Mac Deploy Stick is a macOS application to create the resources needed to automate the install of macOS and initial software packages. Recent Macs do not support NetBoot or booting to external drives for setup. Mac Deploy Stick solves this problem by providing a mechanism for initially installing macOS and software packages via the recovery partition.
Requirements for Installing macOS
Previous versions of macOS and Mac hardware supported block-based imaging to deploy macOS and associated configuration and hardware. Due to the number of Macs that did not have up-to-date firmware, Apple introduced software and firmware limitations that require macOS to be installed with an Apple-provided macOS installer. It also required an internet connection to check for firmware updates during the install process. The macOS installer has an optional feature to install packages after macOS has been installed.
Recent Macs cannot boot from external volumes unless that security setting is disabled in the Startup Security Utility when booted to the recovery partition. This adds additional time for setup and configuration and reduces security if that security feature is not re-enabled after booting from an external volume.
Why Mac Deploy Stick?
Mac Deploy Stick is based on the idea that you should be able to easily wipe and reinstall a Mac quickly and easily in an automated way. Apple provides the ability to reinstall macOS from the recovery partition, but the installer must be downloaded during the install process, and many manual steps must be taken in the installer screens. This is not difficult for an individual user, but for larger organizations or deployments, it can be cost prohibitive due to the time it takes for setup. Apple also provides the Deployment Enrollment Program (or DEP) for initial setup and enrollment in an MDM service, but that requires both an organization be enrolled in DEP and all Macs purchased and enrolled in DEP. Older machines can only be enrolled in DEP if they were purchased via the correct channel. Finally, even if a Mac is enrolled in DEP, if it needs to be reset and is not able to contact the MDM server, the OS must be manually reinstalled, which can be a labor-intensive process.
How Mac Deploy Stick Works
Mac Deploy Stick creates all the resources required to reinstall macOS and install software packages for enrolling in MDM. The resources are organized into workflows, which can be selected by the person setting up the Mac computers. The resources and workflows are saved to an external drive or to a disk image for copying to a web server. Once saved, the target Macs are booted to the recovery partition and a script is run from the disk image on the web server or directly from the external drive. To further automate the process, Mac Deploy Stick can flash an Arduino to turn it into a Mac Deploy Stick Automaton, which gives the keystrokes for automatically selecting the recovery partition and running the script.
Using the Automaton and the resources created by Mac Deploy Stick, a new Mac can be set up very quickly. The new Mac is unboxed and powered on with the option key held down. The external drive (optional if using a web server) and Automaton are plugged into a Mac and the Mac will then proceed to erase the internal volume, copy the OS installer and packages to the Mac, and then reboot into the installer. Once this first reboot happens, the Automaton and external volume can be disconnected. So in terms of time for technician interaction with the Mac, it takes just a few seconds to plug in the Automaton and the external drive, then hold the option to start the startup selector and then return a few minutes later to disconnect the Automaton and external volume. This can dramatically reduce setup time and result in large savings of time and labor costs.
This same process can be used for Macs that need to be re-setup either onsite or offsite.
The main interface of Mac Deploy Stick has a toolbar at top with various options, a list of workflows in the middle, and some workflow management options near the bottom. The main window is used to perform the majority of options for organizing and creating the resources for deploying your Macs.
- Create Automaton: Using an Arduino Micro, Mac Deploy Stick can program it to automatically perform the keystrokes for setting up the Mac.
- Configure Automaton: This button is used to open a sheet for changing the default setting for the Automaton.
- Create Bootable Volume: This option opens a sheet for instructions on how to create a bootable external drive. This is not required for booting a Mac to the recovery partition, but is helpful for some older Macs.
- Workflows: A workflow is the collection of steps that are done to erase the volume, install macOS, and specify which packages or profiles to install or scripts to run before or after installation. If a workflow is not active, it will not be exported when the resources are saved.
- Add, Remove and Edit Workflow Buttons: These buttons add, remove and edit the above workflows. Double-clicking on a workflow will also open the editing sheet.
- Import/Export Workflows: These buttons will either save the current workflows to a file, or allow workflows to be restored to MDS from a file.
- Connect to WiFi: This option is usually used to have the target Mac recovery partition connect to WiFi before running a workflow.
- Automatically run workflow: Choose a workflow to be run automatically by Imagr after the specified delay period.
- Set target volume name: This is usually not needed since the default volume selected is “Macintosh HD”, but can be useful if a machine has multiple macOS installations, and will only run the automatic workflow if the specified alternate volume name is found.
- Send logging information: Have target Macs send logging information when running a workflow. When selected this will attempt to select the local network address of the current admin Mac.
- Log Viewer: This button will show the Log Viewer dialog. This dialog will have options to start/stop the process that receives the log commands, and to clear the Log Viewer content received.
- Serve images: This option will start up a web server to make disk image files available over the network. DMG files created with Save to Disk Image can be saved to a selected folder, then be available to mount remotely on a local network machine.
- Save to Disk Image…: When pressed, this button will prompt for a name and location of a new disk image. The new disk image will then contain all the resources and workflows, and can be copied to a web server for deploying Macs. (The disk image volume name can be configured in preferences.)
- Save to Volume…: When pressed, this button will prompt for an external HFS+ volume. When the volume is selected, the resources and workflows will be copied to external volume for deployment. A script called “run” will also be created that is used to launch the workflow selector (Imagr).
When the workflow is created or edited, a sheet will be shown to edit the workflow.
- Workflow Name: A name for the workflow. This will be shown in the recovery partition when selecting a workflow.
- Workflow Description: A description for the workflow. This will be shown in the recovery partition when selecting a workflow.
- Install macOS: Select a standard macOS installer (.app) downloaded from Apple, or select a disk image (.dmg) with the macOS installer inside it.
- Erase and Install macOS: If this option is selected, the selected macOS partition will be erased and the macOS installer will be used to install macOS. If this option is not selected, only the packages and other content will be installed and the current OS will be left on the target volume. This is ideal if you have a new Mac that has the most up-to-date macOS on it and you just want to install packages.
- Rename volume: Change the volume name to a new value.
- Confirm network access before installing resources (only needed when a given resource installation requires network access to proceed).
- Package & Apps Folder: Specify a path to a folder with packages that will be installed when the workflow is run. The packages should be standard macOS package format, but it does not matter what the type of package it is (flat, bundle, etc). Mac Deploy Stick will convert them when the resources are copied. Any “.app” bundles found will also be converted and installed.
- Choose if each package or app should run on first boot or when running the workflow.
- Scripts Folder: Specify a folder containing scripts to run on the target Mac.
- Choose if each script should run after first boot packages are installed or before packages are installed when running the workflow.
- Profiles Folder: Specify a folder containing configuration profiles to install on the target Mac.
- Choose if each profile should be installed after first boot packages are installed or before packages are installed when running the workflow.
- After workflow action: When a workflow does not reinstall macOS, choose to either restart or shutdown the machine when the workflow finishes.
- Create User: Enter information to create a new user account on the target Mac.
- Set the UID for the user account.
- Set an SSH key for the user account.
- Set the user account password hint.
- Select if the new user account created should be an administrator.
- Hide the new user account when logging in. This may be useful for creating admin management accounts that should not be visible to other users.
- Join WiFi: Have the target Mac be configured to join WiFi when a user logs in.
- Computer Name: Have Imagr either prompt the admin for a computer name when the workflow is run, or just set computer name to the machine’s serial number (useful when using MDS to deploy a cluster of Macs and then identify them for remote access, or for sending logging information while the MDS workflow is run on a cluster of Macs).
- Skip Setup Assistant: Choose to skip some of the options usually presented during the initial setup of the target Mac, including location and user privacy.
- Skip User Privacy and Location Setup Assistant: Skip only these components of Setup Assistant.
- Enable SSH: Enable remote login preferences for administrators.
- Allow Administrators to screen share: Enable screen sharing preferences for administrators.
- Click to activate script variables option.
- Add variable names to later prompt the user for values when running the workflow. Variable values entered at that time will then be available to scripts added to the Resources section of the workflow.
Running the Workflow
On the Mac that is to be set up, boot into the recovery partition by holding Command-R when starting up the Mac. Once the Mac is booted to the recovery partition, open the Terminal by selecting Terminal from the Utilities menu. Once the Terminal is open, start Imagr from an external volume, a file server, or a web server:
Plug in the external volume and enter the following command:
For instance, if the volume name is “MacDeployStick”, enter in:
If the resources were saved to a Disk Image, copy the disk image to the web server and locate the URL to the disk image. To mount the disk image and open Imagr, enter command in this format:
hdiutil mount <URL to Disk Image>
hdiutil mount http://192.168.168.50/images/mds.dmg
If the disk image is hosted on a SMB file server, mount the file server and mount the image directly from the file server. The mount point must be created first, then the file server mounted, and the image then mounted in this format:
mount_smbfs smb://<username>@hostname/<sharedfolderpath> <mountpoint>
hdiutil mount <mountpoint> </path/to/disk/image.dmg>
/Volumes/<Disk Image Volume Name>/run
mount_smbfs smb://firstname.lastname@example.org/Shared /tmp/mnt
hdiutil mount /tmp/mnt/mds/MDSDiskImage.dmg
Selecting Target Volume and Workflow
When Imagr starts, select the Target and Workflow and click Run Workflow.
The Create Automaton function programs an Arduino ItsyBitsy to act as a keyboard when plugged into a USB port. The Automaton should be inserted at the boot selector screen. To enter the boot selector screen on a Mac, press the power button and immediately hold the option key down. The Mac will show bootable volumes. The Automaton should then be plugged into a USB port. The Automaton will issue a command-R keyboard command, which will boot the Mac into the recovery partition. The Automaton will then wait for an adjustable delay period and then issue commands to open the Terminal and launch the workflow selector (Imagr). The Create Automaton sheet has a couple of features:
- Buy Automaton: Clicking this link will open the default browser for purchasing an MDS Automaton bundle.
- After connecting the Arduino and pressing its programming button twice, a success message will be displayed.
Once programming is complete, disconnect the Automaton. If left connected, it will begin pressing the keyboard strokes.
The Automaton will press the command-R keyboard command a few seconds after it has been plugged in. It will then wait for a defined startup delay before issuing the commands for opening the Terminal and running the specified command. These values can be adjusted using the Configure Arduino Automaton sheet.
- Version: This is the firmware version.
- Command: The command that will run in Terminal in the recovery partition. It should be adjusted to match the name of the external volume (replace MacDeployStick with the volume name). Depending on where the resources are located, the command will be different. See below for examples:
hdiutil mount http://imac.local/mds/MDSDiskImage.dmg && /Volumes/MacDeployStickResources/run
mkdir /tmp/mnt && mount_smbfs smb://email@example.com/Shared /tmp/mnt && hdiutil mount /tmp/mnt/mds/MDSDiskImage.dmg && /Volumes/MacDeployStickResources/run
- Startup Delay: The amount of seconds between pressing command-R and issuing the commands to open the Terminal to run the command.
- Pre-Command Delay: Additional time before the command is executed.
- Firmware password: Use only if the target Mac has been configured to use a firmware password. This setting will enter the required firmware password before booting to the recovery partition.
- Boot into recovery: Usually this should be left checked. Unchecking this option will disable the Automaton’s normal function of immediately issuing keyboard commands to boot to the recovery partition. Instead the Automaton will wait to receive commands later using its command line interface.
Create Bootable Volume
The Create Bootable Volume sheet provides an easy way to create the command to install macOS on an external volume.
- Select macOS Installer App: Select this button to select a macOS Installer app downloaded from Apple.
- Select the volume to install macOS. NOTE: THIS VOLUME WILL BE ERASED AND FORMATTED AS HFS+
- Copy and paste the generated command into Terminal and press return. You will be prompted for the admin password.
- Close: Once finished, click the Close button.
Note that this function is not required to restore macOS and packages. This is normally done by booting to the recovery partition. However, in some cases it is convenient to have a bootable external volume.
Running Workflows from External Volume
If you are saving an MDS workflow to a bootable external volume, be aware that the macOS installer presents the volume name as “/Volumes/Image Volume” rather than /Volumes/<name of volume>. This can cause issues with the workflows since the resources are accessed by the volume name. To resolve this, you can do one of two solutions:
- Create two HFS+ partitions on the external drive. Install the bootable macOS on one partition, and save the MDS resources to the other partition. You can then run the command using /Volume/<name of volume>/run/
- After installing macOS to the external volume, rename it to “Image Volume” then save the resources from MDS to the Image Installer volume. The workflow resources will then be referenced by the correct name and you can run the workflow by running /Volumes/”Image Volume”/run