Skip to content
Switch branches/tags


Failed to load latest commit information.
Latest commit message
Commit time

Shoelaces: lightweight and painless server bootstrapping

Shoelaces serves iPXE boot scripts, cloud-init configuration, and any other configuration files over HTTP to hardware or virtual machines booting over iPXE. It also does a few other things to make it easier to manage your server deployments:

  • Has a simple but nice UI to show the current configuration, and history of servers that booted.
  • Uses simple Go based template language to handle more complex configurations.
  • Allows specifying the boot entry point for a given server based on its IP address or DNS PTR record.
  • Supports the notion of environments for Development and Production environment configurations, while trying to minimize template duplication.
  • Puts unknown servers into iPXE script boot retry loop, while at the same time showing them in the UI allowing the user to select a specific boot configuration.

How it works

As soon as Shoelaces starts, the service will be patiently waiting for servers to boot. If no servers are detected, you'll simply see a spinner in the web UI, as can be seen in the screenshot.

Shoelaces frontend - Waiting for hosts

The URL localhost:8081 will actually point to wherever you are running your Shoelaces instance. It must be reachable by the booting hosts.

The following picture shows a high level overview of how a server notifies Shoelaces that it's ready for booting.

Shoelaces overview

In this graph we can see that as soon as the server boots using network boot, we instruct the machine to switch to an iPXE ROM. We do this because we need to be able to make HTTP requests to Shoelaces, and regular PXE does not support that protocol.

So, when a server boots, the DHCP server will instruct it to retrieve an iPXE ROM from a TFTP server. When the host receives the iPXE ROM, it will chainload into it and trigger a new DHCP request. Finally, the server will detect that the request comes from an iPXE ROM, allowing it to respond with an HTTP URL. This URL, as you may have guessed, will be pointing to Shoelaces.

If there was no automated installation configured for the booting server, you'll be able to select an option to bootstrap it in the Shoelaces UI.

Shoelaces frontend - Host detected

A couple of things can be said about this screenshot:

  • When you select a task, a bunch of input boxes for filling with parameters will appear (in the picture, they are release and hostname). The parameters to complete will be dynamically loaded from the chosen task template.

  • Hosts send their MAC address when they contact Shoelaces. From the HTTP request Shoelaces will extract the source IP and perform a reverse DNS lookup. If the DNS query is successful, the resolved hostname will be shown in the web UI. If no hostname was resolved, Shoelaces will show just the MAC and the IP.

Setting up

Building Shoelaces

At the moment a binary package is not provided. The only way of running Shoelaces is to compile it from source. Refer to the Go Programming Language Getting Started guide to learn how to compile Shoelaces.

Once that you have configured your Go, you can get and compile Shoelaces by running:

$ go get
$ cd $GOPATH/src/
$ go build

Running Shoelaces

You can quickly try Shoelaces after compiling it by using the example configuration file:

./shoelaces -config configs/shoelaces.conf

Head to localhost:8081 to checkout Shoelaces' frontend.

Shoelaces configuration file

Shoelaces accepts several parameters:

  • config: the path to a configuration file.
  • data-dir: the path to the root directory with the templates. It's advised to manage the templates in a VCS, such as a git repository. Refer to the example data directory for more information.
  • debug: enable debug messages.
  • domain: the domain Shoelaces is going to be listening on.
  • mappings-file: the path to the YAML mappings file, relative to the data-dir parameter.
  • port: the port Shoelaces will listen on.
  • template-extension: the filename extension for the templates. The default is .slc, so you can just stick with that.

The parameters can be specified in a configuration file, as environment variables or, of course, as parameters when running the Shoelaces binary.

Refer to the example config file for more information.

Extra requirements

Along with your Shoelaces installation, you will need a LAN segment with working TFTP and DHCP servers. Any TFTP server should work. The DHCP server will need to be able to match the user-class of the boot client. In our example the configuration is for the widely used ISC DHCP Server. Shoelaces will happily coexist with the TFTP and DHCP servers on the same host. The server you are going to bootstrap needs to be capable of booting over the network using PXE.


The TFTP server is only used to chainload the iPXE boot loader, so setting it up in read-only mode is sufficient. The loader we use (undionly.kpxe) can be downloaded from the website.

It is also possible to compile your own iPXE ROM in order to customize the booting of your servers. For example, it's useful to add your own SSL certificates in case you want to boot using HTTPS.


Drop this config in your ISC DHCP server, replacing the relevant sections with your TFTP and Shoelaces server addresses.

# dhcp.conf
next-server <your-tftp-server>;
if exists user-class and option user-class = "iPXE" {
  filename "http://<shoelaces-server>/poll/1/${netX/mac:hexhyp}";
} else {
  filename "undionly.kpxe";

For dnsmasq (v2.53 or above) you can add this to its existing config, e.g. by putting it in dnsmasq.d/ipxe.conf:

dhcp-match=set:ipxe,175 # iPXE sends a 175 option.

The ${netX/mac:hexhyp} strings represents the MAC address of the booting host. iPXE will be in charge of replacing that string for the actual value.

Note: In case you are using a DHCP server that does not have this level of flexibility for configuring it, you can always re-compile the iPXE ROM for breaking the loop.

Script discoverability

The purpose of Shoelaces is automation. The less input it receives from the user, the better. When a server boots, Shoelaces needs the user to select the booting script to use, but there are certain cases where we can automate even that.

  • You can preload Shoelaces with mappings from IPs to boot scripts.
  • You can preload Shoelaces with mappings from hostnames to boot scripts. When a server boots, Shoelaces will make a reverse DNS query to get the hostname for the IP that made the request, and will match the result to a series of regular expressions.

Shoelaces will read these mappings from a YAML file that can be passed as a program parameter. Refer to the example mappings file for more information.


Shoelaces supports the notion of environments a.k.a. env overrides. Consider the following data-dir directory structure:

├── cloud-config
│   └── coreos-cloud-config.yaml.slc
├── env_overrides
|   └── testing
|       └─── cloud-config
|            └── coreos-cloud-config.yaml.slc
├── ipxe
│   ├── coreos.ipxe.slc
│   └── ubuntu-minimal.ipxe.slc
├── mappings.yaml
├── preseed
│   └── common.preseed.slc
└── static
    └── rc.local-bootstrap

In this case, hosts that have environment: testing set in the mappings.yaml will be assigned the testing environment and they'll use the coreos-cloud-config.yaml.slc template from the env_overrides/testing directory, while the rest of the templates will be served from the base directory. Everything except mappings.yaml can be put in env_overrides/$env preserving the path.

The way this works, considering that Shoelaces is mostly stateless, is by setting different baseURL depending on the environment set. Normal requests would get baseURL set to http://$shoelaces_host:$port while an environment request will have http://$shoelaces_host:$port/env/$environment_name/

CORNER CASES: It is not possible to boot a host in a non default environment unless there is a main iPXE script in the respective override directory. This means /ipxemenu will only present default and non-default iPXE entry points, and if you have a template that's included later in the boot process as an override you won't be able to select it.


Contributions to Shoelaces are very welcome! Take into account the following guidelines:

  • File an issue if you find a bug or, even better, contribute with a pull request.
  • We have a bunch of integration tests that can be run by executing make test. Ensure that all test pass before submitting your pull request.