First boot installer and configuration tool

CoreOS startup process

The CoreOS startup process is built on the standard Linux startup process. Since this process is already well documented and generally well understood, this document will focus on aspects specific to booting CoreOS.


GRUB is the first program executed when a CoreOS system boots.

The CoreOS GRUB config has several roles. First, the GRUB config specifies which usr partition to use from the two usr partitions CoreOS uses to provide atomic upgrades and rollbacks.

Additionally, GRUB determines if this is the first time a machine has booted. This is accomplished by searching for the initial disk GUID (00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001). CoreOS is built with this well-known disk GUID in order to detect the first boot. This GUID is randomized later in the boot process so that individual disks may be uniquely identified. If GRUB detects that this is in fact a first boot, it sets two Linux kernel command line parameters: coreos.randomize_guid=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001 and coreos.first_boot=1. These parameters are used by various programs in later stages of the boot process.

Early user space

The next major milestone in the CoreOS startup process is the jump into the initial RAM file system. In addition to its standard responsibility of mounting the root filesystem, the initramfs is also where the disk GUID is randomized and where Ignition runs.

If the coreos.randomize_guid kernel parameter is provided, the disk with the specified GUID is given a new, random GUID.

If the coreos.first_boot kernel parameter is provided, Ignition and networkd are started. networkd will use DHCP to set up temporary IP addresses and routes so that Ignition can potentially fetch its configuration from the network.


When Ignition runs on CoreOS, it reads the Linux command line, looking for coreos.oem.id. Ignition uses this identifier to determine where to read the user-provided configuration and which provider-specific configuration to be combined with the user's. This provider-specific configuration performs basic machine setup, potentially including enabling coreos-metadata-sshkeys@.service (this service will be covered in more detail below).

User space

After all of the tasks in the initramfs complete, the machine pivots into user space. It is at this point that systemd begins starting units, including, if it was enabled, coreos-metadata-sshkeys@core.service.

SSH keys

coreos-metadata-sshkeys@core.service is responsible for fetching SSH keys from the machine's environment. The keys are written to ~core/.ssh/authorized_keys.d/coreos-metadata and update-ssh-keys is run to update ~core/.ssh/authorized_keys. On cloud platforms, the keys are read from the provider's metadata service. This service is not supported on all platforms and is only enabled by Ignition on those which are supported.