Building EBS Boot AMIs Using Canonical's Downloadable EC2 Images


In the last article, I described how to use the vmbuilder software to build an EBS boot AMI from scratch for running Ubuntu on EC2 with a persistent root disk.

In the ec2ubuntu Google group, Scott Moser pointed out that users can take advantage of the Ubuntu images for EC2 that Canonical has already built with vmbuilder. This can simplify and speed up the process of building EBS boot AMIs for the rest of us.

Let’s walk through the steps, creating an EBS boot AMI for Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic.

  1. Run an instance of the Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic AMI, either 32-bit or 64-bit depending on which architecture AMI you wish to build. Make a note of the resulting instance id:

    # 32-bit
    instanceid=$(ec2-run-instances     --key YOURKEYPAIR                --availability-zone us-east-1a   ami-1515f67c |
      egrep ^INSTANCE | cut -f2)
    echo "instanceid=$instanceid"
    # 64-bit
    instanceid=$(ec2-run-instances     --key YOURKEYPAIR                --availability-zone us-east-1a   --instance-type m1.large         ami-ab15f6c2 |
      egrep ^INSTANCE | cut -f2)
    echo "instanceid=$instanceid"

    Wait for the instance to move to the “running” state, then note the public hostname:

    while host=$(ec2-describe-instances "$instanceid" | 
      egrep ^INSTANCE | cut -f4) && test -z $host; do echo -n .; sleep 1; done
    echo host=$host

    Copy your X.509 certificate and private key to the instance. Use the correct locations for your credential files:

    rsync                              --rsh="ssh -i YOURKEYPAIR.pem"   --rsync-path="sudo rsync"        ~/.ec2/{cert,pk}-*.pem           ubuntu@$host:/mnt/

    Connect to the instance:

    ssh -i YOURKEYPAIR.pem ubuntu@$host
  2. Install EC2 API tools from the Ubuntu on EC2 ec2-tools PPA because they are more up to date than the ones in Karmic, letting us register EBS boot AMIs:

    export DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive
    echo "deb karmic main" |
      sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ubuntu-on-ec2-ec2-tools.list &&
    sudo apt-key adv --keyserver --recv-keys 9EE6D873 &&
    sudo apt-get update &&
    sudo -E apt-get dist-upgrade -y &&
    sudo -E apt-get install -y ec2-api-tools
  3. Set up some parameters:

    if [ $(uname -m) = 'x86_64' ]; then
      ebsopts="--kernel=aki-fd15f694 --ramdisk=ari-c515f6ac"
      ebsopts="$ebsopts --block-device-mapping /dev/sdb=ephemeral0"
      ebsopts="--kernel=aki-5f15f636 --ramdisk=ari-0915f660"
      ebsopts="$ebsopts --block-device-mapping /dev/sda2=ephemeral0"
  4. Download and unpack the latest released Ubuntu server image file. This contains the output of vmbuilder as run by Canonical.

    wget -O- $imagesource |
      sudo tar xzf - -C /mnt
    sudo mkdir -p $imagedir
    sudo mount -o loop $image $imagedir
  5. [OPTIONAL] At this point /mnt/$image contains a mounted filesystem with the complete Ubuntu image as released by Canonical. You can skip this step if you just want an EBS boot AMI which is an exact copy of the released S3 based Ubuntu AMI from Canonical, or you can make any updates, installations, and customizations you’d like to have in your resulting AMI.

    In this example, we’ll perform similar steps as the previous tutorial and update the software packages to the latest releases from Ubuntu. Remember that the released EC2 image could be months old.

    # Allow network access from chroot environment
    sudo cp /etc/resolv.conf $imagedir/etc/
    # Fix what I consider to be a bug in vmbuilder
    sudo rm -f $imagedir/etc/hostname
    # Add multiverse
    sudo perl -pi -e 's%(universe)$%$1 multiverse%'   $imagedir/etc/ec2-init/templates/sources.list.tmpl
    # Add Alestic PPA for runurl package (handy in user-data scripts)
    echo "deb karmic main" |
      sudo tee $imagedir/etc/apt/sources.list.d/alestic-ppa.list
    sudo chroot $imagedir   apt-key adv --keyserver --recv-keys BE09C571
    # Add ubuntu-on-ec2/ec2-tools PPA for updated ec2-ami-tools
    echo "deb karmic main" |
      sudo tee $imagedir/etc/apt/sources.list.d/ubuntu-on-ec2-ec2-tools.list
    sudo chroot $imagedir   apt-key adv --keyserver --recv-keys 9EE6D873
    # Upgrade the system and install packages
    sudo chroot $imagedir mount -t proc none /proc
    sudo chroot $imagedir mount -t devpts none /dev/pts
    cat <<EOF > $imagedir/usr/sbin/policy-rc.d
    exit 101
    chmod 755 $imagedir/usr/sbin/policy-rc.d
    sudo chroot $imagedir apt-get update &&
    sudo -E chroot $imagedir apt-get dist-upgrade -y &&
    sudo -E chroot $imagedir apt-get install -y runurl ec2-ami-tools
    sudo chroot $imagedir umount /proc
    sudo chroot $imagedir umount /dev/pts
    rm -f $imagedir/usr/sbin/policy-rc.d

    Again, the above step is completely optional and can be skipped to create the EBS boot AMI that Canonical would have published.

  6. Copy the image files to a new EBS volume, snapshot it, and register the snapshot as an EBS boot AMI. Make a note of the resulting AMI id:

    size=15 # root disk in GB
    now=$(date +%Y%m%d-%H%M)
    description="Ubuntu $release $codename $tag $arch $now"
    export EC2_CERT=$(echo /mnt/cert-*.pem)
    export EC2_PRIVATE_KEY=$(echo /mnt/pk-*.pem)
    volumeid=$(ec2-create-volume --size $size --availability-zone us-east-1a |
      cut -f2)
    instanceid=$(wget -qO- http://instance-data/latest/meta-data/instance-id)
    ec2-attach-volume --device /dev/sdi --instance "$instanceid" "$volumeid"
    while [ ! -e /dev/sdi ]; do echo -n .; sleep 1; done
    sudo mkfs.ext3 -F /dev/sdi
    sudo mkdir $ebsimage
    sudo mount /dev/sdi $ebsimage
    sudo tar -cSf - -C $imagedir . | sudo tar xvf - -C $ebsimage
    sudo umount $ebsimage
    ec2-detach-volume "$volumeid"
    snapshotid=$(ec2-create-snapshot "$volumeid" | cut -f2)
    ec2-delete-volume "$volumeid"
    while ec2-describe-snapshots "$snapshotid" | grep -q pending
      do echo -n .; sleep 1; done
    ec2-register                     --architecture $arch           --name "$prefix"               --description "$description"   $ebsopts                       --snapshot "$snapshotid"
  7. Depending on what you want to keep from the above process, there are various things that you might want to clean up.

    If you no longer want to use an EBS boot AMI:

    ec2-deregister $amiid
    ec2-delete-snapshot $snapshotid

    When you’re done with the original instance:

    ec2-terminate-instance $instanceid

In this example, I set /mnt to the first ephemeral store on the instance even on EBS boot AMIs. This more closely matches the default on the S3 based AMIs, but means that /mnt will not be persistent across a stop/start of an EBS boot instance. If Canonical starts publishing EBS boot AMIs, they may or may not choose to make the same choice.

Community feedback, bug reports, and enhancements for these instructions are welcomed.

[Update 2009-01-14: Wrapped upgrade/installs inside of /usr/sbin/policy-rc.d setting to avoid starting daemons in chroot environment.]

[Update 2010-01-22: New location for downloadable Ubuntu images.]

[Update 2010-03-26: Path tweak, thanks to paul.]


Cool. Thanks!

BTW, have you or anyone else had an issue with EBS images and user data? Specifically, booting an EBS image, stopping it, changing the user data attribute (i.e., ec2-modify-instance-attribute --user-data), and the new user data not showing up when you restart the instance (i.e., it still shows the old user data)? IOW:

ec2-run-instances ami-xxxx -d ABC123
ec2-stop-instances i-xxxx
ec2-modify-instance-attribute --user-data XYZ987 i-xxxx
ec2-describe-instance-attribute i-xxxx --user-data
(shows the NEW user data)
ec2-start-instances i-xxxx
ssh root@xxxxx
wget -qO-
(shows the OLD user data)

Thanks for the tutorial! It hardly took any time at all to go through!

Using the "ubuntu" user was new to me. I thought I had copied my PK and CERT to /mnt, but actually I didn't have permission to write there and it failed.

But I didn't see that and kept going with the tutorial - it fails at step 6 because it waits for a snapshot that will never happen :). Actually I think I had to change the permissions on the keys after copying then there as root so that they could be properly read from the ubuntu user.

n.sherlock: In the above example, the "sudo rsync" gives the ubuntu user permission to write to /mnt so it will not fail.
No permissions need to be changed either. These commands can be copied and pasted with only a few changes to indicate your credential files sources.

Steve: This user-data behavior was reported on the EC2 forum and AWS offered to investigate:

Whoops, you're quite right, Eric. I must have totally skipped over that section, since I "knew" how to copy a file in.. :).

I'm really loving my new Ubuntu EBS server. I have already shut it down several times. I love that I don't have to have a lengthy downtime just to take an image of it.

I'm also now switching to using the excellent ec2-consistent-snapshot for my database backups instead of mysqldump. mysqldump is too slow, it takes up to an hour to complete a backup on my server, making the site unavailable during that time by locking myisam tables. ec2-consistent-snapshot will be superb for backing up the database EBS RAID.

Eric: Thanks. That person (nomoneydown) is actually me. :) I sent Marc@AWS a PM per his request, but haven't gotten a response yet, so thought I'd ask around to see if anyone else is having the same problem (and it's not just something I'm doing/not doing). Also, sorry to "hijack" your thread about it, but didn't have a direct way of notifying you. :( But a sincere thanks to all your posts here as they are extremely helpful as are your AMI's, which I use routinely!

While making "apt-get dist-upgrade" in chroot, it ends with an error:

Setting up rsyslog (4.2.0-2ubuntu5.1) ...
start: Unable to connect to Upstart: Failed to connect to socket
/com/ubuntu/upstart: Connection refused
invoke-rc.d: initscript rsyslog, action "restart" failed.
dpkg: error processing rsyslog (--configure):
installed post-installation script returned error
exit status 1
Errors were encountered while processing:
Is it just me or does anyone else also get that error?

maanus: I just updated the commands above to wrap the upgrade/installs inside of /usr/sbin/policy-rc.d setting to prevent the attempted restart of daemons in the chroot environment. Can you test and see if this helps?

Thank you! Now it is working correctly.
Also I had to use

export DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive
otherwise the "noninteractive" seemed to have no effect in chroot enviroment.
Just a note to newbie hackers who want to run these commands one by one: && is only useful if you paste several commands into your shell.

When I follow the commands above, I get the following error in step 5 (installing ec2-ami-tools into the chroot):

$ sudo -E chroot $imagedir apt-get install -y ec2-ami-tools
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
Some packages could not be installed. This may mean that you have
requested an impossible situation or if you are using the unstable
distribution that some required packages have not yet been created
or been moved out of Incoming.
The following information may help to resolve the situation:

The following packages have unmet dependencies:
Depends: ruby but it is not installable
Depends: libopenssl-ruby but it is not installable

(What a nice name I have!)

If you're trying to use the EU region, you need to ensure you add

--region eu-west-1
to every ec2-something command.

When it gets to the last command, you have to use a kernel and ramdisk that are in your region. I used the IDs from my running instance* and it seems to have run OK.


* --kernel=aki-b02a01c4 --ramdisk=ari-39c2e94d

Just wanted to say thanks for such a great walkthrough! Just what I wanted, and I've learned a great deal along the way.


Eric, nice instructions. I learned a lot. I'm a novice with EC2 and linux and just getting into EBS bootable AMIs.

I did find one error. The image name has likely changed since the instructions were written.

In step 4, I needed to add '$tag' with the appropriate '-' to the image variable assignment, because the image download contains 'server' in the name string.

Otherwise the subsequent mount command gives a 'no such file or directory' error, or similar.

change this line


to this line



Thanks Paul, I've fixed the path.

Hi Eric, this tutorial is really great. Is there a similar one for Lucid that would have all the right Lucid AMI id's?

@neil i had the same problem as

The following packages have unmet dependencies:


Depends: ruby but it is not installable

Depends: libopenssl-ruby but it is not installable


deb lucid main restricted
deb-src lucid main restricted

to the end of /etc/apt/sources.list and execute

apt-get update && apt-get install -y ec2-ami-tools

First, thanks for all your interesting postings, but is there any change for current ubuntu releases? I don't find any more recent tutorial.

I'm currently failing to get this working for a oneiric host bundling a new instance also oneiric.

1. I had to download the ubuntu image from$codename/release/ubuntu-$release-$tag-cloud-img-$arch2.img.tar.gz rather than$codename/release/unpacked/ubuntu-$release-$tag-uec-$arch2.img.tar.gz
Don't know if it makes any difference
2. when I got my new EBS volume ready, at first I had to change grub/menu.lst because of the default volume name. And finally this again did not boot, because the console reports missing modules.

Could you please point me to the right direction?
I tried vmbuilder on oneiric and did also not succeed because of missing --ec2 option.
My last thought would be to use the official ubuntu AMI's snapsho id as base for a new EBS drive and modify that, but I realized the snapshots itself are not public.
I tried for last two weeks now, and I am not any further.


Here's an example of working code that builds an Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric EBS boot AMI using Canonical's downloadable image:

Leave a comment

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