»Custom Provisioners

Packer Provisioners are the components of Packer that install and configure software into a running machine prior to turning that machine into an image. An example of a provisioner is the shell provisioner, which runs shell scripts within the machines.

Prior to reading this page, it is assumed you have read the page on plugin development basics.

Provisioner plugins implement the packer.Provisioner interface and are served using the plugin.ServeProvisioner function.

»The Interface

The interface that must be implemented for a provisioner is the packer.Provisioner interface. It is reproduced below for reference. The actual interface in the source code contains some basic documentation as well explaining what each method should do.

type Provisioner interface {
  ConfigSpec() hcldec.ObjectSpec
  Prepare(...interface{}) error
  Provision(context.Context, Ui, Communicator, map[string]interface{}) error

»The "Prepare" Method

The Prepare method for each provisioner is called prior to any runs with the configuration that was given in the template. This is passed in as an array of interface{} types, but is generally map[string]interface{}. The prepare method is responsible for translating this configuration into an internal structure, validating it, and returning any errors.

For multiple parameters, they should be merged together into the final configuration, with later parameters overwriting any previous configuration. The exact semantics of the merge are left to the builder author.

For decoding the interface{} into a meaningful structure, the mapstructure library is recommended. Mapstructure will take an interface{} and decode it into an arbitrarily complex struct. If there are any errors, it generates very human friendly errors that can be returned directly from the prepare method.

While it is not actively enforced, no side effects should occur from running the Prepare method. Specifically, don't create files, don't launch virtual machines, etc. Prepare's purpose is solely to configure the builder and validate the configuration.

The Prepare method is called very early in the build process so that errors may be displayed to the user before anything actually happens.

»The "ConfigSpec" Method

This method returns a hcldec.ObjectSpec, which is a spec necessary for using HCL2 templates with Packer. For information on how to use and implement this function, check our object spec docs

»The "Provision" Method

The Provision method is called when a machine is running and ready to be provisioned. The provisioner should do its real work here.

The method takes two parameters: a packer.Ui and a packer.Communicator. The UI can be used to communicate with the user what is going on. The communicator is used to communicate with the running machine, and is guaranteed to be connected at this point.

The provision method should not return until provisioning is complete.

The map[string]interface{} provides users with build-specific information, like host and IP, provided by the build template engine. Provisioners may use this information however they please, or not use it.

»Using the Communicator

The packer.Communicator parameter and interface is used to communicate with running machine. The machine may be local (in a virtual machine or container of some sort) or it may be remote (in a cloud). The communicator interface abstracts this away so that communication is the same overall.

The documentation around the code itself is really great as an overview of how to use the interface. You should begin by reading this. Once you have read it, you can see some example usage below:

// Build the remote command.
var cmd packer.RemoteCmd
cmd.Command = "echo foo"

// We care about stdout, so lets collect that into a buffer. Since
// we don't set stderr, that will just be discarded.
var stdout bytes.Buffer
cmd.Stdout = &stdout

// Start the command
if err := comm.Start(&cmd); err != nil {

// Wait for it to complete

// Read the stdout!
fmt.Printf("Command output: %s", stdout.String())