Is there an idiomatic way in Ubuntu to run a script only the first time a machine is booted? (EC2).


No. But you might want to place your script in /etc/init.d/script, and self-delete it:


echo "Bump! I'm your first-boot script."

# Delete me
rm $0
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  • 1
    Please note, $0 is bash-specific (version >= 3). For compatibility purpose you can provide script file name instead, making this less generic: rm /etc/init.d/script – Andrejs Cainikovs Jun 27 '12 at 16:07
  • 4
    $0 is NOT bash specific and it has been supported for far longer than bash 3.x has been around (and it's supported in Bourne, Korn, zsh and others). The sticking point is whether $0 contains a full or relative path specification. Here's a link to a reliable way of getting the full path if you need it: stackoverflow.com/questions/4774054/… – Jim Dennis Feb 24 '15 at 19:50

Create a tracking file when the script runs. If the file already exists, exit the script.

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  • 6
    While it might not seem so at first glance, this may be a better solution than deleting the script as it retains the possibility to trigger it again, should you ever want to. – msanford May 8 '14 at 14:43

Combining the first two answers Assuming you name your script /usr/local/bin/firstboot.sh put it at the end of /etc/rc.local (this scripts runs on every boot) the scripts goes like this


if [ ! -f $FLAG ]; then
   #Put here your initialization sentences
   echo "This is the first boot"

   #the next line creates an empty file so it won't run the next boot
   touch $FLAG
   echo "Do nothing"
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  • This is not necessarily working with sysmtemd. I need to add a sleep 20 to make sure it is the last script run. – mrossi Dec 2 '16 at 19:34
  • If you name it /etc/rc.local/99-firstboot.sh it should run last. – JohnDavid Nov 30 '18 at 19:54

I'm surprised at the results I'm seeing for searching for a well-defined and supported Ubuntu "first boot" hook. Seems like the Red Hat / Fedora / CentOS crowd has had this nailed for over a decade. The closest Ubuntu equivalent seems to be oem-config-firstboot.

The idea of simply performing an rm $0 will work. But, technically there are some interesting semantics involved. Unlike most other script interpreters under Unix a shell script is read and processed one line/statement at a time. If you unlink (rm) the file out from under it then that the instance of the shell that's processing that script is now working with an anonymous file (any file that's open but unlinked).

Consider a file like this:

rm $0
echo "I've removed myself: $0"
ls -l $0
   This is a test.
   I'm still here, because the "here" doc is being fed to 'cat'
   via the anonymous file through the open file descriptor.
   But I cannot be re-exec'd
exec $0

If you save that to something like rmself.sh and (hard) link that to something like tst then running ./tst should show something like this as output:

$ ./tst 
I've removed myself: ./tst
ls: ./tst: No such file or directory
   This is a test.
   I'm still here, because the "here" doc is being fed to 'cat'
   via the anonymous file through the open file descriptor.
   But I cannot be re-exec'd
./tst: line 11: /home/jimd/bin/tst: No such file or directory
./tst: line 11: exec: /home/jimd/bin/tst: cannot execute: No such file or directory

Now there are some odd possible corner cases with regards to symlinks and cases where the script was invoked as a bare name (forcing the shell to search the $PATH for the script.

But it seems that bash (at least in version 3.2) prepends $0 with the path if it searched the path and otherwise leaves $0 set to whatever relative or absolute path was used to invoke the script. It doesn't seem to do any normalization or resolution relative paths nor symlinks.

Probably the cleanest "firstboot" for Ubuntu would be to create a small package (.deb) containing a script to be placed in /etc/init.d/firstboot and a post-install script that uses update-rc.d to link that into runlevel 1 (/etc/rc1.d) (using a command like: update-rc.d firstboot defaults) ... and then have the last line perform a deactivation or delete using something like: update-rc.d firstboot disable

Here's a link to the Debian update-rc.d HOWTO

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You can backup current rc.local to rc.local.bak

Then you can have the stuff you want to do in rc.local and at the end just mv /etc/rc.loca.bak /etc/rc.local.

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The question was about running a script at first boot of EC2. You can use cloud-init for this purpose.

When launching a new EC2 instance you have an option to define User data under Advanced datails. If you place cloud-init script there, it will be executed at first boot only.

For example you can place the following in User data:


  - /usr/bin/command1.sh
  - /usr/bin/command2.sh

The output will be written to /var/log/cloud-init-output.log

Cloud-init can do much more than this. It is designed especially to perform early initialization of cloud instances. See the docs here: http://cloudinit.readthedocs.io/en/latest/index.html

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