-keygen


We’re ready to roll.  Let’s download the images:

$ uvt-simplestreams-libvirt sync --snappy flavor=core release=devel

This will download a pre-made cloud image of the latest Snappy Core image from http://cloud-images.ubuntu.com/snappy/. It will download about 110M, so be prepared to wait a little bit.

Now let’s start up an instance called 'snappy-test':

$ uvt-kvm create --wait snappy-test flavor=core

This will do the magic of setting up a libvirt domain, starting it and waiting for it to boot (via the --wait flag).  Time to ssh into it:

$ uvt-kvm ssh snappy-test

You now have a Snappy image which you’re sshd into.

If you want to manually ssh, or test that your snappy install of xkcd-webserver worked, you can get the IP address of the system with:

$ uvt-kvm ip snappy-test
192.168.122.136

When you're done playing, just destroy the instance with:
$ uvt-kvm destroy snappy-test

Have fun!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

mount-image-callback: easily modify the content of a disk image file

Lots of times when dealing with virtualization or cloud you find yourself working with "images".  Operating on these images can be difficult.  As an example, often times you may have a disk image, and need to change a single file inside it.

There is a tool called 'mount-image-callback' in cloud-utils that takes care of mounting and unmounting a disk image.  It allows you to focus on exactly what you need to do. It supports mounting partitioned or unpartitioned images in any format that qemu can read (thanks to qemu-nbd).

Heres how you can use it interactively:

  $ mount-image-callback disk1.img -- chroot _MOUNTPOINT_
  % echo "I'm chrooted inside the image here"
  % echo "192.168.1.1 www.example.com" >> /etc/hosts
  % exit 0


or non-interactively:

  mount-image-callback disk1.img -- \
   sh -c 'rm -Rf $MOUNTPOINT/var/cache/apt'

or one of my typical use cases, to add a package to an image.

  mount-image-callback --system-mounts --resolv-conf --
    chroot _MOUNTPOINT_ apt-get install --assume-yes pastebinit


Above, mount-image-callback handled setting up the loopback or qemu-nbd devices required to mount the image and then mounted it to a temporary directory.  It then runs the command you provide, unmounts the image, and exits with the return code of the provided command.

If the command you provide has the literal argument '_MOUNTPOINT_' then it will substitute the path to the mount.  It also makes that path available in the environment variable MOUNTPOINT.  Adding '--system-mounts' and '--resolv-conf' address the common need to mount proc, dev or sys, and to modify and replace /etc/resolv.conf in the filesystem so that networking will work in a chroot.

mount-image-callback supports mounting either an unpartitioned image (ie, dd if=/dev/sda1 of=my.img) or the first partition of a partitioned image (dd if=/dev/sda of=my.img).  Two improvements I'd like to make are to allow the user to tell it which partition to mount (rather than expecting the first) and also to do so automatically by finding an /etc/fstab and mounting other relevant mounts as well.

Why not libguestfs?

libguestfs is a great tool for doing this.  It operates essentially by launching a qemu (or kvm) guest, and attaching disk images to the guest and then letting the guest's linux kernel and qemu to do the heavy lifting.  Doing this provides security benefits, as mounting untrusted filesystems could cause kernel crash.  However, it also has performance costs and limitations, and also doesn't provide "direct" access as you'd get via just mounting a filesystem.

Much of my work is done inside a cloud instance, and done by automation.  As a result, the security benefits of using a layer of virtualization to access disk images are less important.  Also, I'm likely operating on an official Ubuntu cloud image or other vendor provided image where trust is assumed.

In short, mounting an image and changing files or chrooting is acceptable in many cases and offers more "direct" path to doing so.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

lxc with fast cloning via overlayfs and userdata via clone hooks

Serge Hallyn and St├ęphane Graber made some really nice improvements to LXC in the last few months.  These include:
  • user namespaces, which will bring us secure containers in 14.04 and the ability to safely run containers without root. 
  • a library with bindings for C, go and python3.
  • cloning with overlayfs
  • hooks executed at clone time.
I had previously worked with Ben Howard on the 'ubuntu cloud' template, and I just finished some updates to it that take advantage of overlayfs and clone hooks to provide a great environment to use or test cloud-init.

Previously the ubuntu cloud template (which downloads a cloud image to create a container) allowed the user to specify userdata or public keys at container creation time.  The change was really just to move the container customization code to a clone hook.

Thanks to the daily build ppa, you can do this on any release from 12.04 to 13.10.

Hopefully the example below explains this better.  The times reported are from my Thinkpad X120e, which is a netbook class cpu and slow disk.  Times clearly will vary, and these are not meant to be scientific results.
If you do not see the embedded file below, please read the remainder of this post in the gist on github.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Using Ubuntu cloud images on VirtualBox

A few months ago, I wrote an article on "Using Ubuntu cloud-images without a cloud".  That article showed how to do this with kvm.  Virtualbox is another virtualiztion technology that is especially popular on Mac and Windows.  So, I figured I'd give the same basic article a try, but using virtualbox rather than kvm.

I used 'virtualboxmanage' and 'virtualbox' here, but I'm sure the same can be accomplished via the virtuabox gui, and probably similar commands to do the same thing on Mac/OSX or windows.

So, below is roughly the same thing as the kvm post but with virtualbox.  Also to verify function, I did this on Ubuntu 12.04 host with Ubuntu 12.04 guest, but later versions should also work.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Using Ubuntu cloud-images without a cloud

Since sometime in early 2009, we've put effort into building the Ubuntu cloud images and making them useful as "cloud images". From the beginning, they supported use as an instance on a cloud platform. Initially that was limited to EC2 and Eucalyptus, but over time, we've extended the "Data Sources" that the images support.

A "Data Source" to cloud-init provides 2 essential bits of information that turn a generic cloud-image into a cloud instance that is actually usable to its creator. Those are:
  • public ssh key
  • user-data
Without these, the cloud image cannot even be logged into.

Very early on it felt like we should have a way to use these images outside of a cloud. They were essentially ready-to-use installations of Ubuntu Server that allow you to bypass installation. In 11.04 we added the OVF as a data source and a tool in cloud-init's source tree for creating a OVF ISO Transport that cloud-init would read data from. It wasn't until 12.04 that we improved the "NoCloud" data source to make this even easier.

Available in cloud-utils, and packaged in Ubuntu 12.10 is a utility named 'cloud-localds'. This makes it trivial to create a "local datasource" that the cloud-images will then use to get the ssh key and/or user-data described above.

After boot, you should see a login prompt that you can log into with 'ubuntu' and 'passw0rd' as specified by the user-data provided.

Some notes about the above:
  •  None of the commands other than 'apt-get install' require root.
  •  The 2 qemu-img commands are not strictly necessary. 
    • The 'convert' converts the compressed qcow2 disk image as downloaded to an uncompressed version.  If you don't do this the image will still boot, but reads will go decompression.
    • The 'create' creates a new qcow2 delta image backed by 'disk1.img.orig'. It is not necessary, but useful to keep the '.orig' file pristine. All writes in the kvm instance will go to the disk.img file.
  • libvirt, different kvm networking or disk could have been used. The kvm command above is just the simplest for demonstration. (I'm a big fan of the '-curses' option to kvm.)
  • In the kvm command above, you'll need to hit 'ctrl-alt-3' to see kernel boot messages and boot progress. That is because the cloud images by default send console output to the first serial device, that a cloud provider is likely to log.
  • There is no default password in the Ubuntu images. The password was set by the user-data provided.
The content of 'my-user-data' can actually be anything that cloud-init supports as user-data.  So any custom user-data you have can be used (or developed) in this way.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

$40 mp3 player with wifi, speaker, linux support (palm pixi plus)

For almost 4 years I have used a mp3 player from Creative Labs named "ZEN Stone Plus with built-in speaker". It was used it to play music for our toddler all night long, nearly every night.

It was an absolutely wonderful product. Battery life via rechargeable battery was excellent, it was small enough to forget about in your pocket, and the speaker was sufficient for what we needed

The only deficiency in my opinion was that it could not play music while plugged into AC power. That meant that a.) the battery would have to last the 10+ hours every night and b.) we had to plug it into AC power every morning to charge it. In the end, it was the latter that caused me to need to replace it. After probably 1000+ plug-in and remove (many by a child under 5 years old) the pins in the USB connection eventually failed.

If you're looking for a portable MP3 player with a built-in speaker, your options are very few. The Ipod Touch (and Iphone) are perfectly good solutions, but come a hefty price tag even used. So, I had to get creative.

I'd seen the Palm Pixi appear on a couple "deal-a-day" websites at the $30 price range, and that lead me to consider the Palm Pixi Plus. The Pixi Plus has the following features that made it look *very* tempting:

  • 8GB storage
  • Internal Speaker
  • wifi
  • web browser
  • GPS
  • Camera
  • Touch screen and physical keyboard
  • can play music while charging
  • runs linux! (just geeky)
  • open development platform

However, I googling left me unsure about a couple things:

  • Could I use the pixi's wifi without first activating it with some carrier? I had no interest in a phone, or a monthly bill. It did seem that worst case, I could activate on a pay-as-you-go provider and get going for probably less than $10 total.
  • If I could manage to avoid activation, could I still have access to the Palm WebOS Store? Having an "App Store" was an unnecessary upgrade from the zen stone we had before, but sure would be nice.

In the end, the answer to each of the above questions was 'Yes'. I now have a MP3 player with a builtin speaker, that also has all the functions generally associated with a smart phone (see above). I'm really happy with it. It cost me $40 shipped in 2 days (I do have amazon prime, so total cost may be a little bit more). The only two issues at the moment are:

  • Getting it plugged in for charge is a bit of a pain, and it seems to me that likely the thing that will end up failing is that connection, because its not 100% trivial (and remember, toddlers/young kids are using it). There is, however, a $15 solution for that. I've not purchased it yet, so I'm not 100% certain, but it looks like I can get a Touchstone Palm Pixi Charging Dock and Palm Pixi Touchstone Cover shipped for under $10.
  • The music player stops somewhere after 2 hours or so when its on repeat of a single song. Obviously this is not an issue for many people, but it affects my use case.

In Summary, if you think an 8GB mp3 player with GPS, speaker, camera would be a generally cool toy for $40, then buy one today. I'm really happy with this one. I'll try to write another article soon that describes how to use Meta Doctor to flash with activation disabled and then run the first use program to set up a profile.