[Short Tip] Flatten nested dict/list structures in Ansible with json_query

A few days ago I was asked how to best deal with structures in Ansible which are mixing dictionaries and lists. json_query can help here!

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A few days ago I was asked how to best deal with structures in Ansible which are mixing dictionaries and lists. Basically, the following example was provided and the questioned remained how to deal with this – for example how to flatten it:

          - name: "city1"
          - size: "large"
          - param: "alpha"
          - name: "city2"
          - size: "small"
          - param: "beta"
          - name: "city1"
          - size: "large"
          - param: "gamma"

I was wondering a lot how to deal with this – after all dict2items only deals with dicts and fails when it reaches the lists in there. I also fooled around with the map filter, but most of my results also required some previous knowledge about the data structure, were only acting by providing “cloud1.region1” or similar.

The solution was the json_query filter: it is based on jmespath and can deal with the above mentioned structure by list and object projections:

  - name: Projections using json_query
      msg: "Item value is: {{ item }}"
    loop: "{{ myhash|json_query(projection_query)|list }}"
      projection_query: "*.*[]"

And indeed, the loop does create a simplified output of all the elements in this nested structure:

TASK [Projections using json_query] **********************************************************
ok: [localhost] => (item=[{'name': 'city1'}, {'size': 'large'}, {'param': 'alpha'}]) => {
    "msg": "Item value is: [{'name': 'city1'}, {'size': 'large'}, {'param': 'alpha'}]"
ok: [localhost] => (item=[{'name': 'city2'}, {'size': 'small'}, {'param': 'beta'}]) => {
    "msg": "Item value is: [{'name': 'city2'}, {'size': 'small'}, {'param': 'beta'}]"
ok: [localhost] => (item=[{'name': 'city1'}, {'size': 'large'}, {'param': 'gamma'}]) => {
    "msg": "Item value is: [{'name': 'city1'}, {'size': 'large'}, {'param': 'gamma'}]"

Of course, some knowledge is still needed to make this work: you need to know if you are projecting on a list or on a dictionary. So if your data structure changes on that level between executions, you might need something else.

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Ways to provide body payload in Ansible’s URI module [2. Update]

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Talin to a REST API requires to provide some information, usually in the form of JSON payload. Ansible offers various ways to do that in the URI module in playbooks.

In modern applications REST APIs are often the main API to integrate the given APP with the existing infrastructure. REST often requires posting JSON structures as payload.

Ansible offers the URI module to talk to REST APIs, and there are multiple ways add JSON payload to a playbook task that are shown below.

For example, given that the following arbitrary JSON payload needs to be provided to a REST API via POST:

  "mainlevel": {
    "subkey": "finalvalue"

The first and for me preferred way to provide JSON payloads is to write down the structure in plain YAML (if possible) and afterwards tell the module to format it as JSON:

HEADER_Content-Type: application/json
status_code: 202
    subkey: finalvalue
body_format: json

Among various reasons this works well because variables can be easily used.

Another way is to define a variable and then use jinja to format it:

    "subkey": finalvalue
    body: ' {{mainlevel|to_json}}'

Caution: not the empty space here in the body line. It avoids type detection which tries to check if a string begins with { or [.

Sometimes the payload is the content of a file generated somewhere else. In these cases the best way is to use the lookup plugin to read the file:

body: "{{ lookup('file','myvalues.json') }}"

Of course the lookup plugin can access data from other places as well – for example from a database or a config store, which is a nice way of integrating existing infrastructure with each other via Ansible.

A quicker, shorter way is to use folded style:

body: >

Note that folded style pastes things as they are – but ignores single new lines. So it might be difficult to add variables here.

Therefore, a little bit better suited is the literal style, indicated by the pipe:

body: |
  "mainlevel": {
    "subkey": "finalvalue"

This is probably the easiest way to deal with in many debugging situations where you need to be able to quickly change thins in your code.

Last, and honestly something I would try to avoid is the plain one-liner:

body: "{\"mainlevel\":{\"subkey\":\"finalvalue\"}}

Note, all quotation marks need to be escaped which makes it hard to read, hard to maintain and easy to introduce errors.

As shown Ansible is powerful and simple. Thus there are always multiple different ways to reach the goal you are aiming for – and it depends on the requirements what solution is the best one.

For more details I can only recommend Understanding multi line strings in YAML and Ansible (Part I & Part II) from adminswerk.de.

Added how to add body payload from existing files.

2. Update:
Added details about literal style.