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Install Tailscale with cloud-init

Cloud-init is a standard mechanism for initializing new server images, typically with a cloud provider. The project was started by Canonical, and is now supported by multiple operating systems and most major Linux distributions and is available on nearly all public cloud providers.

This document only touches on a subset of cloud-init’s capabilities. In particular, it provides a template to direct a new machine to automatically join a tailnet on first boot with a “cloud config” file. This kind of file is utilized in the user data portion of the cloud-init process. The specifics of how to provide this file vary between cloud providers; we’ve provided some links in the vendor-specific documentation section.

Because of cloud-init’s connection to providers of major cloud infrastructure, it’s typically associated with use cases involving the automated instantiation of many machines. Indeed, this document may be of assistance to users who are spinning up many nodes and want them each to join a tailnet without manual configuration.

This cloud-init configuration may also be helpful for users who are only creating a small number of nodes, and want to be able to interact with those machines over Tailscale as soon as they are available. For example, a user may be creating a machine on a public VPS to provide an exit node or a service available over the tailnet. Using cloud-init can make the machine accessible over Tailscale immediately, without having to first set up SSH and log in to do initial configuration.

We’ve developed a utility called Tailgraft to automate the use of cloud config files on Raspberry Pi machines. Read more in the blog post announcing the tool.

All of the Tailscale installation and configuration occurs in a block called runcmd that specifies commands to run towards the end of the first boot process. If you’ve already got a cloud config file, you can add this block to the end of it, or it can serve as the entire file.

As indicated in the template, this usage requires an auth key. You can generate an auth key from the Keys page of the admin console, or through an authenticated instance of the get-authkey utility.

Cloud config sample template

# The above header must generally appear on the first line of a cloud config
# file, but all other lines that begin with a # are optional comments.

  # One-command install, from
  - ['sh', '-c', 'curl -fsSL | sh']
  # Set sysctl settings for IP forwarding (useful when configuring an exit node)
  - ['sh', '-c', "echo 'net.ipv4.ip_forward = 1' | sudo tee -a /etc/sysctl.d/99-tailscale.conf && echo 'net.ipv6.conf.all.forwarding = 1' | sudo tee -a /etc/sysctl.d/99-tailscale.conf && sudo sysctl -p /etc/sysctl.d/99-tailscale.conf" ]
  # Generate an auth key from your Admin console
  # and replace the placeholder below
  - ['tailscale', 'up', '--authkey=tskey-abcdef1432341818']
  # Optional: Include this line to make this node available over Tailscale SSH
  - ['tailscale', 'set', '--ssh']
  # Optional: Include this line to configure this machine as an exit node
  - ['tailscale', 'set', '--advertise-exit-node']

Vendor-specific cloud-init documentation

This list of vendors is not exhaustive; if you don’t see your preferred cloud provider here, try searching its documentation for “cloud-init” to see how to enter your cloud config data. The summaries here are provided as a starting point, but more information is available at each of the links below.

  • Amazon EC2
    Add the cloud config info in the User data field under Advanced details when launching a new instance from the web dashboard, or provide a file path with the --user-data flag of the aws command line tool.
  • Google Cloud
    Specify a cloud config file path with the --metadata-from-file flag and the user-data field of the gcloud command line tool.
  • Microsoft Azure
    Specify a cloud config file path as a parameter to the --custom-data flag of the az command line tool.
  • Digital Ocean
    Open Advanced Options from the Droplet creation web dashboard and provide cloud config info after selecting Add Initialization scripts, or specify a path to the --user-data or --user-data-file flags of the doctl command line tool.
  • Vultr
    Add cloud config data by checking the Enable Cloud-Init User-Data box in the Additional Features section of the deployment page, or provide the data itself as an argument to the --userdata field of the vultr-cli command line tool.
  • Linode
    Provide cloud config data in the Add User Data section of the Create Linode tool, or provide the base64-encoded cloud config data as an argument to the --metdata.user_data flag of the linode-cli command line tool.
  • Oracle Cloud
    Provide cloud config data or a cloud config file from the web console by selecting Initialization Script in the Advanced Options section of the Custom Create workflow, or provide the base64-encoded cloud config data as a value with the user-data key to the --node-metadata flag of the oci command line tool.
  • Hetzner
    Provide cloud config data in the Cloud config text box in the Cloud Console creation flow.