[Howto] Using Ansible and Ansible Tower with shared Roles

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Roles are a neat way in Ansible to make playbooks and everything related to them re-usable. If used with Tower, they can be even more powerful.

(I published this post originally at ansible.com/blog .)

Roles are an essential part of Ansible, and help in structuring your automation content. The idea is to have clearly defined roles for dedicated tasks. During your automation code, the roles will be called by the Ansible Playbooks.

Since roles usually have a well defined purpose, they make it easy to reuse your code for yourself, but also in your team. And you can even share roles with the global community. In fact, the Ansible community created Ansible Galaxy as a central place to display, search and view Ansible roles from thousands of people.

So what does a role look like? Basically it is a predefined structure of folders and files to hold your automation code. There is a folder for your templates, a folder to keep files with tasks, one for handlers, another one for your default variables, and so on:

tasks/ 
handlers/ 
files/ 
templates/ 
vars/ 
defaults/ 
meta/

In folders which contain Ansible code – like tasks, handlers, vars, defaults – there are main.yml files. Those contain the relevant Ansible bits. In case of the tasks directory, they often include other yaml files within the same directory. Roles even provide ways to test your automation code – in an automated fashion, of course.

This post will show how roles can be shared with others, be used in your projects and how this works with Red Hat Ansible Tower.

Share Roles via Repositories

Roles can be part of your project repository. They usually sit underneath a dedicated roles/ directory. But keeping roles in your own repository makes it hard to share them with others, to be reused and improved by them. If someone works on a different team, or on a different project, they might not have access to your repository – or they may use their own anyway. So even if you send them a copy of your role, they could add it to their own repository, making it hard to exchange improvements, bug fixes and changes across totally different repositories.

For that reason, a better way is to keep a role in its own repository. That way it can be easily shared and improved. However, to be available to a playbook, the role still needs to be included. Technically there are multiple ways to do that.

For example there can be a global roles directory outside your project where all roles are kept. This can be referenced in ansible.cfg. However, this requires that all developer setups and also the environment in which the automation is finally executed have the same global directory structure. This is not very practical.

When Git is used as the version control system, there is also the possibility of importing roles from other repositories via Git submodules, or even using Git subtrees. However, this requires quite some knowledge about advanced Git features by each and everyone using it – so it is far from simple.

The best way to make shared roles available to your playbooks is to use a function built into Ansible itself: by using the command ansible-galaxy , ansible galaxy can read a file specifying which external roles need to be imported for a successful Ansible run: requirements.yml. It lists external roles and their sources. If needed, it can also point to a specific version:

# from GitHub
- src: https://github.com/bennojoy/nginx 
# from GitHub, overriding the name and specifying a tag 
- src: https://github.com/bennojoy/nginx 
  version: master 
  name: nginx_role 
# from Bitbucket 
- src: git+http://bitbucket.org/willthames/git-ansible-galaxy 
  version: v1.4 # from galaxy 
- src: yatesr.timezone

The file can be used via the command ansible-galaxy. It reads the file and downloads all specified roles to the appropriate path:

ansible-galaxy install -r roles/requirements.yml 
- extracting nginx to /home/rwolters/ansible/roles/nginx 
- nginx was installed successfully 
- extracting nginx_role to 
/home/rwolters/ansible/roles/nginx_role 
- nginx_role (master) was installed successfully 
...

The output also highlights when a specific version was downloaded. You will find a copy of each role in your roles/directory – so make sure that you do not accidentally add the downloaded roles to your repository! The best option is to add them to the .gitignore file.

This way, roles can be imported into the project and are available to all playbooks while they are still shared via a central repository. Changes to the role need to be made in the dedicated repository – which ensures that no light-minded and project specific changes are done in the role.

At the same time the version attribute in requirements.ymlensures that the used role can be pinned to a certain release tag value, commit hash, or branch name. This is useful in case the development of a role is quickly moving forward, but your project has longer development cycles.

Using Roles in Ansible Tower

If you use automation on larger, enterprise scales you most likely will start using Ansible Tower sooner or later. So how do roles work with Ansible Tower? In fact – just like mentioned above. Each time Ansible Tower checks out a project it looks for a roles/requirements.yml. If such a file is present, a new version of each listed role is copied to the local checkout of the project and thus available to the relevant playbooks.

That way shared roles can easily be reused in Ansible Tower – it is built in right from the start!

Best Practices and Things to Keep in Mind

There are a few best practices around sharing of Ansible roles that make your life easier. The first is the naming and location of the roles directory. While it is possible to name the directory any way via the roles_path in ansible.cfg, we strongly recommend to stick to the directory name roles, sitting in the root of your project directory. Do not choose another name for it or move it to some subdirectory.

The same is true for requirements.yml: have one requirements.yml only, and keep it at roles/requirements.yml. While it is technically possible to have multiple files and spread them across your project, this will not work when the project is imported into Ansible Tower.

Also, if the roles are not only shared among multiple users, but are also developed with others or not by you at all, it might make sense to pin the role to the actual commit you’ve tested your setup against. That way you will avoid unwanted changes in the role behaviour.

More Information

Find, reuse, and share the best Ansible content on Ansible Galaxy.

Learn more about roles on Ansible Docs.

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[Short Tip] Use Ansible with managed nodes running Python3

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Python 3 is becoming the default Python version on more and more distributions. Fedora 28 ships Python 3, and RHEL 8 is expected to ship Python 3 as well.

With Ansible this can lead to trouble: some of these distributions do not ship a default /usr/bin/python but instead insist on picking either /usr/bin/python2 or /usr/bin/python3 thus leading to errors when Ansible is called to manage such machines:

TASK [Gathering Facts] 
fatal: [116.116.116.202]: FAILED! => {"changed": false, "module_stderr": "Connection to 116.116.116.202 closed.\r\n", "module_stdout": "/bin/sh: /usr/bin/python: No such file or directory\r\n", "msg": "MODULE FAILURE\nSee stdout/stderr for the exact error", "rc": 127}

The fix is to define the Python interpreter in additional variables. They can even be provided on the command line:

$ ansible-playbook -i 116.116.116.202, mybook.yml -e ansible_python_interpreter="/usr/bin/python3"

[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.

Ansible community modules for Oracle DB & ASM

Ansible LogoBesides the almost thousand modules shipped with Ansible, there are many more community modules out there developed independently. A remarkable example is a set of modules to manage Oracle DBs.

The Ansible module system is a great way to improve data center automation: automation tasks do not have to be programmed “manually” in shell code, but can be simply executed by calling the appropriate module with the necessary parameters. Besides the fact that an automation user does not have to remember the shell code the modules are usually also idempotent, thus a module can be called multiple times and only changes something when it is needed.

This only works when a module for the given task exists. The list of Ansible modules is huge, but does not cover all tasks out there. For example quite some middleware products are not covered by Ansible modules (yet?). But there are also community modules out there, not part of the Ansible package, but nevertheless of high quality and developed actively.

A good example of such 3rd party modules are the Oracle DB & ASM modules developed by oravirt aka Mikael Sandström, in a community fashion. Oracle DBs are quite common in the daily enterprise IT business. And since automation is not about configuring single servers, but about integrating all parts of a business process, Oracle DBs should also be part of the automation. Here the extensive set of Ansible modules comes in handy. According to the README (shortened):

  • oracle_user
    • Creates & drops a user.
    • Grants privileges only
  • oracle_tablespace
    • Manages normal(permanent), temp & undo tablespaces (create, drop, make read only/read write, offline/online)
    • Tablespaces can be created as bigfile, autoextended
  • oracle_grants
    • Manages privileges for a user
    • Grants/revokes privileges
    • Handles roles/sys privileges properly.
    • The grants can be added as a string (dba,’select any dictionary’,’create any table’), or in a list (ie.g for use with with_items)
  • oracle_role
    • Manages roles in the database
  • oracle_parameter
    • Manages init parameters in the database (i.e alter system set parameter…)
    • Also handles underscore parameters. That will require using mode=sysdba, to be able to read the X$ tables needed to verify the existence of the parameter.
  • oracle_services
    • Manages services in an Oracle database (RAC/Single instance)
  • oracle_pdb
    • Manages pluggable databases in an Oracle container database
    • Creates/deletes/opens/closes the pdb
    • saves the state if you want it to. Default is yes
    • Can place the datafiles in a separate location
  • oracle_sql
    • 2 modes: sql or script
    • Executes arbitrary sql or runs a script
  • oracle_asmdg
    • Manages ASM diskgroup state. (absent/present)
    • Takes a list of disks and makes sure those disks are part of the DG. If the disk is removed from the disk it will be removed from the DG.
  • oracle_asmvol
    • Manages ASM volumes. (absent/present)
  • oracle_ldapuser
    • Syncronises users/role grants from LDAP/Active Directory to the database
  • oracle_privs
    • Manages system and object level grants
    • Object level grant support wildcards, so now it is possible to grant access to all tables in a schema and maintain it automatically!

I have not yet had the change to test the modules, but I think they are worth a look. The amount of quality code, the existing documentation and also the ongoing development shows an active and healthy project, development important and certainly relevant modules. Please note: these modules are not part of the Ansible community, nor part of any offering from Oracle or anyone else. So use them at your own risk, they probably will eat your data. And kittens!

So, if you are dealing with Oracle DBs these modules might be worth to take a look. And I hope they will be pushed upstream soon.

[Short Tip] Retrieve your public IP with Ansible

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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

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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.