"Kelvin Test" by "Eelke" on Flickr

In Ansible, determine the type of a value, and casting those values to other types

TL;DR? It’s possible to work out what type of variable you’re working with in Ansible. The in-built filters don’t always do quite what you’re expecting. Jump to the “In Summary” heading for my suggestions.

One of the things I end up doing quite a bit with Ansible is value manipulation. I know it’s not really normal, but… well, I like rewriting values from one type of a thing to the next type of a thing.

For example, I like taking a value that I don’t know if it’s a list or a string, and passing that to an argument that expects a list.

Doing it wrong, getting it better

Until recently, I’d do that like this:

- debug:
    msg: |-
      {
        {%- if value | type_debug == "string" or value | type_debug == "AnsibleUnicode" -%}
           "string": "{{ value }}"
        {%- elif value | type_debug == "dict" or value | type_debug == "ansible_mapping" -%}
          "dict": {{ value }}
        {%- elif value | type_debug == "list" -%}
          "list": {{ value }}
        {%- else -%}
          "other": "{{ value }}"
        {%- endif -%}
      }

But, following finding this gist, I now know I can do this:

- debug:
    msg: |-
      {
        {%- if value is string -%}
           "string": "{{ value }}"
        {%- elif value is mapping -%}
          "dict": {{ value }}
        {%- elif value is iterable -%}
          "list": {{ value }}
        {%- else -%}
          "other": "{{ value }}"
        {%- endif -%}
      }

So, how would I use this, given the context of what I was saying before?

- assert:
    that:
    - value is string
    - value is not mapping
    - value is iterable
- some_module:
    some_arg: |-
      {%- if value is string -%}
        ["{{ value }}"]
      {%- else -%}
        {{ value }}
      {%- endif -%}

More details on finding a type

Why in this order? Well, because of how values are stored in Ansible, the following states are true:

⬇️Type \ ➡️Checkis iterableis mappingis sequenceis string
a_dict (e.g. {})✔️✔️✔️
a_list (e.g. [])✔️✔️
a_string (e.g. “”)✔️✔️✔️✔️
A comparison between value types

So, if you were to check for is iterable first, you might match on a_list or a_dict instead of a_string, but string can only match on a_string. Once you know it can’t be a string, you can check whether something is mapping – again, because a mapping can match either a_string or a_dict, but it can’t match a_list. Once you know it’s not that, you can check for either is iterable or is sequence because both of these match a_string, a_dict and a_list.

Likewise, if you wanted to check whether a_float and an_integer is number and not is string, you can check these:

⬇️Type \ ➡️Checkis floatis integeris iterableis mappingis numberis sequenceis string
a_float✔️✔️
an_integer✔️✔️
A comparison between types of numbers

So again, a_float and an_integer don’t match is string, is mapping or is iterable, but they both match is number and they each match their respective is float and is integer checks.

How about each of those (a_float and an_integer) wrapped in quotes, making them a string? What happens then?

⬇️Type \ ➡️Checkis floatis integeris iterableis mappingis numberis sequenceis string
a_float_as_string✔️✔️✔️
an_integer_as_string✔️✔️✔️
A comparison between types of numbers when held as a string

This is somewhat interesting, because they look like a number, but they’re actually “just” a string. So, now you need to do some comparisons to make them look like numbers again to check if they’re numbers.

Changing the type of a string

What happens if you cast the values? Casting means to convert from one type of value (e.g. string) into another (e.g. float) and to do that, Ansible has three filters we can use, float, int and string. You can’t cast to a dict or a list, but you can use dict2items and items2dict (more on those later). So let’s start with casting our group of a_ and an_ items from above. Here’s a list of values I want to use:

---
- hosts: localhost
  gather_facts: no
  vars:
    an_int: 1
    a_float: 1.1
    a_string: "string"
    an_int_as_string: "1"
    a_float_as_string: "1.1"
    a_list:
      - item1
    a_dict:
      key1: value1

With each of these values, I returned the value as Ansible knows it, what happens when you do {{ value | float }} to cast it as a float, as an integer by doing {{ value | int }} and as a string {{ value | string }}. Some of these results are interesting. Note that where you see u'some value' means that Python converted that string to a Unicode string.

⬇️Value \ ➡️Castvaluevalue when cast as floatvalue when cast as integervalue when cast as string
a_dict{“key1”: “value1”}0.00“{u’key1′: u’value1′}”
a_float1.11.11“1.1”
a_float_as_string“1.1”1.11“1.1”
a_list[“item1”]0.00“[u’item1′]”
a_string“string”0.00“string”
an_int111“1”
an_int_as_string“1”11“1”
Casting between value types

So, what does this mean for us? Well, not a great deal, aside from to note that you can “force” a number to be a string, or a string which is “just” a number wrapped in quotes can be forced into being a number again.

Oh, and casting dicts to lists and back again? This one is actually pretty clearly documented in the current set of documentation (as at 2.9 at least!)

Checking for miscast values

How about if I want to know whether a value I think might be a float stored as a string, how can I check that?

{{ vars[var] | float | string == vars[var] | string }}

What is this? If I cast a value that I think might be a float, to a float, and then turn both the cast value and the original into a string, do they match? If I’ve got a string or an integer, then I’ll get a false, but if I have actually got a float, then I’ll get true. Likewise for casting an integer. Let’s see what that table looks like:

⬇️Type \ ➡️Checkvalue when cast as floatvalue when cast as integervalue when cast as string
a_float✔️✔️
a_float_as_string✔️✔️
an_integer✔️✔️
an_integer_as_string✔️✔️
A comparison between types of numbers when cast to a string

So this shows us the values we were after – even if you’ve got a float (or an integer) stored as a string, by doing some careful casting, you can confirm they’re of the type you wanted… and then you can pass them through the right filter to use them in your playbooks!

Booleans

Last thing to check – boolean values – “True” or “False“. There’s a bit of confusion here, as a “boolean” can be: true or false, yes or no, 1 or 0, however, is true and True and TRUE the same? How about false, False and FALSE? Let’s take a look!

⬇️Value \ ➡️Checktype_debug is booleanis numberis iterableis mappingis stringvalue when cast as boolvalue when cast as stringvalue when cast as integer
yesbool✔️✔️TrueTrue1
YesAnsibleUnicode✔️✔️FalseYes0
YESAnsibleUnicode✔️✔️FalseYES0
“yes”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️Trueyes0
“Yes”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️TrueYes0
“YES”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️TrueYES0
truebool✔️✔️TrueTrue1
Truebool✔️✔️TrueTrue1
TRUEbool✔️✔️TrueTrue1
“true”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️Truetrue0
“True”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️TrueTrue0
“TRUE”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️TrueTRUE0
1int✔️True11
“1”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️True11
nobool✔️✔️FalseFalse0
Nobool✔️✔️FalseFalse0
NObool✔️✔️FalseFalse0
“no”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️Falseno0
“No”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️FalseNo0
“NO”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️FalseNO0
falsebool✔️✔️FalseFalse0
Falsebool✔️✔️FalseFalse0
FALSEbool✔️✔️FalseFalse0
“false”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️Falsefalse0
“False”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️FalseFalse0
“FALSE”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️FalseFALSE0
0int✔️False00
“0”AnsibleUnicode✔️✔️False00
Comparisons between various stylings of boolean representations

So, the stand out thing for me here is that while all the permutations of string values of the boolean representations (those wrapped in quotes, like this: "yes") are treated as strings, and shouldn’t be considered as “boolean” (unless you cast for it explicitly!), and all non-string versions of true, false, and no are considered to be boolean, yes, Yes and YES are treated differently, depending on case. So, what would I do?

In summary

  • Consistently use no or yes, true or false in lower case to indicate a boolean value. Don’t use 1 or 0 unless you have to.
  • If you’re checking that you’re working with a string, a list or a dict, check in the order string (using is string), dict (using is mapping) and then list (using is sequence or is iterable)
  • Checking for numbers that are stored as strings? Cast your string through the type check for that number, like this: {% if value | float | string == value | string %}{{ value | float }}{% elif value | int | string == value | string %}{{ value | int }}{% else %}{{ value }}{% endif %}
  • Try not to use type_debug unless you really can’t find any other way. These values will change between versions, and this caused me a lot of issues with a large codebase I was working on a while ago!

Run these tests yourself!

Want to run these tests yourself? Here’s the code I ran (also available in a Gist on GitHub), using Ansible 2.9.10.

---
- hosts: localhost
  gather_facts: no
  vars:
    an_int: 1
    a_float: 1.1
    a_string: "string"
    an_int_as_string: "1"
    a_float_as_string: "1.1"
    a_list:
      - item1
    a_dict:
      key1: value1
  tasks:
    - debug:
        msg: |
          {
          {% for var in ["an_int", "an_int_as_string","a_float", "a_float_as_string","a_string","a_list","a_dict"] %}
            "{{ var }}": {
              "type_debug": "{{ vars[var] | type_debug }}",
              "value": "{{ vars[var] }}",
              "is float": "{{ vars[var] is float }}",
              "is integer": "{{ vars[var] is integer }}",
              "is iterable": "{{ vars[var] is iterable }}",
              "is mapping": "{{ vars[var] is mapping }}",
              "is number": "{{ vars[var] is number }}",
              "is sequence": "{{ vars[var] is sequence }}",
              "is string": "{{ vars[var] is string }}",
              "value cast as float": "{{ vars[var] | float }}",
              "value cast as integer": "{{ vars[var] | int }}",
              "value cast as string": "{{ vars[var] | string }}",
              "is same when cast to float": "{{ vars[var] | float | string == vars[var] | string }}",
              "is same when cast to integer": "{{ vars[var] | int | string == vars[var] | string }}",
              "is same when cast to string": "{{ vars[var] | string == vars[var] | string }}",
            },
          {% endfor %}
          }
---
- hosts: localhost
  gather_facts: false
  vars:
    # true, True, TRUE, "true", "True", "TRUE"
    a_true: true
    a_true_initial_caps: True
    a_true_caps: TRUE
    a_string_true: "true"
    a_string_true_initial_caps: "True"
    a_string_true_caps: "TRUE"
    # yes, Yes, YES, "yes", "Yes", "YES"
    a_yes: yes
    a_yes_initial_caps: Tes
    a_yes_caps: TES
    a_string_yes: "yes"
    a_string_yes_initial_caps: "Yes"
    a_string_yes_caps: "Yes"
    # 1, "1"
    a_1: 1
    a_string_1: "1"
    # false, False, FALSE, "false", "False", "FALSE"
    a_false: false
    a_false_initial_caps: False
    a_false_caps: FALSE
    a_string_false: "false"
    a_string_false_initial_caps: "False"
    a_string_false_caps: "FALSE"
    # no, No, NO, "no", "No", "NO"
    a_no: no
    a_no_initial_caps: No
    a_no_caps: NO
    a_string_no: "no"
    a_string_no_initial_caps: "No"
    a_string_no_caps: "NO"
    # 0, "0"
    a_0: 0
    a_string_0: "0"
  tasks:
    - debug:
        msg: |
          {
          {% for var in ["a_true","a_true_initial_caps","a_true_caps","a_string_true","a_string_true_initial_caps","a_string_true_caps","a_yes","a_yes_initial_caps","a_yes_caps","a_string_yes","a_string_yes_initial_caps","a_string_yes_caps","a_1","a_string_1","a_false","a_false_initial_caps","a_false_caps","a_string_false","a_string_false_initial_caps","a_string_false_caps","a_no","a_no_initial_caps","a_no_caps","a_string_no","a_string_no_initial_caps","a_string_no_caps","a_0","a_string_0"] %}
            "{{ var }}": {
              "type_debug": "{{ vars[var] | type_debug }}",
              "value": "{{ vars[var] }}",
              "is float": "{{ vars[var] is float }}",
              "is integer": "{{ vars[var] is integer }}",
              "is iterable": "{{ vars[var] is iterable }}",
              "is mapping": "{{ vars[var] is mapping }}",
              "is number": "{{ vars[var] is number }}",
              "is sequence": "{{ vars[var] is sequence }}",
              "is string": "{{ vars[var] is string }}",
              "is bool": "{{ vars[var] is boolean }}",
              "value cast as float": "{{ vars[var] | float }}",
              "value cast as integer": "{{ vars[var] | int }}",
              "value cast as string": "{{ vars[var] | string }}",
              "value cast as bool": "{{ vars[var] | bool }}",
              "is same when cast to float": "{{ vars[var] | float | string == vars[var] | string }}",
              "is same when cast to integer": "{{ vars[var] | int | string == vars[var] | string }}",
              "is same when cast to string": "{{ vars[var] | string == vars[var] | string }}",
              "is same when cast to bool": "{{ vars[var] | bool | string == vars[var] | string }}",
            },
          {% endfor %}
          }

Featured image is “Kelvin Test” by “Eelke” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"the home automation system designed by loren amelang himself" by "Nicolás Boullosa" on Flickr

One to read: Ansible for Networking – Part 3: Cisco IOS

One to read: “Ansible for Networking – Part 3: Cisco IOS”

One of the guest hosts and stalwart member of the Admin Admin Telegram group has been documenting how he has built his Ansible Networking lab.

Stuart has done three posts so far, but this is the first one actually dealing with the technology. It’s a mammoth read, so I’d recommend doing it on a computer, and not on a tablet or phone!

Posts one and two were about what the series would cover and how the lab has been constructed.

Featured image is “the home automation system designed by loren amelang himself” by “Nicolás Boullosa” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

Opening to my video: Screencast 001 - Ansible and Inspec using Vagrant

Screencast 001: Ansible and Inspec with Vagrant and Git (a mentoring style video)

If you’ve ever wondered how I use Ansible and Inspec, or wondered why some of my Vagrant files look like they do, well, I want to start recording some “mentor” style videos… You know how, if you were sitting next to someone who’s a mentor to you, and you watch how they build a solution.

The first one was released last night!

Screencast 001:Ansible and Inspec using Vagrant

I recently saw a video by Chris Hartjes on how he creates his TDD (Test driven development) based PHP projects, and I really wanted to emulate that style, but talking about the things I use.

This was my second attempt at recording a mentoring style video yesterday, the first was shown to the Admin Admin Podcast listeners group on Telegram, and then sacrificed to the demo gods (there were lots of issues in that first video) never to be seen again.

From a tooling perspective, I’m using a remote virtual machine running Ubuntu Mate 18.04 over RDP (to improve performance) with xrdp and Remmina, OBS is running locally to record the content, and I’m using Visual Studio Code, git, Vagrant and Virtualbox, as well as Ansible and Inspec.

Late edit 2020-02-29: Like videos like this, hate YouTube? It’s also on archive.org: https://archive.org/details/JonTheNiceGuyScreencast001

Late edit 2020-03-01: Popey told me about LBRY.tv when I announced this on the Admin Admin Podcast telegram channel, and so I’ve also copied the video to there: https://lbry.tv/@JonTheNiceGuy:b/Screencast001-Ansible-and-Inspec-with-Vagrant:8

apt update && apt full-upgrade -y && apt autoremove -y && apt autoclean -y

Apt Updates with Ansible

I’ve got a small Ansible script that I bundle up on Ubuntu boxes to do apt updates. This was originally a one-statement job, but I’ve added a few lines to it, so I thought I’d explain what I’m doing (more for myself, for later!)

Initally, I just had a task to do apt: upgrade=full update_cache=yes autoremove=yes autoclean-yes but if you’re running the script over and over again, well, this gets slow… So I added a tweak!

Here it is folks, in all it’s glory!

- hosts: all
  tasks:
  - name: Get stat of last run apt
    stat:
      path: /var/cache/apt/pkgcache.bin
    register: apt_run

  - name: "Apt update, Full-upgrade, autoremove, autoclean check"
    debug:
      msg: "Skipping apt-update, etc. actions as apt update was run today"
    when: "'%Y-%m-%d' | strftime(apt_run.stat.mtime) in ansible_date_time.date"

  - name: "Apt update, Full-upgrade, autoremove, autoclean"
    apt:
      upgrade: full
      update_cache: yes
      autoremove: yes
      autoclean: yes
    when: "'%Y-%m-%d' | strftime(apt_run.stat.mtime) not in ansible_date_time.date"

What does this do? Well, according to this AskUbuntu post, the best file to check if an update has been performed is /var/cache/apt/pkgcache.bin, so we check the status of that file. Most file systems available to Linux distributions provide the mtime – or “last modified time”. This is returned in the number of seconds since UTC 00:00:00 on the Unix Epoch (1970-01-01), so we need to convert that to a date., which we return as YYYY-MM-DD (e.g. today is 2020-01-06) and then compare that to what the system thinks today is. If the dates don’t equate (so one string doesn’t match the other – in other words, apt update wasn’t run today), it runs the update. If the dates do match up, we get a statement saying that apt update was already run.

Fun times!

A screen shot of the LHS Podcast Website at 2019-10-16

#Podcast Summary – “LHS Episode 307: #Ansible Deep Dive”

Recently, I was a guest of the Linux In The Ham Shack Podcast (LHS), talking about Ansible.

The episode I recorded was: LHS Episode #307: Ansible Deep Dive

About a year ago, Bill (NE4RD) and Russ (K5TUX) were talking about Ansible, and I spotted a couple of… maybe misunderstandings, maybe mistakes, or perhaps just where they misspoke about it? Whatever it was at the time, I offered to talk about Ansible, and then scheduling became a major issue. We tried to meet up online a few times over the year and this was the first opportunity I had to actually talk to them.

In this conversation, I talk about what Ansible is and how it works. I go into quite a bit of depth on how you would install packages, make file changes, and then explain how to use, obtain and create Ansible Roles. I also go into Handlers, local and remote Inventories, Ansible Tower and AWX.

When I was talking about Ansible playbooks and tasks, particularly towards the beginning of the podcast, I was looking at the code samples I put together for the Admin Admin Podcast Deep Dive into Ansible. The custom OpenStack modules I referenced in the show were written by my friend and colleague, Nick Cross.

I get a bit of stick for my pronunciation of Inventories, which is … fun :) As usual, I “Um” and “Ah” quite a bit. It becomes exceptional apparent how much work Dave Lee does for me in my usual Admin Admin Podcast!

"Key mess" by "Alper Çuğun" on Flickr

Making Ansible Keys more useful in complex and nested data structures

One of the things I miss about Jekyll when I’m working with Ansible is the ability to fragment my data across multiple files, but still have it as a structured *whole* at the end.

For example, given the following directory structure in Jekyll:

+ _data
|
+---+ members
|   +--- member1.yml
|   +--- member2.yml
|
+---+ groups
    +--- group1.yml
    +--- group2.yml

The content of member1.yml and member2.yml will be rendered into site.data.members.member1 and site.data.members.member2 and likewise, group1 and group2 are loaded into their respective variables.

This kind of structure isn’t possible in Ansible, because all the data files are compressed into one vars value that we can read. To work around this on a few different projects I’ve worked on, I’ve ended up doing the following:

- set_fact:
    my_members: |-
      [
        {%- for var in vars | dict2items -%}
          {%- if var.key | regex_search(my_regex) is not none -%}
            "{{ var.key | regex_replace(my_regex, '') }}": 
              {%- if var.value | string %}"{% endif -%}
              {{ var.value }}
              {%- if var.value | string %}"{% endif %},
          {%- endif -%}
        {%- endfor -%}
      ]
  vars:
    my_regex: '^member_'

So, what this does is to step over all the variables defined (for example, in host_vars\*, group_vars\*, from the gathered facts and from the role you’re in – following Ansible’s loading precedence), and then checks to see whether the key of that variable name (e.g. “member_i_am_a_member” or “member_1”) matches the regular expression (click here for more examples). If it does, the key (minus the regular expression matching piece [using regex_replace]) is added to a dictionary, and the value attached. If the value is actually a string, then it wraps it in quotes.

So, while this doesn’t give me my expressive data structure that Jekyll does (no site.data.members.member1.somevalue for me), I do at least get to have my_members.member1.somevalue if I put the right headers in! :)

I’ll leave extending this model for doing other sorts of building variables out (for example, something like if var.value['variable_place'] | default('') == 'my_members.member' + current_position) to the reader to work out how they could use something like this in their workflows!

Featured image is “Key mess” by “Alper Çuğun” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"Untitled" by "Ryan Dickey" on Flickr

Run an Ansible Playbook against a Check Point Gaia node running R80+

Late Edit – 2019-11-05: Ansible 2.9 has some Check Point modules for interacting with the Check Point Manager API which are actually Idempotent, and if you’re running Ansible <=2.8, there are some non-idempotent modules available directly from Check Point. This post is about interacting with the OS. The OS might now be much more addressable using ansible_connection=ssh!

In Check Point Gaia R77, if you wanted to run Ansible against this node, you were completely out of luck. The version of Python on the host was broken, modules were missing and … well, it just wouldn’t work.

Today, I’m looking at running some Ansible playbooks against Check Point R80 nodes. Here’s some steps you need to get through to make it work.

  1. Make sure the user that Ansible is going to be using has the shell /bin/bash. If you don’t have this set up, the command is: set user ansible shell /bin/bash.
  2. If you want a separate user account to do ansible actions, run these commands:
    add user ansible uid 9999 homedir /home/ansible
    set user ansible password-hash $1$D3caF9$B4db4Ddecafbadnogoood (note this hash is not valid!)
    add rba user ansible roles adminRole
    set user ansible shell /bin/bash
  3. Make sure your inventory specifies the right path for your Python binary. In the next code block you’ll see my inventory for three separate Check Point R80+ nodes. Note that I’ll only be targetting the “checkpoint” group, but that I’m using the r80_10, r80_20 and r80_30 groups to load the variables into there. I could, alternatively, add these in as values in group_vars/r80_10.yml and so on, but I find keeping everything to do with my connection in one place much cleaner. The python interpreter is in a separate path for each version time, and if you don’t specify ansible_ssh_transfer_method=piped you’ll get a message like this: [WARNING]: sftp transfer mechanism failed on [cpr80-30]. Use ANSIBLE_DEBUG=1 to see detailed information (fix from Add pipeline-ish method using dd for file transfer over SSH (#18642) on the Ansible git repo)
[checkpoint]
cpr80-10        ansible_user=admin      ansible_password=Sup3rS3cr3t-
cpr80-20        ansible_user=admin      ansible_password=Sup3rS3cr3t-
cpr80-30        ansible_user=admin      ansible_password=Sup3rS3cr3t-

[r80_10]
cpr80-10

[r80_20]
cpr80-20

[r80_30]
cpr80-30

[r80_10:vars]
ansible_ssh_transfer_method=piped
ansible_python_interpreter=/opt/CPsuite-R80/fw1/Python/bin/python

[r80_20:vars]
ansible_ssh_transfer_method=piped
ansible_python_interpreter=/opt/CPsuite-R80.20/fw1/Python/bin/python

[r80_30:vars]
ansible_ssh_transfer_method=piped
ansible_python_interpreter=/opt/CPsuite-R80.30/fw1/Python/bin/python

And there you have it, one quick “ping” check later…

$ ansible -m 'ping' -i hosts checkpoint
cpr80-10 | SUCCESS => {
    "changed": false,
    "ping": "pong"
}
cpr80-30 | SUCCESS => {
    "changed": false,
    "ping": "pong"
}
cpr80-20 | SUCCESS => {
    "changed": false,
    "ping": "pong"
}

One quick word of warning though, don’t use gather_facts: true or the setup: module. Both of these still rely on missing libraries on the Check Point nodes, and won’t work… But then again, you can get whatever you need from shell commands….. right? ;)

Featured image is “Untitled” by “Ryan Dickey” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.

"Tower" by " Yijun Chen" on Flickr

Building a Gitlab and Ansible Tower (AWX) Demo in Vagrant with Ansible

TL;DR – I created a repository on GitHub‌ containing a Vagrantfile and an Ansible Playbook to build a VM running Docker. That VM hosts AWX (Ansible Tower’s upstream open-source project) and Gitlab.

A couple of years ago, a colleague created (and I enhanced) a Vagrant and Ansible playbook called “Project X” which would run an AWX instance in a Virtual Machine. It’s a bit heavy, and did a lot of things to do with persistence that I really didn’t need, so I parked my changes and kept an eye on his playbook…

Fast-forward to a week-or-so ago. I needed to explain what a Git/Ansible Workflow would look like, and so I went back to look at ProjectX. Oh my, it looks very complex and consumed a lot of roles that, historically, I’ve not been that impressed with… I just needed the basics to run AWX. Oh, and I also needed a Gitlab environment.

I knew that Gitlab had a docker-based install, and so does AWX, so I trundled off to find some install guides. These are listed in the playbook I eventually created (hence not listing them here). Not all the choices I made were inspired by those guides – I wanted to make quite a bit of this stuff “build itself”… this meant I wanted users, groups and projects to be created in Gitlab, and users, projects, organisations, inventories and credentials to be created in AWX.

I knew that you can create Docker Containers in Ansible, so after I’d got my pre-requisites built (full upgrade, docker installed, pip libraries installed), I add the gitlab-ce:latest docker image, and expose some ports. Even now, I’m not getting the SSH port mapped that I was expecting, but … it’s no disaster.

I did notice that the Gitlab service takes ages to start once the container is marked as running, so I did some more digging, and found that the uri module can be used to poll a URL. It wasn’t documented well how you can make it keep polling until you get the response you want, so … I added a PR on the Ansible project’s github repo for that one (and I also wrote a blog post about that earlier too).

Once I had a working Gitlab service, I needed to customize it. There are a bunch of Gitlab modules in Ansible but since a few releases back of Gitlab, these don’t work any more, so I had to find a different way. That different way was to run an internal command called “gitlab-rails”. It’s not perfect (so it doesn’t create repos in your projects) but it’s pretty good at giving you just enough to build your demo environment. So that’s getting Gitlab up…

Now I need to build AWX. There’s lots of build guides for this, but actually I had most luck using the README in their repository (I know, who’d have thought it!??!) There are some “Secrets” that should be changed in production that I’m changing in my script, but on the whole, it’s pretty much a vanilla install.

Unlike the Gitlab modules, the Ansible Tower modules all work, so I use these to create the users, credentials and so-on. Like the gitlab-rails commands, however, the documentation for using the tower modules is pretty ropey, and I still don’t have things like “getting your users to have access to your organisation” working from the get-go, but for the bulk of the administration, it does “just work”.

Like all my playbooks, I use group_vars to define the stuff I don’t want to keep repeating. In this demo, I’ve set all the passwords to “Passw0rd”, and I’ve created 3 users in both AWX and Gitlab – csa, ops and release – indicative of the sorts of people this demo I ran was aimed at – Architects, Operations and Release Managers.

Maybe, one day, I’ll even be able to release the presentation that went with the demo ;)

On a more productive note, if you’re doing things with the tower_ modules and want to tell me what I need to fix up, or if you’re doing awesome things with the gitlab-rails tool, please visit the repo with this automation code in, and take a look at some of my “todo” items! Thanks!!

Featured image is “Tower” by “Yijun Chen” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.

"funfair action" by "Jon Bunting" on Flickr

Improving the speed of Azure deployments in Ansible with Async

Recently I was building a few environments in Azure using Ansible, and found this stanza which helped me to speed things up.

  - name: "Schedule UDR Creation"
    azure_rm_routetable:
      resource_group: "{{ resource_group }}"
      name: "{{ item.key }}_udr"
    loop: "{{ routetables | dict2items }}"
    loop_control:
        label: "{{ item.key }}_udr"
    async: 1000
    poll: 0
    changed_when: False
    register: sleeper

  - name: "Check UDRs Created"
    async_status:
      jid: "{{ item.ansible_job_id }}"
    register: sleeper_status
    until: sleeper_status.finished
    retries: 500
    delay: 4
    loop: "{{ sleeper.results|flatten(levels=1) }}"
    when: item.ansible_job_id is defined
    loop_control:
      label: "{{ item._ansible_item_label }}"

What we do here is to start an action with an “async” time (to give the Schedule an opportunity to register itself) and a “poll” time of 0 (to prevent the Schedule from waiting to be finished). We then tell it that it’s “never changed” (changed_when: False) because otherwise it always shows as changed, and to register the scheduled item itself as a “sleeper”.

After all the async jobs get queued, we then check the status of all the scheduled items with the async_status module, passing it the registered job ID. This lets me spin up a lot more items in parallel, and then “just” confirm afterwards that they’ve been run properly.

It’s not perfect, and it can make for rather messy code. But, it does work, and it’s well worth giving it the once over, particularly if you’ve got some slow-to-run tasks in your playbook!

Featured image is “funfair action” by “Jon Bunting” on Flickr and is released under a CC-BY license.