Kickstart Templating

Kickstarts automate Red Hat and Fedora based Linux installations. This document also pertains to templating as it relates to other distributions, which also have similar answer files.

With any distribution if you are repeatedly installing a lot of different configurations, you can get into a scenario where you have too many different answer files to maintain or the answer files get to be rather complex and unruly. A kickstart templating system, such as Cobbler's, can help you keep these under control.

When cobbler profiles (created with "cobbler profile add") are created with the parameter --kickstart and the kickstart lives on the filesystem, the file is treated as a kickstart template, not a raw kickstart. This means they contain information about how to build a kickstart, but a given template might be modified by various variables on a per profile or per system basis. This allows you to use the same source information (and maintain that), but have it work in different ways for different profiles and different systems.

It also means that Cobbler, when you use "cobbler import" can assign kickstarts that work for fully automated installs out of the box, but they are also easy to customize and change by manipulating settings on cobbler objects or editing the global cobbler settings file.

The main feature in cobbler kickstart templating is the ability to declare variables on cobbler objects like distributions, profiles, and systems. On the command line, this is the --ksmeta parameter. The same source templates can result in different output based on different variables set in cobbler with --ksmeta, which this document will explain.

Down The Rabbit Hole

Templating is very powerful, especially if you have a very large amount of profiles and/or systems to maintain.

Users can just treat templates like kickstarts, not explore this feature fully, or pretend this feature doesn't exist, but if more customization is needed, the support is there.

This article will get into a lot of complicated (and optional) topics, so just take from it what you need. If this sounds too complicated, it's not required that you understand all of it.

First off

Cobbler uses Cheetah for its kickstart templating engine. Read more at the Cheetah page and you will learn a lot of advanced features you can employ in your kickstart templates. However, knowledge of all parts of Cheetah are not required. Basic variable solution is automagic and doesn't require any advanced knowledge of how the templating works.

Cheetah is nice in that most of the things you can do in the powerful Python programming language you can do in your Cheetah templates, so it is very flexible. However some things do not look quite like Python, so you have to pay a little attention to the syntax.


As with all things in cobbler, kickstart template variables (--ksmeta) take the following precendence:

  • Distro parameters come first
  • Profile parameters override Distro Parameters
  • System parameters override Profile Parameters

If a distro has an attribute "bar" and the profile that is the child of the distro does not, the profile will still have the value of "bar" accessible in the kickstart template. However, if the system then supplies it's own value for "bar", the system value, not the distro value, will be used in rendering the kickstart for the system. This is what we mean by "inheritance". It is a simple system of overriding things from the most specific (systems) to the least specific (profiles, then distros) to allow for customizations.

Basic Variable substitution

Given the following commands

cobbler profile add --name=foo --distro=RHEL-6-x86_64 --kickstart=/var/lib/cobbler/kickstarts/sample.ks
cobbler profile edit --name=foo --ksmeta="noun=spot verb=run"
cobbler system add --name=bar --profile=foo --ksmeta="verb=jump"

And the kickstart template /var/lib/cobbler/kickstarts/sample.ks:

See $noun $verb

The following file would be generated for profile foo:

See spot run

And for the system, bar:

See spot jump

This is of course very contrived, though you can imagine substituting in things like server locations, configuration file settings, timezones, etc.


If you find yourself reusing a lot of pieces of code between several different kickstart templates, cobbler snippets are for you.

Read more at Kickstart Snippets

That page also includes some user contributed snippet examples -- some of which make some heavy use of the Cheetah template engine. Snippets don't have to be complex, but you may find those examples educational.


If your kickstart file contains any shell macros like $(list-harddrives) they should be escaped like this:


This prevents Cheetah from trying to substitute something for $(list-harddrives), or worse, getting confused and erroring out.

In general, escaping things doesn't hurt, even though in all cases, things don't have to be escaped.


This is an $elephant

If there was no kickstart variable for "elephant", the kickstart templating engine would leave the string as is ... $elephant

You should also be careful of the following stanza:

#start some section (this is a comment)
echo "doing stuff"
#end some section (this is a comment)

if you want a comment to start with the word "end" place a space after the "#" like this:

# start some section (this is a comment)
echo "doing stuff"
# end some section (this is a comment)

Built In Variables

Cobbler includes a lot of built in kickstart variables.

What variables can I use?

Run this command to see all the templating variables at your disposal.

cobbler system dumpvars --name=system

Some of the built in variables that can be useful include $mac_address, $ip_address, $distro, $profile, $hostname, and so forth. You will recognize these as being commands that you would see in cobbler command line options.

To make this a bit more clear, look at the following system add command:

cobbler system add --name=spartacus --profile=f10webserver-i386 --ip-address= --mac=AA:BB:CC:DD:EE:FF

For the above command, assuming the kickstart template for fc6webserver contained the following line:

echo "I was installed from Cobbler server $server and my system name is $system_name" > /etc/motd

The above line would be rendered as:

"I was installed from Cobbler server and my system name is spartacus"

Again, the examples above are a bit contrived, but you can see how every variable given to the command line is accessible within templating. This is a rather useful feature and prevents having to specify a lot of additional templating variables with --ksmeta.

Checking For Variables That Might Not Exist

Suppose you have some system objects that define a value for "foo", but sometimes they don't.

The following Cheetah templating trick can be used to access a variable if it exists, and assign a default value if it doesn't exist.

#set $selinux_mode = $getVar('selinux', 'enforcing')

or just

$getVar('selinux', 'enforcing')

As a corollary, if you need to include a specific line in a kickstart file only if a variable is defined, that is also doable.

#if $foo
  this line will show $foo but only if it is defined, else there will be nothing here
#end if


Cobbler actually handles templating around network setup for you, via some rather clever snippets used in files such as /var/lib/cobbler/kickstarts/sample.ks

However, if you need to access networking information from systems in Cobbler templating, you do it as follows:


This should also be apparent in the output from "cobbler system dumpvars --name=foo"

Again, usually you should not have to access these directly, see Advanced Networking for details about Cobbler templates all the network info out for you.

Built-in functions and extensibility

You can optionally expose custom-written functions to all Cheetah templates. To see a list of these functions you have configured for your site (Cobbler doesn't currently ship with any) and/or add new functions, see Extending Cheetah.

Raw Escaping

Cobbler uses Cheetah for kickstart templating. Since Cheetah sees "$" as "include this variable", it is usually a good idea to escape dollar signs in kickstart templates with \$. However, this gets to be hard to read over time. It is easier to declare a block "raw", which means it will not be evaluated by Cheetah.

This $dollar sign will stay in the output regardless of what the --ksmeta metadata variables are
#end raw

It is possible to cheat by assigning bash variables from the values of Cheetah variables, and use them inside raw blocks. This is useful if you want your shell scripts to be able to access templating variables but don't really want to make sure escaping is all super-correct.

foo = $foo
This $foo will be evaluated and will not appear with a dollar sign
and if you included funky shell scripts here you wouldn't have to worry
about escaping anything.  The $foo comes from bash and not Cheetah
#end raw

Raw escaping and Snippets

Be aware: raw escaping also applies to SNIPPET directives. For example:

#end raw

Will not work as expected. The result will be:


Because $SNIPPET is inside #raw #end raw, Cheetah ignores it, and the snippet is not included. Note this also applies to the legacy SNIPPET:: syntax.

The #raw #end raw directives should instead be placed inside of my_snippet.


Cheetah supports looping and if statements. For more of this, see the Cheetah web page.

(This section needs to be expanded)

"Stanza" Support

Stanzas are the precursor to Cobbler snippets. Certain built-in complex pieces of code are auto-generated by Cobbler, from within the Cobbler source code, that vary based upon the configuration of the cobbler object being rendered. These sections are not user extensible, unlike the newer snippet support. These are being explained here to give folks an idea of why they should leave these weird dollar sign variables in their kickstarts, but in general, more cobbler stanzas will not be added. The new snippets are the user-extensible way to go.

Certain blocks of kickstart code are substituted for the following variables:

  • $yum_repo_stanza -- this is replaced with the code neccessary to set up any repos that are associated with the given cobbler profile, for use during install time. This should be present towards the top of a kickstart, but only for kickstarts that are RHEL5 and later or FC6 and later. Before those versions, kickstart/Anaconda did not support the "repo" directive.
  • $yum_config_stanza -- this is replaced with the code neccessary to configure the installed system to use the yum repos set up during install time for regular operation. In other words, it sets up /etc/yum.repos.d on the provisioned system. This works for all machines that can have yum installed. If the value in /var/lib/cobbler/settings for "yum_post_install_mirror" is set, in addition, the provisioned system will be pointed to the boot server as an install source for "core" packages as well as any additional repos.
  • $kickstart_done -- this is replaced with a specially formatted wget, that places an entry in the cobbler and/or Apache (depending on how implemented at the time) log file, allowing "cobbler status" to better tell when kickstarts are fully complete. The implementation of what "kickstart_done" means may vary depending on the cobbler version, but it should always be placed in a kickstart template as the last line in %post. Beware in version 2.2.0, $kickstart_done does not exist anymore. Use $SNIPPLET('kickstart_done') instead between a cheetah stanza.
  • (there may be other Kickstart Snippets and macros used not listed above)

Over time these will become first class Cobbler snippets.


Cobbler contains a command "cobbler validateks" that will run ksvalidator (part of the pykickstart package) against all rendered kickstarts to see if Anaconda will likely like them. It should be noted that ksvalidator is not perfect, and in some cases, it will report false positives and/or negatives. However, it is still useful to make sure that your rendered output from the kickstart templates is still good.

Testing an install in a VM is often a better idea.

Looking at results

As was said earlier, what is provided for --kickstart is a template, not a kickstart. Templates are used to generate kickstarts. The actual contents of the files are served up dynamically from Python and Apache. If you would like to see the output of cobbler first hand (for your own review), you can run the following commands:

For profiles:

cobbler profile getks --name=profile-name

For systems:

cobbler system getks --name=system-name

(see ModPythonDetails for the URLs the installer actually uses to get to this content)

Calling Python Code

Cheetah lets you use python modules from inside the templates.


#import time

However what modules you can import are very limited for security reasons. If you see a module cobbler won't let you import, add it to the whitelist in /etc/cobbler/settings.


Cheetah makes comments with double hash marks "##". Any line starting with "##" will not show up in the rendered kickstart file at all.

Kickstart comments "#" will show up in the rendered output.

Both styles of comments may be mixed. You can use "##" to describe what you are doing in your templates, and those "##" comments won't show up when someone looks at the rendered kickstart file in /var/www/cobbler.

If this sounds complicated, it is. It's even more complicated in that Cheetah has special meanings for some things starting with "#" like "#if" or "#include". It's pretty much safe to just use the single "#" comment form everywhere though.

Further info

This was originally a separate section in "Advanced topics" (itself originally part of the original, oversized man page. It has been moved here, but needs to be merged properly with the text above.

If and only if --kickstart options reference filesystem URLs, --ksmeta allows for templating of the kickstart files to achieve advanced functions. If the --ksmeta option for a profile read --ksmeta="foo=7 bar=llama", anywhere in the kickstart file where the string "$bar" appeared would be replaced with the string "llama".

To apply these changes, "cobbler sync" must be run to generate custom kickstarts for each profile/system.

For NFS and HTTP kickstart URLs, the "--ksmeta" options will have no effect. This is a good reason to let cobbler manage your kickstart files, though the URL functionality is provided for integration with legacy infrastructure, possibly including web apps that already generate kickstarts.

Other Resources

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