Ansible package moved from EPEL to extras

Ansible LogoA few days ago the Ansible package was removed from EPEL and many ask why that happened. The background is that Ansible is now provided in certain Red Hat channels.

What happened?

In the past (pre-2017-10) most people who were on RHEL or CentOS or similar RHEL based systems used to install Ansible from the EPEL repository. This way the package was updates regularly and it was ensured that it met the quite high packaging standards of the EPEL project.

However, a few days ago someone noticed that the EPEL repositories no longer contain an Ansible rpm package:

I'm running RHEL 7.3, and have installed the latest epel-release-latest-7.noarch.rpm. However, I'm unable to install ansible from this repo.

This caused some confusion and questions about the reasons behind that move.

EPEL repository policy

To better understand what happened it is important to understand EPEL’s package policy:

EPEL strives to never replace or interfere with packages shipped by Enterprise Linux.

While the idea of EPEL is to provide cool additional packages for RHEL, they will never replace anything that is shipped.

Change at Red Hat Enterprise Linux

That philosophy regularly requires that the EPEL project removes packages: each time when RHEL adds a package EPEL needs to check if they are providing it, and removes it.

And a few weeks ago exactly that happened: Ansible was included in RHELs extras repository.

The reasons behind that move is that the newest incarnation of RHEL now comes along with so called system roles – which require Ansible to execute them.

But where to get it now?

Ansible is now directly available to RHEL users as mentioned above. Also, CentOS picked up Ansible in their extras repository, and there are plenty of other ways available.

The only case where something actually changes for people is when the EPEL repository is activated – but the extras repository is not.

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[Howto] Reference Ansible variables between plays

Ansible LogoAnsible’s strenght is to work with all kinds of devices and services – in one go. To properly call a variable value from one server while working on another host the variable needs to be referenced properly.

One of the major strength about Ansible is the capability to almost seamlessly talk to different hosts, devices and services. That’s agent-less at its best!

However, to do that often variables of one host need to be referenced on another. For the sake of an example, imagine a monitoring server which needs to ssh to the managed nodes. The task is to first collect the public SSH key of the monitoring server and afterwards add it to the managed nodes.

First you need a play to collect the SSH key:

---
- name: fetch ssh key 
  hosts: monitoringserver

  tasks:
    - name: fetch ssh key from monitoring server
      slurp:
        src: ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub
      register: monitoringsshkey

After that, the key needs to be distributed. It makes sense to just add a second play to the same playbook. However, since the ssh key was fetched in the first play, it is not possible to just reference it as {{ monitoringsshkey }}. That would lead to an error:

fatal: [managednode.qxyz.de]: FAILED! => {"failed": true, "msg": "the field 'args' has an invalid value, which appears to include a variable that is undefined. The error was: 'monitoringsshkey' is undefined\n\nThe error appears to have been in '/home/liquidat/ansible/sshkey.yml': line 19, column 7, but may\nbe elsewhere in the file depending on the exact syntax problem.\n\nThe offending line appears to be:\n\n  tasks:\n    - name: Distribute SSH to nodes\n      ^ here\n"}

Instead, the variable needs to be referenced properly, highlighting the actual host it is coming from:

- name: provide ssh key
  hosts: managednode.qxyz.de

  tasks:
    - name: Distribute SSH to nodes
      authorized_key: 
        user: liquidat
        key: "{{ hostvars['monitoringserver']['monitoringsshkey']['content'] | b64decode }}"

The reason for this need is simple: in his example we had only one host targeted in the first play – but it could also easily be five hosts. In that moment, Ansible could not reliably know which variable value to pick if we do not specify the actual host.

[Short Tip] Call Ansible or Ansible Playbooks without an inventory

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Ansible is a great tool to automate almost anything in IT. However, one of the core concepts of Ansible is the inventory where the to be managed nodes are listed. However, in some situations setting up a dedicated inventory is overkill.

For example there are many situation where admins just want to ssh to a machine or two to figure something out. Ansible modules can often make such SSH calls in a much more efficient way, making them unnecessary – but creating a inventory first is a waste of time for such short tasks.

In such cases it is handy to call Ansible or Ansible playbooks without an inventory. In case of plain Ansible this can be done by  addressing all nodes while at the same time limiting them to an actual hostslist:

$ ansible all -i jenkins.qxyz.de, -m wait_for -a "host=jenkins.qxyz.de port=8080"
jenkins.qxyz.de | SUCCESS => {
    "changed": false, 
    "elapsed": 0, 
    "path": null, 
    "port": 8080, 
    "search_regex": null, 
    "state": "started"
}

The comma is needed since Ansible expects a list of hosts – and a list of one host still needs the comma.

For Ansible playbooks the syntax is slightly different:

$ ansible-playbook -i neon.qxyz.de, my_playbook.yml

Here the “all” is missing since the playbook already contains a hosts directive. But the comma still needs to be there to mark a list of hosts.

[Short Tip] Retrieve your public IP with Ansible

Ansible Logo

There are multiple situations where you need to know your public IP: be it that you set up your home IT server behind a NAT, be it that your legacy enterprise business solution does not work properly without this information because the original developers 20 years ago never expected to be behind a NAT.

Of course, Ansible can help here as well: there is a tiny, neat module called ipify_facts which does nothing else but retrieving your public IP:

$ ansible localhost -m ipify_facts
localhost | SUCCESS => {
    "ansible_facts": {
        "ipify_public_ip": "23.161.144.221"
    }, 
    "changed": false
}

The return value can be registered as a variable and reused in other tasks:

---
- name: get public IP
  hosts: all 

  tasks:
    - name: get public IP
      ipify_facts:
      register: public_ip
    - name: output
      debug: msg="{{ public_ip }}"

The module by default accesses https://api.ipify.org to get the IP address, but the api URL can be changed via parameter.

[Short Tip] Show all variables of a host

Ansible Logo

There are multiple sources where variables for Ansible can be defined. Most of them can be shown via the setup module, but there are more.

For example, if you use a dynamic inventory script to access a Satellite server many variables like the organization are provided via the inventory script – and these are not shown in setup usually.

To get all variables of a host use the following notation:

---
- name: dump all
  hosts: all

  tasks:
  - name: get variables
    debug: var=hostvars[inventory_hostname]

Use this during debug to find out if the variables you’ve set somewhere are actually accessible in your playbooks.

If even created a small github repository for this to easily integrate it with Tower.

[Howto] Writing an Ansible module for a REST API

Ansible LogoAnsible comes along with a great set of modules. But maybe your favorite tool is not covered yet and you need to develop your own module. This guide shows you how to write an Ansible module – when you have a REST API to speak to.

Background: Ansible modules

Ansible is a great tool to automate almost everything in an IT environment. One of the huge benefits of Ansible are the so called modules: they provide a way to address automation tasks in the native language of the problem. For example, given a user needs to be created: this is usually done by calling certain commandos on the shell. In that case the automation developer has to think about which command line tool needs to be used, which parameters and options need to be provided, and the result is most likely not idempotent. And its hard t run tests (“checks”) with such an approach.

Enter Ansible user modules: with them the automation developer only has to provide the data needed for the actual problem like the user name, group name, etc. There is no need to remember the user management tool of the target platform or to look up parameters:

$ ansible server -m user -a "name=abc group=wheel" -b

Ansible comes along with hundreds of modules. But what is if your favorite task or tool is not supported by any module? You have to write your own Ansible module. If your tools support REST API, there are a few things to know which makes it much easier to get your module running fine with Ansible. These few things are outlined below.

REST APIs and Python libraries in Ansible modules

According to Wikipedia, REST is:

… the software architectural style of the World Wide Web.

In short, its a way to write, provide and access an API via usual HTTP tools and libraries (Apache web server, Curl, you name it), and it is very common in everything related to the WWW.

To access a REST API via an Ansible module, there are a few things to note. Ansible modules are usually written in Python. The library of choice to access URLs and thus REST APIs in Python is usually urllib. However, the library is not the easiest to use and there are some security topics to keep in mind when these are used. Out of these reasons alternative libraries like Python requests came up in the past and are pretty common.

However, using an external library in an Ansible module would add an extra dependency, thus the Ansible developers added their own library inside Ansible to access URLs: ansible.module_utils.urls. This one is already shipped with Ansible – the code can be found at lib/ansible/module_utils/urls.py – and it covers the shortcomings and security concerns of urllib. If you submit a module to Ansible calling REST APIs the Ansible developers usually require that you use the inbuilt library.

Unfortunately, currently the documentation on the Ansible url library is sparse at best. If you need information about it, look at other modules like the Github, Kubernetes or a10 modules. To cover that documentation gap I will try to cover the most important basics in the following lines – at least as far as I know.

Creating REST calls in an Ansible module

To access the Ansible urls library right in your modules, it needs to be imported in the same way as the basic library is imported in the module:

from ansible.module_utils.basic import *
from ansible.module_utils.urls import *

The main function call to access a URL via this library is open_url. It can take multiple parameters:

def open_url(url, data=None, headers=None, method=None, use_proxy=True,
        force=False, last_mod_time=None, timeout=10, validate_certs=True,
        url_username=None, url_password=None, http_agent=None,
force_basic_auth=False, follow_redirects='urllib2'):

The parameters in detail are:

  • url: the actual URL, the communication endpoint of your REST API
  • data: the payload for the URL request, for example a JSON structure
  • headers: additional headers, often this includes the content-type of the data stream
  • method: a URL call can be of various methods: GET, DELETE, PUT, etc.
  • use_proxy: if a proxy is to be used or not
  • force: force an update even if a 304 indicates that nothing has changed (I think…)
  • last_mod_time: the time stamp to add to the header in case we get a 304
  • timeout: set a timeout
  • validate_certs: if certificates should be validated or not; important for test setups where you have self signed certificates
  • url_username: the user name to authenticate
  • url_password: the password for the above listed username
  • http_agent: if you wnat to set the http agent
  • force_basic_auth: for ce the usage of the basic authentication
  • follow_redirects: determine how redirects are handled

For example, to fire a simple GET to a given source like Google most parameters are not needed and it would look like:

open_url('https://www.google.com',method="GET")

A more sophisticated example is to push actual information to a REST API. For example, if you want to search for the domain example on a Satellite server you need to change the method to PUT, add a data structure to set the actual search string ({"search":"example"}) and add a corresponding content type as header information ({'Content-Type':'application/json'}). Also, a username and password must be provided. Given we access a test system here the certification validation needs to be turned off also. The resulting string looks like this:

open_url('https://satellite-server.example.com/api/v2/domains',method="PUT",url_username="admin",url_password="abcd",data=json.dumps({"search":"example"}),force_basic_auth=True,validate_certs=False,headers={'Content-Type':'application/json'})

Beware that the data json structure needs to be processed by json.dumps. The result of the query can be formatted as json and further used as a json structure:

resp = open_url(...)
resp_json = json.loads(resp.read())

Full example

In the following example, we query a Satellite server to find a so called environment ID for two given parameters, an organization ID and an environment name. To create a REST call for this task in a module multiple, separate steps have to be done: first, create the actual URL endpoint. This usually consists of the server name as a variable and the API endpoint as the flexible part which is different in each REST call.

server_name = 'https://satellite.example.com'
api_endpoint = '/katello/api/v2/environments/'
my_url = server_name + api_endpoint

Besides the actual URL, the payload must be pieced together and the headers need to be set according to the content type of the payload – here json:

headers = {'Content-Type':'application/json'}
payload = {"organization_id":orga_id,"name":env_name}

Other content types depends on the REST API itself and on what the developer prefers. JSON is widely accepted as a good way to go for REST calls.

Next, we set the user and password and launch the call. The return data from the call are saved in a variable to analyze later on.

user = 'abc'
pwd = 'def'
resp = open_url(url_action,method="GET",headers=headers,url_username=module.params.get('user'),url_password=module.params.get('pwd'),force_basic_auth=True,data=json.dumps(payload))

Last but not least we transform the return value into a json construct, and analyze it: if the return value does not contain any data – that means the value for the key total is zero – we want the module to exit with an error. Something went wrong, and the automation administrator needs to know that. The module calls the built-in error functionmodule.fail_json. But if the total is not zero, we get out the actual environment ID we were looking for with this REST call from the beginning – it is deeply hidden in the json structure, btw.

resp_json = json.loads(resp.read())
if resp_json["total"] == 0:
    module.fail_json(msg="Environment %s not found." % env_name)
env_id = resp_json["results"][0]["id"]

Summary

It is fairly easy to write Ansible modules to access REST APIs. The most important part to know is that an internal, Ansible provided library should be used, instead of the better known urllib or requests library. Also, the actual library documentation is still pretty limited, but that gap is partially filled by the above post.

[Short Tip] Call Ansible Tower REST URI – with Ansible

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It might sound strange to call the Ansible Tower API right from within Ansible itself. However, if you want to connect several playbooks with each other, or if you user Ansible Tower mainly as an API this indeed makes sense. To me this use case is interesting since it is a way to document how to access, how to use the Ansible Tower API.

The following playbook is an example to launch a job in Ansible Tower. The body payload contains an extra variable needed by the job itself. In this example it is a name of a to-be launched VM.

---
- name: POST to Tower API
  hosts: localhost
  vars:
    job_template_id: 44
    vmname: myvmname

  tasks:
    - name: create additional node in GCE
      uri:
        url: https://tower.example.com/api/v1/job_templates/{{ job_template_id }}/launch/
        method: POST
        user: admin
        password: $PASSWORD
        status_code: 202
        body: 
          extra_vars:
            node_name: "{{ vmname }}"
        body_format: json

Note the status code (202) – the URI module needs to know that a non-200 status code is used to show the proper acceptance of the API call. Also, the job is identified by its ID. But since Tower shows the ID in the web interface it is no problem to get the correct id.