Creating a CentOS Startup Screen

When distributing bundled software, you have multiple options, but if we exclude fancy newcomers like Docker and Kubernetes, you’re left with the following options: an installer (for Windows), a package (rpm or deb) for the corresponding distro, tarball with a setup shell script that creates the necessary configurations, and a virtual machine (or virtual appliance).

All of these options are applicable in different scenarios, but distributing a ready-to-deploy virtual machine image is considered standard for enterprise software. Your machine has all the dependencies it needs (because it might not be permitted to connect to the interenet), and it just has to be fired up.

But typically you’d want some initial configuration or at least have the ability to show the users how to connect to your (typically web-based) application. And so creating a startup screen is what many companies choose to do. Below is a simple way to do that on CentOS, which is my distro of preference. (There are other resources on the topic, e.g. this one, but it relies on /etc/inittab which is deprecated in CentOS 8).

useradd startup -m
yum -y install dialog

sed -i -- "s/-o '-p -- \\u' --noclear/--autologin startup --noclear/g" /usr/lib/systemd/system/getty@.service

chmod +x /install/
echo "exec /install/" >> /home/startup/.bashrc

systemctl daemon-reload

With the code above you are creating a startup user and auto-logging that user in before the regular login prompt. Replacing the Exec like in the getty@.service is doing exactly that.

Then the script adds the invocation of a startup bash script to the .bashrc which gets run when the user is logged in. What this script does is entirely up to you, below is a simple demo using the dialog command (that we just installed above):

# Based on

BACKTITLE="Your Company"
TITLE="Your Product setp"
BIND_IP=`ifconfig | sed -En 's/;s/.*inet (addr:)?(([0-9]*\.){3}[0-9]*).*/\2/p'`
INFO="Welcome to MyProduct.\n\n\nWeb access URL: https://$BIND_IP\n\n\n\nFor more information visit"

CHOICE=$(dialog --clear \
                --backtitle "$BACKTITLE" \
                --title "$TITLE" \
                --msgbox "$INFO" \
                $HEIGHT $WIDTH \
                2>&1 >/dev/tty)

echo 'Enter password for user "root":'
su root

This dialog shows just some basic information, but you can extend it to allow users making choices and input some parameters. More importantly, it gets the current IP address and shows it to the user. That’s not something they can’t do themselves in other ways, but it’s friendlier to show it like that. And you can’t hard-code that, because in each installation it will have a different IP (even if not using DHCP, you should let the user set the static IP that they’ve assigned rather than forcing one on them). At the end of the script it switches to the root user.

Security has to be considered here – your startup user should not be allowed to do anything meaningful in the system, because it is automatically logged in without password. According to this answer exec sort-of solves that problem (e.g. when you mistype the root password, you are back to the script rather than to the console).

I agree that’s a rare use-case but I thought I’d share this “arcane” knowledge.

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