I miss the time when I was still exploring a lot of things in the Linux world.

Nowadays, I’m mostly working with servers that are pre-provisioned and almost ready out of the box.

Those are nice conveniences for work. I decided though to go back and be like me again ten years ago.


  • Experiments with small dedicated server
  • It should be encrypted on disk.
  • Have fun while doing it.

Server Providers

I looked into two dedicated, Kimsufi and One Provider seems to fit my needs.

I benchmark CPU and Networking to see which one is better, and I’m pleased with One Provider more. Huge plus also on their dashboard. Their web interface is responsive, unlike Kimsufi.

Diving in

Frankly, I don’t know how to set up a server from scratch even though I’ve set up Arch and the likes many times. I just don’t do it enough to memorize it. So I searched the web and found this excellent article

So, for the most part, it’s a rewritten parts of that article updated using Ubuntu 20.04 and using OneProvider as a server provider.

I won’t go as detailed, though.

Boot into rescue mode

This one is interesting. It won’t let me boot into rescue mode first without installing something in their UI first. So I tried Arch, and as far as I can tell, it works.

But that’s not really what I want, so I went to Boot Mode, click the BOOT IN RESCUE MODE (PLEASE SELECT A RESCUE IMAGE), selected the Ubuntu-18.04_amd64 image and press Boot.

The server will automatically restart and the current page will give you the creds on how to connect and login in to the server.

Setting up the server

Once you’re connected, it’s time to setup the disk and installs Ubuntu on it.

# Turn off the swap, not sure why it's on in the first place
sudo swapoff -a
# Erase the entire
wipefs -a /dev/sda
# Create MBR layour
parted -a optimal /dev/sda mklabel msdos
# Create first 512MiB partition
parted /dev/sda -a optimal mkpart primary 0% 512MiB
# Create partition in remaining disk space
parted /dev/sda -a optimal mkpart primary 512MiB 100%
# Set first partition as bootable
parted /dev/sda set 1 boot on

Install and update packages.

apt update && apt install -y cryptsetup debootstrap

Format boot partition.

mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda1

Encrypt the disk with a strong passphrase.

cryptsetup -q -s 512 -c aes-xts-plain64 luksFormat /dev/sda2

Get the UUID of the second disk for fstab later.

cryptsetup luksDump /dev/sda2 | grep UUID | awk '{print $2}'

Open the encrypted partition.

cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sda2 root
# this will be opened in /dev/mapper/root

Format it

mkfs.ext4 /dev/mapper/root

Now we are ready to install Ubuntu 20.04.

# mount the encrypted partition
mount /dev/mapper/root /mnt
# mount the boot partition
mkdir /mnt/boot && mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/boot
# minimal installation
debootstrap --arch amd64 focal /mnt http://mirrors.online.net/ubuntu

Let’s get some coffee and relax for now.

After that, let’s get inside the newly installed system.

mount -o bind /dev /mnt/dev
mount -t proc proc /mnt/proc
mount -t sysfs sys /mnt/sys
chroot /mnt /bin/bash

I’m greeted by this:

bash: warning: setlocale: LC_ALL: cannot change locale (en_US.UTF-8)
# quick fix
locale-gen en_US.UTF-8

Put the saved UUID previously into crypttab.

echo "root UUID=<SAVED_UUID> none luks" > /etc/crypttab

Create fstab file.

cat << EOF > /etc/fstab
/dev/mapper/root / ext4 defaults,relatime 0 1
/dev/sda1 /boot ext4 defaults,relatime 0 2

Not sure what this does.

ln -sf /proc/mounts /etc/mtab

Configure network. I will be using the new default netplan.

cat << EOF >> /etc/netplan/01-netcfg.yaml
      dhcp4: true
          - ""
          - ""
  renderer: networkd
  version: 2


echo "<hostname>" > /etc/hostname
echo " <hostname>.<domain> <hostname>" >> /etc/hosts


echo "UTC" > /etc/timezone
dpkg-reconfigure -f noninteractive tzdata

Update apt sources.

cat << EOF > /etc/apt/sources.list
deb http://mirrors.online.net/ubuntu focal main restricted universe multiverse
deb http://mirrors.online.net/ubuntu focal-updates main restricted universe multiverse
deb http://mirrors.online.net/ubuntu focal-security main restricted universe multiverse
deb http://mirrors.online.net/ubuntu focal-backports main multiverse restricted universe

Install packages

When a prompt ask where to install bootloader, select the first option.

apt update && apt install -y \
    busybox console-setup \
    cryptsetup cryptsetup-initramfs \
    dropbear dropbear-initramfs \
    grub-pc initramfs-tools kbd \
    linux-tools-generic-hwe-20.04 \
    locales ssh

SSH Keys

mkdir /root/.ssh && chmod 600 /root/.ssh
echo "<PUBLIC_SSH_KEY>" > /root/.ssh/authorized_keys
echo "<PUBLIC_SSH_KEY>" > /etc/dropbear-initramfs/authorized_keys

Configuring dropbear.

sed -i 's/local flags=\"Fs\"/local flags=\"F\"/' /usr/share/initramfs-tools/scripts/init-premount/dropbear

cat << EOF > /etc/initramfs-tools/hooks/passwd_hook.sh

echo "\$PREREQ"
case \$1 in
        exit 0

grep -e root /etc/shadow > \${DESTDIR}/etc/shadow

chmod +x /etc/initramfs-tools/hooks/passwd_hook.sh

Bootloader and network interface.

sed -i s/GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX=\"\"/GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX=\"net.ifnames=0\ biosdevname=0\ ip=:::::eth0:dhcp\"/g /etc/default/grub

Update grub and initramfs

update-grub && update-initramfs -u

Exit chroot and unmount disk.

umount /mnt/{boot,dev,proc,sys}
umount /mnt
cryptsetup luksClose root

Whew, that was a lot of copy paste…

The moment of truth.

Go back to OneProvider dashboard, go into boot mode again, select BOOT IN NORMAL MODE and click Boot.

It should automatically restart the machine and boot in normal disk.

Before we can use the server, we have to connect to the server first and unlock the disk.

ssh root@IP

Enter your password when prompted. If it’s a success, it will disconnect you from the server. Connect again like any standard server.

Alright, take another sip of that coffee. :)

So what now?

This is already a second server that I did and the article is base on that experience. The first one is in Kimsufi and apart from booting the rescue mode. There’s almost no difference between the two.

I had a lot of fun setting this up, and I’m already using the previous server to host lounge a self hosted IRC client and I’ve been pleased with it so far.

My hope for this article is to show you dear reader that its not that complicated to have a relatively secure system that you control and have fun while doing it.

Maintaining and monitoring a server though is another thing, and I might write more articles about it once I could try the tools that I’m planning to use.