Branson’s Rules for Ansible

So i’ve been asked this a few times now ..

“So you have experience with ansible.. what are some things you recommend when using it?”

I thought i’d try to codify the answer here.. in no particular order:

  •  leverage inventory ..
    •  have 1 repo for production and 1 repo for development .. dont’ mix them or at least have sub dirs in the top level of the repo “prod” and “dev” .. etc
    • make sure someone “owns” inventory variables. Use a consistent naming scheme: I recommend:
      • inventory vars are named as normal.. and should start with the first char
      •  role vars are named with a starting _
    • Use your UNIX environment variables to constrain and reduce risk.  I do things like:
      • I have a shell command that I can then pick an environment and it sets all the ansible variables and constrains the running commands to that environment. it sets env vars like:
        • ANSIBLE_ENV .. my distinct inventory name
        • ANSIBLE_RETRY_FILES_SAVE_PATH .. make this unique to ${ANSIBLE_ENV} .. so /tmp/${ANSIBLE_ENV} for instance
        • ANSIBLE_VAULT_PASSWORD_FILE .. this is a script that reads ${ANSIBLE_ENV} and uses pass(1) to store the vault password for that inventory.  Something like
pass show env/${ANSIBLE_ENV}/ansible_vault_password"
  • I have a build_mode command that sets an environment variable that is checked by ansible for non-reversable commands .. say deleting and rebuilding a disk cluster. This is to prevent inadvertant running on a production cluster.
  • use a directory hierarchy in /playbooks and /roles to organize .. dont’ use long names.  So for example
  •  instead of creating  huge monolithic playbooks.. use includes and subdirectories to call subparts.
  • for operations .. make your roles VERY small if possible.  ( we call em nuggets ) .. It’s better to give operators more flexability in what happens at the playbook level.  So for instance I have:
       - { role: site/maintenance/hostgroup, state: true }
       - { role: site/ticket/comment,
           comment: "placed {{ENV}} into maintenance for {{minutes}} minutes.",
           when: "maintenance.changed" }
  • Use assert: at the beginning of roles to check and validate any variable not defined by role/defaults
  •  Require developers to make their roles “check” compatible.  There’s a habit to use shell to get information for use in a later operation.. and unless “check_mode: no” is set on that task .. it won’t run by default.
  • use become where necessary .. I would NOT require the user to use -b on the commandline all the time. instead use become: to get privs when needed.
  • do not use a single ansible account .. have your admins use distinct accounts so you can track who/what/when.
  •  Require pep8 for your python .. so it’s consistent.
  •  Require a standardized set of “tags” … make them reasonable and useful.
  • use prompt: to check for build_mode and pause if it’s not there.
  • Require that any plugins that are written are ATOMIC!  Don’t stack functions if you can help it so it’s easier to find filters ( you can use grep .. but this takes Yet Another Step )
  • put the “logic” of managing data in the yaml in the task via stacking filters rather than do it all at once in a single filter that can’t be used again.  When the next person comes behind you to read the code to figure it out .. they’ll have a better chance if they dont’ have to go find and then read through a random filter.
  •  use ssh controlMaster to speed up operations. this makes a HUGE difference.
  • be careful in design where you allow ansible to be run *from* .. needs to be able to use ssh keys .. but you don’t want to use agent-forwarding .. instead use proxying
  •  use venv for your ansible tools .. this allows easy change between different ansible implementations if you’re not able to follow a particular version
  • avoid var_files: declarations.. instead use role defaults and/or playbook/group_vars/all
  •  write facts when you can… it’s not always feasible .. but more cohesive if you do it.
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