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.


Ansible Tower 3.1 – screenshot tour

Ansible LogoAnsible Tower 3.1 was just released. Time to have a closer look at some of the new features like the workflow editor.

Just a few days ago, Ansible Tower 3.1 was released. Besides the usual bug fixes, refinements of the UI and similar things this Tower version comes with major new feature: a workflow editor, scale out clustering, integration with logging providers and a new job details page.

The basic idea of a workflow is to link multiple job templates coming one after the other. They may or may not share inventory, playbooks or even permissions. The links can be conditional: if job template A succeeds, job template B is automatically executed afterwards, but in case of failure, job template C will be run. And the workflows are not even limited to job templates, but can also include project or inventory updates.

This enables new applications for Tower: besides the rather simple execution of prepared job templates, now different workflows can build upon each other. Imagine the networking team which creates a playbooks with their own content, in their own Git repository and even targeting their own inventory, while the operations team also has their own repos, playbooks and inventory. With older Tower versions there would be no simple way to bring these totally separated ways together – with 3.1 this can be done even with a graphical editor.

Workflows can be created right from the job template page. As can be seen that page got an overhaul:


The button to add a new template offers a small arrow to get a menu from which a workflow can be set up.

Afterwards, the workflow needs to be defined – name, organization, etc. This is a necessary step, before the actual links can be created:


As shown in the screenshot above from this screen on the actual editor can be started. And I must admit that I was surprised of how simple but yet rather elegant the editor looks like and works. It takes hardly any time to get used to, and the result is visually appealing and easily understandable:


The above screenshot shows the major highlights: links depending on the result of the previous job template in red and green, blue links which are executed every time, a task in the workflow to update a project (indicated by the “P”), and the actual editor.

As mentioned at the beginning, there are more features in this new Tower release. The clustering feature is an explicitly interesting feature for load balancing and HA setups, though I have not tested it yet. Another possibility is the integration of logging providers right into the UI:


As shown above a logstash logging provider  was configured to gather all the Tower logs. Other possible providers are  splunk, and in general everything which understands REST calls.

A change I yet have to get familiar with is the new view on the jobs page, showing running or completed jobs:

The new view is much more tailored to the output of ansible-playbook, showing the time at each task. Also, a search bar has been added which can be used to search through the results rather easily. Each taks can be clicked at to get much more details about the task. However, in the old view I liked the possibility to simply click through a play and the single tasks, getting the list of hosts adjusted automatically, etc. I can already see that the change will be for the better – but I have to get used to it first 😉

Overall the new release is pretty impressive. Especially the workflow editor will massively help bringing different teams even closer in automation (DevOps, anyone?). Also, the cluster feature will certainly help create stable, HA like setups of Tower. The UI might take some time to get used to, but that’s ok, since there will be a benefit at the end.

So, it is a great release – get started now!

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

Ansible Logo

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
    job_template_id: 44
    vmname: myvmname

    - name: create additional node in GCE
        url:{{ job_template_id }}/launch/
        method: POST
        user: admin
        password: $PASSWORD
        status_code: 202
            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.

[Howto] Workaround failing MongoDB on RHEL/CentOS 7

Ansible LogoMongoDB is often installed right from upstream provided repositories. In such cases with recent updates the service might fail to start via systemctl. A workaround requires some SELinux work.

Ansible Tower collects system data inside a MongoDB. Since MongoDB is not part of RHEL/CentOS, it is installed directly form the upstream MongoDB repositories. However, with recent versions of MongoDB the database might not come up via systemctl:

[root@ansible-demo-tower init.d]# systemctl start mongod
Job for mongod.service failed because the control process exited with error code. See "systemctl status mongod.service" and "journalctl -xe" for details.
[root@ansible-demo-tower init.d]# journalctl -xe
May 03 08:26:00 ansible-demo-tower systemd[1]: Starting SYSV: Mongo is a scalable, document-oriented database....
-- Subject: Unit mongod.service has begun start-up
-- Defined-By: systemd
-- Support:
-- Unit mongod.service has begun starting up.
May 03 08:26:00 ansible-demo-tower runuser[7266]: pam_unix(runuser:session): session opened for user mongod by (uid=0)
May 03 08:26:00 ansible-demo-tower runuser[7266]: pam_unix(runuser:session): session closed for user mongod
May 03 08:26:00 ansible-demo-tower mongod[7259]: Starting mongod: [FAILED]
May 03 08:26:00 ansible-demo-tower systemd[1]: mongod.service: control process exited, code=exited status=1
May 03 08:26:00 ansible-demo-tower systemd[1]: Failed to start SYSV: Mongo is a scalable, document-oriented database..
-- Subject: Unit mongod.service has failed
-- Defined-By: systemd
-- Support:
-- Unit mongod.service has failed.
-- The result is failed.
May 03 08:26:00 ansible-demo-tower systemd[1]: Unit mongod.service entered failed state.
May 03 08:26:00 ansible-demo-tower systemd[1]: mongod.service failed.
May 03 08:26:00 ansible-demo-tower polkitd[11436]: Unregistered Authentication Agent for unix-process:7254:1405622 (system bus name :1.184, object path /org/freedesktop/PolicyKit1/AuthenticationAgent, locale en_

The root cause of the problem is that the MongoDB developers do not provide a proper SELinux</a configuration with their packages, see the corresponding bug report.

A short workaround is to create a proper (more or less) SELinux rule and install it to the system:

[root@ansible-demo-tower ~]# grep mongod /var/log/audit/audit.log | audit2allow -m mongod > mongod.te
[root@ansible-demo-tower ~]# cat mongod.te 

module mongod 1.0;

require {
	type locale_t;
	type mongod_t;
	type ld_so_cache_t;
	class file execute;

#============= mongod_t ==============
allow mongod_t ld_so_cache_t:file execute;
allow mongod_t locale_t:file execute;
[root@ansible-demo-tower ~]# grep mongod /var/log/audit/audit.log | audit2allow -M mongod
******************** IMPORTANT ***********************
To make this policy package active, execute:

semodule -i mongod.pp

[root@ansible-demo-tower ~]# semodule -i mongod.pp 
[root@ansible-demo-tower ~]# sudo service mongod start
                                                           [  OK  ]

Keep in mind that audit2allow generated rule sets are not to be used on production systems. The generated SELinux rules need to be analyzed manually to verify that it covers nothing but the problematic use case.

Insights into Ansible: environments of executed playbooks

Ansible LogoUsually when Ansible Tower executes a playbook everything works just as on the command line. However, in some corner cases the behavior might be different: Ansible Tower runs its playbooks in a specific environment.

Different playbook results in Tower vs CLI

Ansible is a great tool for automation, and Ansible Tower enhances these capabilities by adding centralization, a UI, role based access control and a REST API. To take advantage of Tower, just import your playbooks and press start – it just works.

At least most of the time: lately I was playing around with the Google Cloud Engine, GCE. Ansible provides several GCE modules thus writing playbooks to control the setup was pretty easy. But while GCE related playbooks worked on the plain command line, they failed in Tower:

PLAY [create node on GCE] ******************************************************

TASK [launch instance] *********************************************************
task path: /var/lib/awx/projects/_43__gitolite_gce_node_tower_pem_file/gce-node.yml:13
An exception occurred during task execution. The full traceback is:
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/var/lib/awx/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1461919385.95-6521356859698/gce", line 2573, in <module>
  File "/var/lib/awx/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1461919385.95-6521356859698/gce", line 506, in main
    module, gce, inames)
  File "/var/lib/awx/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1461919385.95-6521356859698/gce", line 359, in create_instances
    external_ip=external_ip, ex_disk_auto_delete=disk_auto_delete, ex_service_accounts=ex_sa_perms)
TypeError: create_node() got an unexpected keyword argument 'ex_can_ip_forward'

fatal: [localhost]: FAILED! => {"changed": false, "failed": true, "invocation": {"module_name": "gce"}, "parsed": false}

NO MORE HOSTS LEFT *************************************************************
	to retry, use: --limit @gce-node.retry

PLAY RECAP *********************************************************************
localhost                  : ok=0    changed=0    unreachable=0    failed=1 

To me that didn’t make sense at all: the exact same playbook was running on command line. How could that fail in Tower when Tower is only a UI to Ansible itself?

Environment variables during playbook runs

The answer is that playbooks are run by Tower within specific environment variables. For example, the GCE login credentials are provided to the playbook and thus to the modules via environment variables:


That means, if you want to debug a playbook and want to provide the login credentials just the way Tower does, the shell command has to be: GCE_PROJECT=myproject GCE_PEM_FILE_PATH=/tmp/mykey.pem ansible-playbook myplaybook.yml

The error at hand was also caused by an environment variable, though: PYTHONPATH. Tower comes along with a set of Python libraries needed for Ansible. Among them some which are required by specific modules. In this case, the GCE modules require the Apache libcloud, and that one is installed with the Ansible Tower bundle. The libraries are installed at /usr/lib/python2.7/site-packages/awx/lib/site-packages – which is not a typical Python path.

For that reason, each playbook is run from within Tower with the environment variable PYTHONPATH="/usr/lib/python2.7/site-packages/awx/lib/site-packages:". Thus, to run a playbook just the same way it is run from within Tower, the shell command needs to be:

PYTHONPATH="/usr/lib/python2.7/site-packages/awx/lib/site-packages:" ansible-playbook myplaybook.yml

This way the GCE error shown above could be reproduced on the command line. So the environment provided by Tower was a problem, while the environment of plain Ansible (and thus plain Python) caused no errors. Tower does bundle the library because you cannot expect the library for example in the RHEL default repositories.

The root cause is that right now Tower still ships with an older version of the libcloud library which is not fully compatible with GCE anymore (GCE is a fast moving target). If you run Ansible on the command line you most likely install libcloud via pip or RPM which in most cases provides a pretty current version.

Workaround for Tower

While upgrading the library makes sense in the mid term, a short term workaround is needed as well. The best way is to first install a recent version of libcloud and second identify the actual task which fails and point that exact task to the new library.

In case of RHEL, enable the EPEL repository, install python-libcloud and then add the environment path PYTHONPATH: "/usr/lib/python2.7/site-packages" to the task via the environment option.

- name: launch instance
    name: "{{ node_name }}"
    zone: europe-west1-c
    machine_type: "{{ machine_type }}"
    image: "{{ image }}"
    PYTHONPATH: "/usr/lib/python2.7/site-packages"

Useful command line options for ansible-playbook

Ansible LogoAnsible provides quite some useful command line options. Most of them are especially interesting during debugging.


There are three major ways to work with Ansible:

  • launching single tasks with the ansible command
  • executing playbooks viaansible-playbook
  • using Tower to manage and run playbooks

While Tower might be the better option to run Ansible in the day-to-day business, and the ansible CLI itself is most likely only in one-time runs used, the executing of playbooks on the command line often happens during the development of playbooks, when no Tower is available – or during debugging. In such cases, there are quite some useful command line options which might not even be known to the seasoned Ansible user.

Do I say this right? – Syntax checking

Playbooks are written in YAML, and in YAML syntax is crucial – especially indentation:

Data structure hierarchy is maintained by outline indentation.

To check if a playbook is correctly formatted, the option --syntax-check looks at all involved playbooks and verifies the correct syntax. During a syntax check, no playbooks are actually executed.

$ ansible-playbook --syntax-check oraclejdk-destroy.yml
ERROR! Syntax Error while loading YAML.

The error appears to have been in '/home/liquidat/Gits/github/ansible-demo-oraclejdk/oracle-windows-destroy.yml': line 10, column 11,
but may be elsewhere in the file depending on the exact syntax problem.

The offending line appears to be:

  win_template: src=data/remove-program.j2 dest=C:\\temp\\remove-program.ps1
    - name: remove application
          ^ here

The syntax check helps if a playbook fails for no apparent reason – or if a playbook was edited a lot and it is simply not sure if everything was moved around correctly.

Whom am I talking to? – Listing affected hosts

With complex playbooks and dynamic inventories it sometimes is hard to say against which hosts a playbook will actually be executed. In such cases, the option --list-hosts will output a list of affected hosts, including the name of the actual play and the pattern with which the hosts were chosen:

$ ansible-playbook --list-hosts oraclejdk-destroy.yml

playbook: oraclejdk-destroy.yml

  play #1 (windows): remove OracleJDK on Windows	TAGS: []
    pattern: [u'windows']
    hosts (1):

  play #2 (rhel): remove OracleJDK on RHEL	TAGS: []
    pattern: [u'rhel']
    hosts (2):

This works also together with the -l option and might help debugging your inventory.

Again, no tasks are actually execute when the list of hosts is queried.

What’s going on here? – List tasks

Another thing which can get pretty complicated is the list of tasks actually executed: think of complex playbooks including other complex playbooks. That can get pretty complex and difficult to understand – here the option --list-tasks comes in handy. It lists what will be done, showing the names of the tasks but not executing any of them on the target nodes:

$ ansible-playbook --list-tasks oraclejdk-destroy.yml

playbook: oraclejdk-destroy.yml

  play #1 (windows): remove OracleJDK on Windows	TAGS: []
      copy Java remove script to temp	TAGS: []
      remove application	TAGS: []
      remove temp dir in Windows	TAGS: []

  play #2 (rhel): remove OracleJDK on RHEL	TAGS: []
      remove java dir	TAGS: []

What’s that thing? – List all tags

Besides all tasks, the used tags can be listed as well.

$ ansible-playbook --list-tags setup-control.yml

playbook: setup-control.yml

  play #1 (tuzak): 	TAGS: []
      TASK TAGS: [base_setup, db, imap, ldap, mail, oc, smtp]

Again, this option helps providing an overview what a playbook has to offer, how to use it. And again this option does not execute any task on the target node.

Are you sure? – Running in test mode

Ansible provides a so called check mode, also called dry run mode (in Tower for example). Invoked via --check the check mode does not alter the target nodes, but tries to output what would change and what not. Note however that this needs to be supported by the used modules, and not all modules support this.

For example, the following listing shows several tasks not supporting the dry run, which is indicated by the “skipping” line.

$ ansible-playbook --check oraclejdk-setup.yml

PLAY [set up OracleJDK on Windows] *********************************************

TASK [setup] *******************************************************************
ok: [radon]

TASK [set up temp dir in Windows] **********************************************
skipping: [radon]

TASK [copy JDK to Windows client] **********************************************
skipping: [radon]

TASK [run exe installer] *******************************************************
skipping: [radon]
PLAY [set up OracleJDK on RHEL] ************************************************

TASK [setup] *******************************************************************
ok: [helium]
ok: [neon]

TASK [copy JDK to RHEL client] *************************************************
skipping: [helium]
skipping: [neon]

This is quite useful to get an idea what impact the run of a playbook might have on target nodes. The lack of support in several modules dampens the positive effect a bit, though.

But since the --diff option (see below) supports it, it can be quite handy in certain situations.

Let me have a look at that… – Going through tasks step by step

Imagine that a playbook runs without errors, but somehow the result is not what exactly what was expected. In such cases one way to debug everything is to go through each task at a time, step by step, checking the state of all involved components after each task. This can be done with the option --step.

$ ansible-playbook --step oraclejdk-setup.yml

PLAY [set up OracleJDK on Windows] *********************************************
Perform task: TASK: setup (y/n/c): y

Perform task: TASK: setup (y/n/c): *********************************************

TASK [setup] *******************************************************************
ok: [radon]
Perform task: TASK: set up temp dir in Windows (y/n/c): y

Perform task: TASK: set up temp dir in Windows (y/n/c): ************************

TASK [set up temp dir in Windows] **********************************************
changed: [radon]
Perform task: TASK: copy JDK to Windows client (y/n/c): 

This is incredibly helpful on complex setups involving multiple nodes.

And yes, this time the tasks are actually executed on the target node!

Get me right there! – Starting playbooks in the middle

During debugging and development it might make sense to start playbooks not at the beginning, but somewhere in between. For example, because a playbook failed at task 14, and you don’t want to go through the first 13 tasks again. Starting at a given task requires the appropriate name of the task – and the option --start-at-task:

$ ansible-playbook --start-at-task="run exe installer" oraclejdk-setup.yml

PLAY [set up OracleJDK on Windows] *********************************************

TASK [setup] *******************************************************************
ok: [radon]

TASK [run exe installer] *******************************************************
ok: [radon]

In this example, the two tasks “set up temp dir in Windows” and “copy JDK to Windows client” are skipped, and the playbook starts directly at “run exe installer”. Note that skipped tasks are not shown or listed at all, and that the setup is run nevertheless.

As shown above, the proper name of each task is listed with the --list-tasks option.

Get down to business! – Showing diffs

Ansible is often used to deploy files, especially using templates. Usually, when a file is changed, Ansible just highlights that a change occurred – but not what was actually changed. In such cases, the option --diff comes in handy: it shows the diff in typical patch form:

$ ansible-playbook --diff examples/template.yml

PLAY [template example] ********************************************************

TASK [setup] *******************************************************************
ok: [helium]

TASK [copy template] ***********************************************************
changed: [helium]
--- before: /tmp/template.conf
+++ after: dynamically generated
@@ -1,2 +1,3 @@
 hostname: ansible-demo-helium
-bumble: bee
+foo: bar
+MX: 10,5

PLAY RECAP *********************************************************************
helium                     : ok=2    changed=1    unreachable=0    failed=0

This can be even combined with the option --check: in such cases, the diff is printed, but the change is not performed on the target node. That’s pretty handy indeed

That was interesting! – Summary

To summarize, ansible-playbook has quite some options to help debugging playbooks. The fact that many do not alter the target nodes makes it possible to use them on productive systems as well (but with care, as always). They also help a lot when it comes to understanding unknown playbooks, for example from other departments or coworkers.