Running Ansible scripts

Ansible is a free software platform used for configuring and managing computers. It is written in Python and allows users to manage nodes (computers) over SSH.

Configuration files are written in YAML, a simple, human-readable, data serialization format.

Installing Ansible

Before you install Ansible make sure you have Python 2.6 or Python 2.7 on the controlling machine, you will also need an SSH client. Most Linux distributions come with an SSH client preinstalled.

If you encounter any problems during the installation, refer to the official documentation.


Windows is not supported as a controlling machine.


Fist configure Ansible PPA:

sudo apt-get install software-properties-common
sudo apt-add-repository ppa:ansible/ansible

Then update your available software index and install Ansible:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ansible

Running Ansible

To test your Ansible installation, run the following command


you need a running SSH server on your machine for this to work:

ansible localhost -m ping

You should get the following output:

    localhost | success >> {
    "changed": false,
    "ping": "pong"

Ansible Hosts file

Ansible keeps information about the managed nodes in the inventory or hosts file. Edit or create the hosts file:

vim /etc/ansible/hosts

This file contains a list of nodes for Ansible to manage. Nodes can be referred either with IP or host name. The syntax is the following:

You can also arrange hosts in groups:



Public Key access

To avoid having to type your user’s password to connect to the nodes over and over, using SSH keys is recommended.

To setup Public Key SSH access to the nodes. First create a key pair:


And follow the instructions on the screen. A new key pair will be generated and placed inside the .ssh folder in your user’s home directory.

All you need to do now is copy the public key ( into the authorized_keys file on the node you want to manage, inside the user’s home directory. For example if you want to be able to connect to as user geo edit the /home/geo/.ssh/authorized_keys file on the remote machine and add the content of your public key inside the file.

For more information on how to setup SSH keys in Ubuntu refer to this document.

Connect to managed nodes

Now that SSH access to the managed nodes is in place for all the nodes inside the Ansible inventory (hosts file), we can run our first command:

ansible all -m ping -u geo


change geo with the username to use for SSH login

The output will be similar to this::

ansible all -m ping -u geo | success >> {
    "changed": false,
    "ping": "pong"

We asked Ansible to connect to all the machine in our Inventory as user geo and run the module ping (modules are Ansible’s units of work, more on that later…). As you can see by the output, Ansible successfully connected to the remote machine and executed the module ping.

Ad hoc commands

An ad-hoc command is something that you might type in to do something really quick, but don’t want to save for later.

Later you are going to write so called Playbooks with the commands to run on the controlled node but for learning purposes ad-hoc commands can be used to do quick things.

One example of an ad-hoc command is the ping command we just ran. We typed in the command line and ran it interactively.

Another example:

ansible all -m shell -a "free" -u geo | success | rc=0 >>
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:       4049236    3915596     133640          0     650560    2487416
-/+ buffers/cache:     777620    3271616
Swap:      4194300     730268    3464032

In this example we ran the free command on the remote hosts to get memory usage stats. Note that we used the shell module (-m flag) with the command as the argument (-a flag).

File Transfer

Another use case for the Ansible command is to transfer files over SCP:

ansible -m copy -a "src=/home/geo/test dest=~/" -u geo | success >> {
    "changed": true,
    "dest": "/home/geo/test",
    "gid": 1000,
    "group": "geo",
    "md5sum": "d41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e",
    "mode": "0664",
    "owner": "geo",
    "size": 0,
    "src": "/home/geo/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1444051174.15-189094870931130/source",
    "state": "file",
    "uid": 1000

We used the ansible command to transfer the local file /home/geo/test to the remote node in user’s home directory (‘~/’).

Managing Packages

Another use case is installing or upgrading packages on the remote nodes. You can use the apt module to achieve this on Debian based systems or the yum module on Red Hat based systems:

ansible -m apt -a "name=apache2 state=present"

For example the previous command will install the Apache web server on the remote system (if not present).

You can use the same module to make sure a package is at the latest version:

ansible -m apt -a "name=apache2 state=latest"

Managing Services

Use the service module to ensure a given service is started on all web servers:

ansible webservers -m service -a "name=httpd state=started"

(where webserver is a group defined in Ansible Inventory)

Restart the service:

ansible webservers -m service -a "name=httpd state=restarted"

Or stop it:

ansible webservers -m service -a "name=httpd state=stopped"

For more information on ad-hoc command refer to the official documentation.

These were just a few of the modules available for Ansible. See the complete list available at the Ansible web site.

Ansible Playbooks

Playbooks are Ansible’s configuration, deployment and orchestration language.

Playbooks are a completely different way to use Ansible than in ad-hoc task execution mode, and are particularly powerful.

Playbooks can declare configurations, but they can also orchestrate steps of any manual ordered process.

While you might run the main /usr/bin/ansible program for ad-hoc tasks, playbooks are more likely to be kept in source control and used to push out your configuration or assure the configurations of your remote systems are in spec.

Playbooks language example

Playbooks are expressed in YAML format

Here is an example of a Playbook:

- hosts: webservers
    http_port: 80
    max_clients: 200
  remote_user: root
  - name: ensure apache is at the latest version
    yum: pkg=httpd state=latest
  - name: write the apache config file
    template: src=/srv/httpd.j2 dest=/etc/httpd.conf
    - restart apache
  - name: ensure apache is running (and enable it at boot)
    service: name=httpd state=started enabled=yes
    - name: restart apache
      service: name=httpd state=restarted

Every Playbook begins with three dashes at the very top of the file to indicate that this is a YAML file.

This example Playbook contains only one Play. The play is composed of three parts:

  • hosts
  • tasks
  • handlers

The hosts part specifies to which hosts in the Inventory this playbook applies and how to connect to them.

The tasks part describes the desired state or actions to perform on the hosts.

The handlers part describes the handlers for this playbook (more on handlers later).

In the example above there are three tasks. Each task has a name, a module and zero or more arguments for the module.

The first task specifies that we want the latest version of Apache installed on the system. This is accomplished by the yum module.

The second task specifies a configuration file for Apache using a template. Template files are written in Jinja2 template language.

The third task make sure the Apache web server is running using the service module.

When you run a Playbook using the ansible-playbook command, Ansible will connect to the hosts specified in the hosts section and run the tasks one by one, in order.

One or more tasks may have a notify section (just like the second task in our example). The notify actions are triggered at the end of each block of tasks in a playbook, and will only be triggered once even if notified by multiple different tasks. When triggered, the corresponding handler will be executed. In the example above the handler will restart Apache because we changed a config file.

Run a Playbook

Now that we have created a sample Playbook, save it on the file system and execute it:

ansible-playbook test.yml -u geo

PLAY [] *************************************************************

GATHERING FACTS ***************************************************************
ok: []

TASK: [test] ******************************************************************
ok: []

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

This concludes our brief tutorial on Ansible. For a more thorough introduction refer the official documentation.

Also, take a look at the Ansible examples repository or a set of Playbooks showing common techniques.