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Preauthorizing devices

The Mender client will implicitly authorize the Mender server to manage it if the server holds the key corresponding to the server certificate the client was provisioned with. This tutorial shows the steps required to securely automate the other direction: authorizing the Mender client to be accepted by the Mender server.

The Mender server supports preauthorizing devices, where you add the identity and public key of the device to the Mender server before the device connects for the first time. This way the device is automatically authorized to join the Mender server when it first connects. This is in particular useful in a mass production setting because you can preauthorize devices when they are manufactured so they automatically get accepted into the Mender server when your customer turns them on, which might happen several months after manufacturing.

See Device authentication for a general overview of how device authentication works in Mender.


A device integrated with Mender

You need a physical device that has already been integrated with Mender. For example, you may use one of the reference devices BeagleBone Black or Raspberry Pi 3.

A block-based disk image for your device

We assume you have either built a disk image for your device or base it off one of the pre-built demo images. Note that a disk image is used to provision the entire storage of the device (it contains all the partitions) and typically has the .sdimg suffix.

Raw flash or raw filesystem images are not covered by this tutorial; however the steps are conceptually the same in these cases.

The identity of your device

When preauthorizing a device you need to know its identity. This is one or more key-value attributes, depending on the identity scheme you are using. If you connect your device so it shows up as pending in the Mender server, you will see its identity in the Mender server UI (note it is not the ID of the device, but the key-value attributes under Identity that are used for preauthorization).

By default the Mender client uses the MAC address of the first interface on the device as the device identity, for example mac=02:12:61:13:6c:42.

Mender client and server connectivity

Once your device boots with a newly provisioned disk image, it should already be correctly connecting to the Mender server. After booting the device you see your device pending authorization in the Mender server UI, similar to the following.

Mender UI - device pending authorization

If your device does not show as pending authorization in the Mender server once it is booted with the disk image, you need to diagnose this issue before continuing. See Deploy to physical devices for a tutorial on connecting your device.

A CLI environment for your server

In order to access the the Mender server API with the commands below, you need to set up some shell variables in the terminal you will be using.

Follow the steps in set up shell variables for cURL.

Generate a client keypair

Before we preauthorize the device, we need its 1) identity and 2) public key. You should already know the identity of your device from the prerequisite above.

When preauthorizing a device, device keys will be generated on separate system (not on the device), and then provisioned into the device storage. This way we can keep records of the public key of the device and ensure sufficient entropy during key generation, so the resulting keys are secure random.

Make sure the system you generate keys on is adequately secured, as it will also generate the device private keys. You should consider securely deleting (e.g. shred) the private keys after provisioning the device if you do not truly need a record of them (you can keep the public keys, of course).

We will use a script to generate a keypair the Mender client understands; it uses the openssl command to generate the keys. Download the keygen-client script into a directory and ensure it is executable. Run it without parameters:


The generated Mender client keypair is placed in a subdirectory keys-client-generated:

├── private.key
└── public.key

In cases where you are generating multiple keys you can pass an environment variable PREFIX_KEY to the keygen-client script and run it several times. For example, PREFIX_KEY=device001- ./keygen-client, PREFIX_KEY=device002- ./keygen-client. This prevents overwriting existing keys by writing them to different files.

Preauthorize your device

Now that we have the device's identity and public key, we will use the Mender server management REST APIs to preauthorize it.

Make sure there are no existing authentication sets for your device

First make sure to power off your device, so it does not continuously appear as pending in your server.

We recommend that you ensure there are no records of your device in the server; open the Mender UI, then go to Devices to see if it is there, then Decommission it. Secondly, To make sure that the device is not in an existing authentication set, we check both the admission and devauth services for the identity of your device.

In the same terminal, run the following commands:

curl -H "Authorization: Bearer $JWT" $MENDER_SERVER_URI/api/management/v1/admission/devices | jq '.' > /tmp/admission.json
curl -H "Authorization: Bearer $JWT" $MENDER_SERVER_URI/api/management/v1/devauth/devices | jq '.' > /tmp/devauth.json

To make the response more readable, we use the jq utility to decode it. If it is not available on your system you can omit this pipe or replace it with a different indentation tool (e.g python -m json.tool).

Now open the files /tmp/admission.json and /tmp/devauth.json and search for a value of your device identity (e.g. 02:12:61:13:6c:42 if you are using MAC addresses).

If you do not get any matches in either files, great! Continue to the next section.

If you do have one or more matches you must first delete these existing authentication sets. Find the id of the authentication set and use the DELETE method towards the service. For example, if you find the identity in admission.json and you see the authentication set has id 5ae3a39d3cd4d40001482a95 the run the following command:

curl -H "Authorization: Bearer $JWT" -X DELETE $MENDER_SERVER_URI/api/management/v1/admission/devices/5ae3a39d3cd4d40001482a95

Once this is done, re-run the two commands above to generate the two .json files again and verify that your device identity does not exist anywhere.

Call the preauthorize API

Set your device identity as a JSON object in a shell variable while escaping quotation marks:


Adjust the variable value to the actual identity of your device. If you have several identity attributes in your identity scheme, separate them with commas in JSON format inside this single object, for example DEVICE_IDENTITY_JSON_OBJECT_STRING='{\"mac\":\"02:12:61:13:6c:42\", \"serialnumber\":\"1928819\"}'. Note that if your device identity contains several attributes, whitespace and ordering does matter: you need to write the identity attributes without extra spaces between them and in the order your Mender client submit them (testing is likely the easiest way to find the right order).

Secondly, set the contents of the device public key you generated above in a second variable (with newlines written out literally):

DEVICE_PUBLIC_KEY="$(cat keys-client-generated/public.key | sed -e :a  -e 'N;s/\n/\\n/;ta')\n"

Then simply call the API to preauthorize a device:

curl -H "Authorization: Bearer $JWT" -H "Content-Type: application/json" -X POST --data-binary "{ \"device_identity\" : \"$DEVICE_IDENTITY_JSON_OBJECT_STRING\", \"key\" : \"$DEVICE_PUBLIC_KEY\" }" $MENDER_SERVER_URI/api/management/v1/admission/devices

If there is no output from the command, this indicates it succeeded. To verify, list the currently registered authentication sets and make sure there is one for your device with the preauthorized status:

curl -H "Authorization: Bearer $JWT" $MENDER_SERVER_URI/api/management/v1/admission/devices | jq '.'

Your device should now be preauthorized and accepted to the Mender server once it connects with the exact same identity and key.

Copy generated device key to disk image

Mount the data partition of the disk image

Now that we have generated a key for the device and preauthorized it, we need to copy the generated private device key to our working disk image (it typically has the .sdimg suffix). We copy it to its default location /mender/mender-agent.pem on the data partition.

There is a symlink from /var/lib/mender/mender-agent.pem on the root file systems to /mender/mender-agent.pem on the data partition, which we will leave in place. If the Mender client does not find a valid key it will generate one, which is not what we want when we are preauthorizing devices.

Follow the steps in modifying a disk image to find the start sector of the data partition (typically .sdimg4). Usually you will run a sequence of commands similar to this:

fdisk -l -u mender-disk-image.sdimg
sudo mkdir /mnt/data
sudo mount -o loop,offset=$((512*933888)) mender-disk-image.sdimg /mnt/data

Adjust the name of your disk image (.sdimg) file, and make sure to use the right offset. The offset 933888 is likely not correct for your setup and you need to look at the output from fdisk to determine yours. See modifying a disk image for more details.

Copy the private device key

At this point the data partition of the disk image should be mounted on /mnt/data. Find the location of the private key we generated and copy it into place on the data partition by running the following commands:

sudo install -m 600 keys-client-generated/private.key /mnt/data/mender/mender-agent.pem

Unmount your data partition

To ensure the device private key is written to disk, unmount the data partition with the following command:

sudo umount /mnt/data

Boot the device

Now provision the storage with this new disk image, just like you have done in the past. If you are using a SD card, insert it into your workstation and use a command similar to the following:

sudo dd if=<PATH-TO-IMAGE>.sdimg of=<DEVICE> bs=1M && sudo sync

Then insert the SD card back into your device and boot it.

Verify the device is accepted

If everything went as intended, your device will get the accepted status in the Mender server. You can log in to the Mender UI to ensure your device is listed and reports inventory.

If your device shows as pending, see the troubleshooting on a device shows up as pending after preauthorizing it.

If you do not see your device at all, verify it booted correctly and it is able to connect to the Mender server. You can check the Mender client logs on the device for more diagnostics information.