Building a custom CentOS 7 kickstart disc, part 4

Note: this series of articles applies to CentOS 7; for CentOS 6, see this series.

Let’s make things really interesting with a postinstall script to do some custom configuration.

The %post section

In your kickstart configuration file, you can have sections of commands that are designated to run after the anaconda installer has done its work. These sections are denoted with the %post directive.

Typically, you follow this directive with the bash shebang line and the contents of a custom shell script. One thing to note is the filesystem organization at this point during the installation. Your new system’s disk is mounted at /mnt/sysimage, not at / the way it will be once the system is up and running after installation.

By default, the commands in the %post section are run in a chroot environment, where /mnt/sysimage appears as the / directory. This lets you use “normal” paths to configuration files like /etc instead of /mnt/sysimage/etc (if you didn’t chroot like this, you wouldn’t be able to do things like install RPMs). The primary disadvantage is that your install media is not visible in a chrooted environment.

We solve this problem by building our postinstall in two stages. In the first stage, we tell anaconda not to chroot us; we then copy files from the CD to the hard drive.

In our case, we’ve put all our postinstallation files into the postinstall directory under the ~/kickstart_build/isolinux directory. Note that the isolinux directory in our build environment becomes the root of the install disc that we create, and the install disc is mounted at /run/install/repo. So ~/kickstart_build/isolinux/postinstall is available at /run/install/repo/postinstall. We copy postinstall directory on the install disc to /root/postinstall on the new system’s hard drive.

We’re now ready to run stage 2 of the postinstall, where we actually use the postinstallation files.

Note that in both the stage1 and stage2 postinstall scripts, I redirect stdout to a log file in root’s home directory. This is very helpful for diagnosing problems during the kickstart postinstall. This comes in handy when you have many hundreds of lines of postinstall that need to be tested and debugged.

The sky is the limit for what you can do in the postinstallation:

  • add users or groups
  • install non-CentOS applications from RPMs (see below for some good repos)
  • install non-CentOS applications from tarballs (I prefer RPMs where available, but sometimes you don’t have them handy)
  • set the runlevels for various system services
  • configure servers like apache, samba, sshd, and MySQL
  • configure the default behavior of the bash shell

and anything else you could imagine. In my ideal world, my machines are ready to perform their designated tasks from the very first second I boot them up. I don’t want to have a series of manual steps to complete the configuration.

Organizing the postinstall files

If I can offer any suggestions in terms of how you organize your postinstall files, I would suggest breaking the files up into directories like this:

Put your non-CentOS application RPMs and tarballs into apps (with a subdirectory for each application), put application configuration files and scripts into appconfig (again with a subdirectory for each application), put OS configuration files (like network config files) into sysconfig, and put general-purpose libraries (those not specifically required by any applications you’re installing) into libs.

Of these strategies, the organization of apps is by far the most important. When you install applications that are not part of the CentOS distro, you’ll likely have to install additional libraries or utilities to satisfy dependencies in those packages. When you need to refresh your kickstart image, it is helpful to have each app and its dependencies contained in a single directory. If you throw them all into a big directory, you’ll never remember, for example, that mhash is in there because aide requires it.

External repositories

I have found the following repositories to be reliable sources of packages that aren’t included in the CentOS distro:

  • EPEL – Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux
  • repoforge – formerly RPMforge; DAG repository now redirects to this
  • ATrpms – good place to get ffmpeg rpms
  • ELrepo – source for hardware drivers

Good luck building your custom installation disc. I welcome any comments or suggestions you might have for this guide!

Part 1Part 2Part 3 • Part 4

8 thoughts on “Building a custom CentOS 7 kickstart disc, part 4

  1. Good guide. I’m trying to find a way to make it autoupdate. So when there are updates it automatically put them on the installation iso.

  2. How is it possible to burn the custom iso to a USB stick? I tried to run ‘isohybrid custom.iso’, copied the file to a USB stick (dd…) and was able to boot from the stick. The problem is that the system is not able to find the kickstart file…

  3. Great article!

    This helped me put together a small set a media for rebuilding a couple racks.


  4. First of all, thx for really usefull article.

    1. I’m found this way in chroot to work with installation media.
    # Mount CDROM
    mkdir /mnt/source
    mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/source

    2. Where i can find official notes about filesystem organization in kickstart environment?

    1. I don’t quite understand your point #1.

      As for official docs, I have not ever found much documentation on this stuff. Official Red Hat docs are a bit light on details. I have had to do a lot of experimentation to figure things out.

  5. Hi,

    I followed instructions to the letter… But on Centos 7.2 i’m presented with:

    ERR packaging: base repo (url/file:///run/install/repo) not valid — removing it

    Following with anaconda bombing out to a confirmation page asking me to specify a repo.

    Funny thing is, i’m not actually defining a repo in my ks.cfg. It should just be reading repodata.

    Any ideas?

  6. Firstly, this is a wonderful resource. I’ve been looking for something like this for ages without success.
    However, I find myself ultimately disappointed. I was hoping that the boot CD could be configured to install the OS without user intervention – not even having to type the ks one-liner or select a menu option. This would then allow VM creation and OS install using VBoxManage over ssh.
    Given that you don’t even mention this possibility I suspect that for some reason it is not physically possible. Is this correct? Or if possible, where would be a good place to start looking?
    Thanks again for a very clear tutorial

    1. If you have a look at isolinux.cfg, you’ll find the boot menu directives. One of the boot menu options is listed as “default”. If you set the timeout to a non-zero value, after timeout seconds have elapsed, the default option will automatically be selected. Maybe that will do what you’re looking for?

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