WARNING: Running v-i is like waking up after an alien invasion, in a post-apocalyptic world, with everything you knew or owned gone forever. When you run v-i, it will wipe away everything on that computer. All volume groups will be deleted, all storage drives emptied. Any existing partitions will be lost. Forget any data you used to have, and operating systems you used to have installed. If you don't know what you're doing, leave.
v-i installs enough of Debian installed so that the system can be configured with a configuration management system once it's up an running. v-i isn't meant to install a full desktop stack or service suite: it's meant to provide a base on which such can be installed. However, v-i can probably do that, but the author thinks such setup and configuration is better done post-install.
v-i installs a very basic system that is only really suitable as a target for provisioning using your configuration management system of choice (the author uses Ansible). The basic system allows you to log in as root with SSH using the key you provide to v-i. The installer removes all partitions on all drives on the system, and sets up LUKS and LVM2 on all the drives you specify. It sets up the time zone and console keyboard layout you specify. It installs the
locales-all package so your locale is available. It sets up the system to use the
deb.debian.org Debian CDN mirror network. Anything else you'll have to install and configure yourself.
v-i installs a very basic Debian onto a PC. It's entirely non-interactive and unhelpful. The author wrote it so that repeated installations would be less of a chore than using the official Debian installer. (Actually, the author thought it'd be a quick, easy hack, and was too stubborn to give up, when it turned out to be a bit tricky.)
v-i uses vmdb2 to install onto bare metal hardware. vmdb2 is a program to create a disk image virtual machines with Debian, by the same author. It "installs Debian" to a file representing a hard drive. It's basically debootstrap, except the target is a disk image instead of a directory. It's used to create Debian images for Raspberry Pis.
To use v-i to install Debian on a PC:
v-i --verbose exolobe5.yaml
installer.logfor what happened during the installation, if anything failed.
Example target specification file:
hostname: exolobe5 drive: /dev/nvme0n1
A number of fields are allowed in the specification file:
hostname---the hostname of the installed system. This is so that when the installed system boots, and gets a network address using DHCP, it can provide a name. The author's home network setup automatically adds that hostname to the internal DNS. This avoids a manual DNS configuration step, and the author is lazy. (dnsmasq is lovely.)
drive---the main drive to install to. This is where the EFI and
/bootpartitions are created, and where GRUB gets installed. The rest of the drive will be a physical volume for LVM2.
extra_drives---a list of any additional physical volumes for LVM2. These will not be partitioned, and will be used entirely as physical volumes.
luks---the password for full disk encryption for all LVM2 physical volumes. If not set, LUKS is not used. This is a single, fixed password that is in cleartext. You are expected to change it after the system is installed and booted. If you'd rather use, say, a hardware token's challenge/response feature or TPM for LUKS, that's better done on a running system.
extra_playbooks---additional Ansible playbooks to use on the installed system. v-i comes with a "standard playbook" (in
std.yml) that it uses unconditionally, to set up a "standard system" that the author likes. You can provide additional playbooks, for additional configuration at installation time.
ansible_vars---variables to set for Ansible playbooks.
user_pubvariable contains an SSH public key that gets installed into the
authorized_keysfile on the installed system by the standard playbook
user_ca_pubkeyvariable contains public key for an SSH CA whose user certificates are to be trusted
With all this configuration in a file, which you can keep in git, you can install a base system repeatedly to a specific computer, and do it the same way every time. If that's not something you do, then you may want to use the official Debian installer instead.
(Caveat: v-i does nothing to configure your BIOS/UEFI. It can't. You have to manually configure it the way you want it to be. For example, one of the author's machines needs to have its boot order adjusted after every operating system installation. It's quite tedious.)
The official Debian installer is often referred to as d-i. It works quite well, for almost any hardware Debian can run on, and supports a lot of languages, and it's flexible enough to be acceptable for nearly every use case. Millions upon millions of people are satisfied users of it. It is a great achievement of Debian, and the people of the
However, the v-i author felt it was lacking for their needs:
d-i is not entirely easy to understand and modify. It requires building special udeb packages for any software that's to be part of the installer environment, which makes it harder to make changes to the installer without co-operation from maintainers of those packages. The architecture of d-i is also a little non-linear. d-i also needs to support a very wide variety of hardware and use cases, which has made it large and complex.
v-i is happy with normal deb packages, and is a thin Python wrapper script around vmdb2, making it reasonably easy to understand and change. Well, easy for its author. The price for this is less flexibility and less ease of use.
d-i is primarily meant to be used interactively, but it does support preseed files for automating an installation. Preseeding means providing answers, in a file, to questions a package being installed may ask during its installation. This is fine, if a little cumbersome, but only helps to answer questions the packages ask when installed.
v-i lets you have the full power of Ansible during initial installation.
If v-i isn't suitable for your uses, that's OK. The author is happy with his toy.
vmdb2 is given a sequence of steps to execute: create this partition, make that file system, install those packages, etc. vmdb2 runs the steps against a disk image or physical hard drive, with a chroot of the file systems, to do things like installing a package in the system being installed.
v-i defines a fairly minimal standard install, whose goal is to get the target system into a state where it boots from its own, internal storage, and where the rest of the system configuration can be finished using your configuration management system of choice. The standard system looks like this:
/bootpartition (500 MiB)
rootLV (20 GiB)
rootpassword is locked
rootover SSH using a key or user certificate
While vmdb2 can, and does, run Ansible to configure the system being installed, in practice some things work better if most configuration is done to a running system; if nothing else, some Ansible modules don't work well in a chroot. The goal of v-i is to get a system into that state as quickly and easily as possible. For example, the Ansible module to set a hostname on a system with systemd requires systemd to be running. That's awkward while the system is still being installed in a chroot.
Thus, v-i does the following:
debootstrap, install a boot loader, and create fstab and
v-i uses the vmdb2 caching feature, where the results of
debootstrap and some other steps get stored in a compressed tar archive. On subsequent runs, if the cache file exists, it's unpacked, instead of running the commands. This speeds things up a bit: running v-i without the cache file takes the author about 5 minutes; with the cache file it takes about 1.5 minutes. This matters if there is a need to do many installations. It also matters if you're developing an installer and need to run it tens of times a day.
The main files of v-i are:
v-i---the actual installer, a Python script
std.yml---the Ansible playbook to configure a standard install
Also, to build an image to boot off for running the installer:
build-installer.sh---build a disk image where v-i can be run
installer.vmdb---the vmdb2 specification file for creating the installer image
installer.yml---the Ansible playbook for creating the installer image
See the tutorial about ways to add your SSH public key to the image so that you can log into the installer via SSH.
You probably mostly only need to modify
std.yml. The rest is to get you and your target machine into a state where you can run the installer.
This section is prescient: the author hasn't been asked any questions yet, but expects the following to be asked.
v-i installs Debian 11 (bullseye).
The Debian 11 (bullseye) release is the earliest release the author has gotten to work with v-i, and is the only release the author is installing on bare metal systems. Later versions of Debian may work, we will see.
All of the author's PCs have UEFI, and the author doesn't care to do the work to add support for BIOS.
v-i doesn't support installing more than one operating system on one computer. The author has no need for this.
The author only cares about Debian, but in principle, fairly little of vmdb2 and v-i are specific to Debian. It should be possible to add support for other operating systems to be installed, at least ones based on Linux. If you're interested, you need to change or replace at least the following steps in vmdb2 code, and then change the
v-i script to generate a specification using those steps:
debootstrap---install base operating system into a directory
grub---install boot loader
cryptsetup---format a drive for full disk encryption
cryptsetupprogram and tells the fstab step to create a crypttab file
The author only uses 64-bit PC computers (
amd64 arhitecture in Debian; also known as x86-64). v-i may well work for other kinds of computers, as long as they can boot off an installer image ("live image"), and use GRUB for booting. The author would be interested to hear if that is the case.
It would be ideal if v-i (or vmdb2) got the LUKS password for full disk encryption in a secure way from a secure source, but that turned out to be tricky to do. The author felt it was too tricky to do well in the installer environment, while it's pretty easy to do in a running system. Thus, the cleartext password in the installer is a compromise. You're expected to change the password after the installation is done.
It would be possible to ask the person doing the installation to enter the password manually, but this would mean the installation would not be fully automated. The author didn't want that.
No. Use whatever you like once you've installed a system with v-i and booted it. v-i itself uses Ansible, because that was easy for the author to use.
If you can make the changes yourself, go ahead: this is free and open source software, have at it. If you don't have the skill or time to make changes yourself, you'll need to find someone else to make them. This might require paying them.
The author is, unfortunately, probably not willing to spend their free time to make changes that don't benefit them directly, for free. Sorry. They are willing to review and merge changes that would make the software better. (Also, the author is willing to be paid for such work, for corporate customers. Unfortunately, invoicing private people is too complicated.)
The author likes writing software, and dislikes evaluating software.
Copyright 2018-2022 Lars Wirzenius
This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.
This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.
You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with this program. If not, see http://www.gnu.org/licenses/.