AWS UserData Multiple Run Framework

In AWS, we can utilize the UserData section in EC2 to run PowerShell against our EC2 instances at launch. I’ve said it before; I love this option. As someone that speaks PowerShell with what likely amounts to first language fluency, there’s so much I do to automate my machine builds with CloudFormation, UserData, and PowerShell.

I’ve begun to have a need to do various pieces of automation at different times. This is to say I need to have multiple instance restarts, as an instance is coming online, in order to separate different pieces of configuration and installation. You’ll figure out when you need that, too. And, when you do, you can use the what I’ve dubbed the “multiple run framework for AWS.” But really, you call it want you want. That hardly matters.

We have to remember, that by default, UserData only runs once. It’s when the EC2 instance launches for the first time. In the below example, we’re going to do three restarts and four separate code runs.

Our UserData section first needs to add a function to memory. I’ve called it Set-SystemForNextRun and its purpose is to (1) create what I call a “passfile” to help indicate where we are in the automation process, (2) enable UserData to run the next time the service is restarted (this happens at instance restart, obviously), and (3) restart the EC2 instance. Let’s have a look. It’s three parameters and three If statements; simple stuff.

Function Set-SystemForNextRun {
    Param (
    If ($PassFile) {
        [System.Void](New-Item -Path "$env:SystemDrive\passfile$PassFile.txt" -ItemType File)
    If ($UserData) {
        $Path = "$env:ProgramFiles\Amazon\Ec2ConfigService\Settings\config.xml"
        $ConfigXml = Get-Content -Path $Path
        ($ConfigXml.Ec2ConfigurationSettings.Plugins.Plugin |
            Where-Object -Property Name -eq 'Ec2HandleUserData').State = 'Enabled'
    If ($Restart) {
        Restart-Computer -Force

This above function accepts three parameters: PassFile, UserData, and Restart. PassFile accepts a string value. You’ll see how this works in the upcoming If-ElseIf example. UserData and Restart are switch parameters. If they’re included when the function is invoked, they’re True ($true), and if they’re not included, they’re False ($false).

Each of the three parameters has its own If statement within the Set-SystemforNextRun function. If PassFile is included, it creates a text file called C:\passfile<ValuePassedIn>.txt. If UserData is included, it resets UserData to enabled (it effectively, checks the check box in the Ec2Config GUI). If Restart is included, it restarts the instance, right then and there.

Now let’s take a look at the If-ElseIf statement that completes four code runs and three restarts. We’ll discuss it further below, but before we do, a little reminder. Our CloudFormation UserData PowerShell is going to contain the above Set-SystemForNextRun function, and something like you’ll see below, after you’ve edited it for your needs.

If (-Not(Test-Path -Path "$env:SystemDrive\passfile1.txt")) {

    # Place code here (1).

    # Invoke Set-SystemForNextRun function.
    Set-SystemForNextRun -PassFile '1' -UserData -Restart

} ElseIf (-Not(Test-Path -Path "$env:SystemDrive\passfile2.txt")) {

    # Place code here (2).

    # Invoke Set-SystemForNextRun function.
    Set-SystemForNextRun -PassFile '2' -UserData -Restart

} ElseIf (-Not(Test-Path -Path "$env:SystemDrive\passfile3.txt")) {

    # Place code here (3).

    # Invoke Set-SystemForNextRun function.
    Set-SystemForNextRun -PassFile '3' -UserData -Restart

} ElseIf (-Not(Test-Path -Path "$env:SystemDrive\passfile4.txt")) {

    # Place code here (4).

    # Invoke Set-SystemForNextRun function.
    Set-SystemForNextRun -PassFile '4'


In line 1, we test whether or not the file C:\passfile1.txt exists. If it doesn’t exist, we run the code in the If portion. This will run whatever PowerShell we add to that section. Then it’ll pass 1 to the Set-SystemForNextRun function to have C:\passfile01.txt created. Additionally, because the UserData and Restart parameters are included, it’ll reset UserData to enabled, and restart the EC2 instance. Because the C:\passfile1.txt file now exists, the next time the UserData runs, it’ll skip the If portion and evaluate the first ElseIf statement.

This ElseIf statement determines whether or not the C:\passfile2.txt file exists, or not. If it doesn’t, and it won’t after the first restart, then the code in this ElseIf will run. When it’s done, it’ll create the passfile2.txt file, reset UserData, and restart the instance. It’ll do this for second ElseIf (third code run), and the final ElseIf (fourth code run), as well. Notice that the final invocation of the Set-SystemForNextRun function doesn’t enable UserData or Restart the instance. Be sure to add those if you need either completed after the final ElseIf completes.

And that’s it. At this point in time, I always use my Set-SystemForNextRun function and a properly written If-ElseIf statement to separate the configuration and installation around the necessary amount of instance restarts. In closing, keep in mind that deleting those pass files from the root of the C:\ drive is not something you’ll likely want to do. In time, I may do a rewrite that stores entries in the Registry perhaps, so there’s less probability that one of these files might be removed by someone.

Either way, I hope this is helpful for someone! If you’re in this space — AWS, CloudFormation, UserData, and PowerShell — then chances are good that at some point you’re going to want to restart an instance, and then continue to configure it.

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