Install Rancher Server on RancherOS

Updated on September 16, 2020
Install Rancher Server on RancherOS header image


RancherOS is an incredibly lightweight operating system (only about 60 MB) that runs a "system" Docker daemon as PID 0 for running system services, (networking, console access and so on), as well as a "user" Docker daemon for running non-system containers, (MySQL, Rancher and more).

Rancher is a container-run orchestration platform for managing containers, as well as broader aspects of infrastructure such as hosts, environments and more. A Rancher server controls the orchestration, and a Rancher agent is deployed to each host that is managed by Rancher.

In this article, we'll go through the following steps to deploy a Rancher server:

  • Cloud-init script - Publish a cloud-init file to install and run the Rancher server.
  • PXE script - Write a PXE script to retrieve the cloud-init file and boot up the host for the first time.
  • Firewall - Create a firewall group, because security is paramount.
  • Start it up - Provision the host and install Rancher.


  • VPS with a minimum of 1 GB RAM - We'll install Rancher server on this host.
  • Block storage - To persistently store Rancher server's data, configurations, users and more.
  • 1 Reserved IP address - To give Rancher agents a consistent IP to use to join the Rancher environment.

Cloud-init script

Save the following script to a location reachable by your host via HTTP/HTTPS so it can reference it from its PXE script.

Replace the ssh-... parts with your SSH public key so you can SSH into the host.

  - ssh-...

  - path: /cloud-config.yml
    permissions: "0700"
    owner: root
    content: |
        - ssh-...

       - ["/dev/vdb1", "/mnt", "ext4", ""] 

            image: rancher/server:stable
              - 8080:8080
            restart: always
              - /mnt/rancher-server-mysql:/var/lib/mysql
  - path: /opt/rancher/bin/
    permissions: "0700"
    owner: root
    content: |
      echo y | ros install -f -c /cloud-config.yml -d /dev/vda

Note that this is actually planting a cloud-config.yml inside another cloud-config.yml. The outer one is loaded when iPXE boots the host for the first time, and it installs Rancher to the host's drive /dev/vda. The inner config is for subsequent boots and will actually start the Rancher server.

The MySQL data is stored on the block storage /dev/vdb, so the critical Rancher server data and configurations can survive replacement of the VPS host.

You can upload the script to any number of free locations that are reachable as a URL publicly, or you can host it on a different VPS so it's only accessible by your hosts via a private network.

PXE script

Copy the following as a PXE startup script called "Rancher Server" while replacing CLOUD_CONFIG_URL with the URL of your cloud-config.yml file (something like


# Location of Kernel/Initrd images
set base-url

kernel ${base-url}/vmlinuz -- rancher.cloud_init.datasources=[url:CLOUD_CONFIG_URL]

initrd ${base-url}/initrd


This will pull the latest RancherOS ISO and boot it to memory using your cloud-init script. Your cloud-init script will then proceed to install RancherOS to disk, and the second boot will run the Rancher server container.


When Rancher first becomes available, anyone who hits the endpoint will immediately have admin privileges.

To prevent outsiders from hijacking your Rancher server, create a firewall called "Rancher Server" with the following rules:

  • TCP 22 on your IP, so you can SSH into the host.
  • TCP 8080 on your IP, so you can load the Rancher server webpage.
  • TCP 8080 for any Rancher agent hosts, so they can register with the Rancher server.

Start it up

Provision your 1+ GB host in the same region as your block storage, and set its Server Type to the "Rancher Server" iPXE custom startup script.

Once it's booted, be sure to convert its IP to a reserved IP so your Rancher agents have an endpoint they can register with consistently.

It will take ~4 minutes for iPXE to pull the RancherOS ISO, the first boot to install RancherOS to /dev/vda, and for the second boot to pull the rancher/server:stable Docker image and start up its containers.

Once it's up, you will be able to reach it at http://YOUR\_RESERVED\_IP:8080.

Congratulations, you've just set up Rancher server on RancherOS.

You can restart your instance or even destroy / re-install it, and the block storage will preserve your data and configurations while your reserved IP will allow new Rancher agents to know where to find your server.

A few next steps:

  • Set up access control - at the very least, create a local admin user with a secure password.
  • Add hosts - in the Add Hosts -> Custom section, copy the URL that contains a long token specific to your Rancher server. You'll need this to register Rancher agents with your server.
  • Explore the latest Rancher server documentation.