Custom node setup (preseed)

During node enlistment, deployment, commissioning and node installation, MAAS sends Tempita-derived configuration files to the cloud-init process running on the target node. MAAS refers to this process as preseeding.

These preseed files are used to configure a node's ephemeral and installation environments and can be modified or augmented to perform your own custom node configuration.

Customisation in MAAS happens in two ways:

  1. Curtin, a preseeding system similar to Kickstart or d-i (Debian Installer), applies customisations during operating system (OS) image installation. These changes are performed on every deployment, while the OS image is being installed, before the machine reboots into the installed OS. Curtin customisations are perfect for administrators who want their deployments to have identical setups all the time, every time. This blog post contains an excellent high-level overview of custom MAAS installs using Curtin.
  2. Cloud-init, a system for setting up machines immediately after they've been instantiated, applies customisations after the first boot, post OS installation, after MAAS changes a machine's status to 'Deployed.' Customisations are performed on a per-instances basis, which means that user-supplied scripts must be specified again on redeployment. Cloud-init customisations are the best way for MAAS users to customise their deployments, similar to how the various cloud services prepare VMs when launching instances.



The Tempita template files are found within the /etc/maas/preseeds/ directory on the region controller. Each template uses a filename prefix that corresponds to a particular phase of MAAS node deployment:

Phase Filename prefix
1. Enlistment enlist
2. Commissioning commissioning
3. Installation curtin (Curtin)

Additionally, the template for each phase typically consist of two files. The first is a higher-level file that often contains little more than a URL or a link to further credentials while a second file contains the logic to be executed.

The enlist template, for example, contains only minimal variables whereas the contents of enlist_userdata includes both user variables and initialisation logic.

Note: Tempita’s inheritance mechanism is the reverse of what might be expected. Inherited files, such as enlist_userdata, become the new template which can then reference variables from the higher level file, such as enlist.

Template naming

Templates are interpreted in order of their file name, allowing for base configuration options and parameters to be overridden on an operating system, architecture, sub-architecture, release and node name basis.

To maintain backward compatibility with earlier versions of MAAS that only support Ubuntu, if the node operating system is Ubuntu then file names without {os} will also be tried.

Consequently, template files are interpreted in the following order:

  1. {prefix}_{os}_{node_arch}_{node_subarch}_{release}_{node_name} or {prefix}_{node_arch}_{node_subarch}_{release}_{node_name}

  2. {prefix}_{os}_{node_arch}_{node_subarch}_{release} or {prefix}_{node_arch}_{node_subarch}_{release}

  3. {prefix}_{os}_{node_arch}_{node_subarch} or {prefix}_{node_arch}_{node_subarch}

  4. {prefix}_{os}_{node_arch} or {prefix}_{node_arch}

  5. {prefix}_{os}

  6. {prefix}

  7. generic

The node needs to be the node name, as shown in the web UI URL.

The prefix can be either enlist, enlist_userdata, commissioning, curtin, curtin_userdata or preseed_master. Alternatively, the prefix and the following underscore can be omitted.

For example, to create a generic configuration template for Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial running on a x64 architecture, the file would need to be called ubuntu_amd64_generic_xenial_node.

To create the equivalent template for curtin_userdata, the file would be called curtin_userdata_ubuntu_amd64_generic_xenial_node.

Note: Any file targetting a specific node will replace the values and configuration held within any generic files. If those values are needed, the generic template values will need to be copied into your new file.


You can customise the Curtin installation by either editing the existing curtin_userdata template or by adding a custom file as described above.

Curtin provides hooks to execute custom code before and after installation takes place. These hooks are named early and late respectively, and they can both be overridden to execute the Curtin configuration in the ephemeral environment. Additionally, the late hook can be used to execute a configuration for a machine being installed, a state known as in-target.

Curtin commands look like this:

foo: ["command", "--command-arg", "command-arg-value"]

Each component of the given command makes up an item in an array. Note, however that the following won't work:

foo: ["sh", "-c", "/bin/echo", "foobar"]

This is because the value of sh's -c argument is itself an entire command. The correct way to express this is:

foo: ["sh", "-c", "/bin/echo foobar"]

The following is an example of an early command that will run before the installation takes place in the ephemeral environment. The command pings an external machine to signal that the installation is about to start:

  signal: [wget, "--no-proxy", "", "--post-data", "system_id=&signal=starting_install", "-O", "/dev/null"]

The following is an example of two late commands that will run after the installation has been performed. Both run in-target, on the machine being installed.

The first command adds a PPA to the machine. The second command creates a file containing the node’s system ID:

  add_repo: ["curtin", "in-target", "--", "add-apt-repository", "-y", "ppa:my/ppa"]
  custom: ["curtin", "in-target", "--", "sh", "-c", "/bin/echo -en 'Installed ' > /tmp/maas_system_id"]


Using cloud-init to customise a node after deployment is relatively easy. If you're not familiar with the MAAS command-line interface (CLI), start by reviewing the MAAS CLI page.

After you're logged in, use the following command to deploy a machine with a custom script you've written:

maas $PROFILE machine deploy $SYSTEM_ID user_data=<base-64-encoded-script>
  • $PROFILE: Your MAAS login. E.g. admin
  • $SYSTEM_ID: The machine's system ID.
  • <base-64-encoded-script>: A base-64 encoded copy of your customisation script. See below for an example.


Suppose you would like to import an SSH key immediately after your machine is deployed. You might use this script, called

echo === $date ===
ssh-import-id foobar_user
) | tee /ssh-key-import.log

This script echos the date in addition to the output of the ssh-import-key command. It also adds that output to a file, /ssh-key-import.log.

Base-64 encoding is required because the MAAS command-line interacts with the MAAS API, and base-64 encoding allows MAAS to send the script inside a POST HTTP command.

Use the base64 command to output a base-64 encoded version of your script:

base64 ./

Putting it together:

maas $PROFILE machine deploy $SYSTEM_ID user_data=$(base64 ./

After MAAS deploys the machine, you'll find /ssh-key-import.log on the node you deployed.