Ansible, Part IV: Putting It All Together

Ansible, Part IV: Putting It All Together


Shawn Powers
Fri, 03/02/2018 – 09:31

Roles are the most complicated and yet simplest aspect of
Ansible to learn.

I’ve mentioned before that Ansible’s ad-hoc mode often is overlooked
as just a way to learn how to use Ansible. I couldn’t disagree with
that mentality any more fervently than I already do. Ad-hoc mode is
actually what I tend to use most often on a day-to-day basis. That said,
using playbooks and roles are very powerful ways to utilize Ansible’s
abilities. In fact, when most people think of Ansible, they tend to
think of the roles feature, because it’s the way most Ansible code is
shared. So first, it’s important to understand the relationship
between ad-hoc mode, playbooks and roles.

Ad-hoc Mode

This is a bit of a review, but it’s easy to forget once you start creating
playbooks. Ad-hoc mode is simply a one-liner that uses an Ansible module
to accomplish a given task on a set of computers. Something like:

ansible cadlab -b -m yum -a "name=vim state=latest"

will install vim on every computer in the cadlab group. The
signals to elevate privilege (“become” root), the
-m means to use the
yum module, and the -a says
what actions to take. In this case,
it’s installing the latest version of vim.

Usually when I use ad-hoc mode to install packages, I’ll follow up with
something like this:

ansible cadlab -b -m service -a "name=httpd state=started

That one-liner will make sure that the httpd service is running and set
to start on boot automatically (the latter is what “enabled” means). Like
I said at the beginning, I most often use Ansible’s ad-hoc mode on a
day-to-day basis. When a new rollout or upgrade needs to happen though,
that’s when it makes sense to create a playbook, which is a text file
that contains a bunch of Ansible commands.

Playbook Mode

I described playbooks in my last article. They are YAML- (Yet Another Markup
Language) formatted text files that contain a list of things for Ansible
to accomplish. For example, to install Apache on a lab full of computers, you’d create
a file something like this:


- hosts: cadlab
  - name: install apache2 on CentOS
    yum: name=httpd state=latest
    notify: start httpd
    ignore_errors: yes

  - name: install apache2 on Ubuntu
    apt: update_cache=yes name=apache2 state=latest
    notify: start apache2
    ignore_errors: yes

  - name: start httpd
    service: name=httpd enable=yes state=started

  - name: start apache2
    service: name=apache2 enable=yes state=started

Mind you, this isn’t the most elegant playbook. It contains a single
play that tries to install httpd with yum and apache2 with apt. If
the lab is a mix of CentOS and Ubuntu machines, one or the other of the
installation methods will fail. That’s why the
ignore_errors command
is in each task. Otherwise, Ansible would quit when it encountered an
error. Again, this method works, but it’s not pretty. It would be much
better to create conditional statements that would allow for a graceful
exit on incompatible platforms. In fact, playbooks that are more complex
and do more things tend to evolve into a “role” in Ansible.


Roles aren’t really a mode of operation. Actually, roles are an integral
part of playbooks. Just like a playbook can have tasks, variables and
handlers, they can also have roles. Quite simply, roles are just a way
to organize the various components referenced in playbooks. It starts
with a folder layout:


Ansible looks for a roles folder in the current directory, but also
in a system-wide location like /etc/ansible/roles, so you can store your
roles to keep them organized and out of your home folder. The advantage
of using roles is that your playbooks can look as simple as this:


- hosts: cadlab
    - webserver

And then the “webserver” role will be applied to the group
without needing to type any more information inside your playbook. When
a role is specified, Ansible looks for a folder matching the name
“webserver” inside your roles folder (in the current directory or
the system-wide directory). It then will execute the tasks inside
webserver/tasks/main.yml. Any handlers mentioned in that playbook will
be searched for automatically in webserver/handlers/main.yml. Also,
any time files are referenced by a template module or file/copy module,
the path doesn’t need to be specified. Ansible automatically will look
inside webserver/files/ or /webserver/templates/ for the files.

Basically, using roles will save you lots of path declarations and include
statements. That might seem like a simple thing, but the organization
creates a standard that not only makes it easy to figure out what a
role does, but also makes it easy to share your code with others. If you always
know any files must be stored in roles/rolename/files/, it means you can
share a “role” with others and they’ll know exactly what to do with
it—namely, just plop it in their own roles folder and start using it.

Sharing Roles: Ansible Galaxy

One of the best aspects of current DevOps tools like Chef, Puppet and
Ansible is that there is a community of people willing to share their
hard work. On a small scale, roles are a great way to share with your
coworkers, especially if you have roles that are customized specifically
for your environment. Since many of environments are similar, roles
can be shared with an even wider audience—and that’s where Ansible
Galaxy comes into play.

I’ll be honest, part of the draw for me with Ansible is the sci-fi theme
in the naming convention. I know I’m a bit silly in that regard, but
just naming something Ansible or Ansible Galaxy gets my attention. This
might be one of those “built by nerds, for nerds” sort of things. I’m
completely okay with that. If you head over to the Galaxy site,
you’ll find the online repository for shared roles—and there are a ton.

For simply downloading and using other people’s roles, you don’t need any
sort of account on Ansible Galaxy. You can search on the website by going
to Galaxy and clicking “Browse
Roles” on the left
side of the page (Figure 1). There are more than 13,000 roles currently uploaded
to Ansible Galaxy, so I highly recommend taking advantage of the search
feature! In Figure 2, you’ll see I’ve searched for “apache” and sorted by
“downloads” in order to find the most popular roles.

Figure 1. Click that link to browse and search for roles.

Figure 2. Jeff Geerling’s roles are always worth checking out.

Many of the standard roles you’ll find that are very popular are written
by Jeff Geerling, whose user name is geerlingguy. He’s an Ansible developer
who has written at least one Ansible book that I’ve read and possibly
others. He shares his roles, and I encourage you to check them out—not
only for using them, but also for seeing how he codes around issues like
conditionally choosing the correct module for a given distribution and
things like that. You can click on the role name and see all the code
involved. You might notice that if you want to examine the code, you need
to click on the GitHub link. That’s one of the genius moves of Ansible
Galaxy—all roles are stored on a user’s GitHub page as opposed
to an Ansible Galaxy server. Since most developers keep their code on
GitHub, they don’t need to remember to upload to Ansible Galaxy as well.

Incidentally, if you ever desire to share your own Ansible roles,
you’ll need to use a GitHub user name to upload them, because again,
roles are all stored on GitHub. But that’s getting ahead of things;
first you need to learn how to use roles in your environment.

Using ansible-galaxy to Install Roles

It’s certainly possible to download an entire repository and then unzip
the contents into your roles folder. Since they’re just text files
and structured folders, there’s not really anything wrong with doing
it that way. It’s just far less convenient than using the tools built in
to Ansible.

There is a search mechanism on the Ansible command line for searching
the Ansible Galaxy site, but in order to find a role I want to use, I
generally go to the website and find it, then use the command-line tools
to download and install it. Here’s an example of Jeff Geerling’s
“apache” role. In order to use Ansible to download a role, you
need to do this:

sudo ansible-galaxy install geerlingguy.apache

Notice two things. First, you need to execute this command with root
privilege. That’s because the ansible-galaxy command will install roles
in your system-wide roles folder, which isn’t writable (by default)
by your regular user account. Second, take note of the format of roles
named on Ansible Galaxy. The format is username.rolename, so in this
case, geerlingguy.apache, which is also how you reference the role
inside your playbooks.

If you want to see roles listed with the correct format, you can use
ansible-galaxy‘s search command, but like I said, I find it less than
useful because it doesn’t sort by popularity. In fact, I can’t figure
out what it sorts by at all. The only time I use the command-line
search feature is if I also use grep to narrow down roles by a single
person. Anyway, Figure 3 shows what the results of
ansible-galaxy search
look like. Notice the username.rolename format.

Figure 3. I love the command line, but these search results are

Once you install a role, it is immediately available for you to use
in your own playbooks, because it’s installed in the system-wide roles
folder. In my case, that’s /etc/ansible/roles (Figure 4). So now,
if I create a playbook like this:

- hosts: cadlab
    - geerlingguy.apache

Apache will be installed on all my cadlab computers, regardless of
what distribution they’re using. If you want to see how the role (which
is just a bunch of tasks, handlers and so forth) works, just pick through the
folder structure inside /etc/ansible/roles/geerlingguy.apache/. It’s
all right there for you to use or modify.

Figure 4. Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy

Creating Your Own Roles

There’s really no magic here, since you easily can create a roles folder
and then create your own roles manually inside it, but
does give you a shortcut by creating a skeleton role for you. Make sure
you have a roles folder, then just type:

ansible-galaxy init roles/rolename

and you’ll end up with a nicely created folder structure for your new
role. It doesn’t do anything magical, but as someone who has misspelled
“Templates” before, I can tell you it will save you a lot of frustration
if you have clumsy fingers like me.

Sharing Your Roles

If you get to the point where you want to share you roles on Ansible Galaxy,
it’s fairly easy to do. Make sure you have your role on GitHub (using
git is beyond the scope of this article, but using git and GitHub is a
great way to keep track of your code anyway). Once you have your roles
on GitHub, you can use ansible-galaxy to “import” them into the publicly
searchable Ansible Galaxy site. You first need to authenticate:

ansible-galaxy login

Before you try to log in with the command-line tool, be sure you’ve
visited the Ansible Galaxy website and logged in with your GitHub
account. You can see in Figure 5 that at first I was unable to log in. Then I
logged in on the website, and after that, I was able to log
in with the command-line tool successfully.

Figure 5. It drove me nuts trying to figure out why I couldn’t

Once you’re logged in, you can add your role by typing:

ansible-galaxy import githubusername githubreponame

The process takes a while, so you can add the
-no-wait option if you
want, and the role will be imported in the background. I really don’t
recommend doing this until you have created roles worth sharing. Keep
in mind, there are more than 13,000 roles on Ansible Galaxy, so there are many
“re-inventions of the wheel” happening.

From Here?

Well, it’s taken me four articles, but I think if you’ve been following
along, you should be to the point where you can
take it from here. Playbooks and roles are usually where people focus
their attention in Ansible, but I also encourage you to take advantage
of ad-hoc mode for day-to-day maintenance tasks. Ansible in some ways is
just another DevOps configuration management tool, but for me, it feels
the most like the traditional problem-solving solution that I used Bash
scripts to accomplish for decades. Perhaps I just like Ansible because
it thinks the same way I do. Regardless of your motivation, I encourage
you to learn Ansible enough so you can determine whether it fits into your
workflow as well as it fits into mine.


Here are links to the first three articles in this series by Shawn Powers:

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RHSA-2018:0379-1: Moderate: .NET Core on Red Hat Enterprise Linux security update

Red Hat Enterprise Linux: An update for rh-dotnet20-dotnet, rh-dotnetcore10-dotnetcore, and
rh-dotnetcore11-dotnetcore is now available for .NET Core on Red Hat Enterprise

Red Hat Product Security has rated this update as having a security impact of
Moderate. A Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) base score, which gives a
detailed severity rating, is available for each vulnerability from the CVE
link(s) in the References section.

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USN-3586-1: DHCP vulnerabilities

Ubuntu Security Notice USN-3586-1

1st March, 2018

isc-dhcp vulnerabilities

A security issue affects these releases of Ubuntu and its

  • Ubuntu 17.10
  • Ubuntu 16.04 LTS
  • Ubuntu 14.04 LTS


Several security issues were fixed in DHCP.

Software description

  • isc-dhcp
    – DHCP server and client


Konstantin Orekhov discovered that the DHCP server incorrectly handled a
large number of concurrent TCP sessions. A remote attacker could possibly
use this issue to cause a denial of service. This issue only affected
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. (CVE-2016-2774)

It was discovered that the DHCP server incorrectly handled socket
descriptors. A remote attacker could possibly use this issue to cause a
denial of service. (CVE-2017-3144)

Felix Wilhelm discovered that the DHCP client incorrectly handled certain
malformed responses. A remote attacker could use this issue to cause the
DHCP client to crash, resulting in a denial of service, or possibly execute
arbitrary code. In the default installation, attackers would be isolated by
the dhclient AppArmor profile. (CVE-2018-5732)

Felix Wilhelm discovered that the DHCP server incorrectly handled reference
counting. A remote attacker could possibly use this issue to cause the DHCP
server to crash, resulting in a denial of service. (CVE-2018-5733)

Update instructions

The problem can be corrected by updating your system to the following
package version:

Ubuntu 17.10:




Ubuntu 16.04 LTS:




Ubuntu 14.04 LTS:





To update your system, please follow these instructions:

In general, a standard system update will make all the necessary changes.






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