Ansible Inventory With Our Own Hosts Files

In this video we will revist the inventory file. I say revisit as we already have been using an inventory file with our playbooks, but moving forwards, we will likely want to move away from the Ansible installer-provided inventory file, and instead, create and use our own.

The Ansile inventory file is one of the most important pieces of your setup.

Another common way of referring to our Ansible Inventory file is to call it the hosts file. You can have multiple inventory files, and you don't need to use the hosts naming convention, but it's common.

If we stick with the Ansible-provided / installed hosts file (/etc/ansible/hosts by default), we hit a problem.

The hosts file is local to the system we have installed Ansible on. What happens if we want to move servers? I put my Ansible server build config inside Ansible - sounds a bit crazy, but why wouldn't I? It's just another server that needs managing after all.

As such, I want to be able to deploy my Ansible Playbooks and all the associated vars, hosts, and what have you, on whichever system happens to be built for Ansible.

I do this via git.

This means my hosts file is better stored inside my git repository, ripe for deployment on any target that happens to be an Ansible Master (my name inside my hosts file for my Ansible server group).

Moving To Our Own Inventory File

Creating our hosts file is as simple as... creating our hosts file.

The file has no extension.

If we were on a unix-y system, we could do:

touch /our/ansible/directory/hosts

And we get a nice empty file.

The syntax inside our hosts file is also very easy to use.

At the very top, we list out all our hosts. This may look something similar to:

ansible-master ansible_ssh_host= ansible_ssh_host= ansible_ssh_user=deploy ansible_ssh_host= ansible_ssh_user=deploy ansible_ssh_host= ansible_ssh_user=deploy
logstash.local ansible_ssh_host= ansible_ssh_user=deploy

Notice, the first entry does not contain an ansible_ssh_user definition.

This is because, in our instance, our ansible-master host is also the host on which we are running Ansible from, and as such, will take the currently logged in username when connecting via ssh - to itself.

In the other entries we do specify and ansible_ssh_user, and this overrides the default user that would otherwise try to connect - this is whichever user we are running Ansible as. So remember, just because the user codereview_chris is valid on the machine we are running Ansible from, that the user codereview_chris may very well not exist on the machine we are trying to run our playbook against.

We will look into managing our users through Ansible Playbooks in a future video.

Keeping Organised

As our inventory files grow, keeping organised can become a chore.

Whilst not particularly well documented in the Ansible-created hosts file (/etc/ansible/hosts), there are a few ways to organise our inventories to protect our sanity.

Perhaps the most useful is groups.

We will see shortly how host_vars and group_vars are perfect for ensuring specific hosts, or groups of hosts, get the right variables applied during Playbook execution.

To make use of group_vars, first we need to put our hosts into Groups.

Our Group names can be anything.

Typically, my Group names correspond to a Role in some way. As an example, I might have a Role for installing nginx, another for MySQL, one for PHP, and another for PHP XDebug.

Let's imagine that you're working on a project. The project is for collecting stats from a fitness app. As part of your local development environment, you would likely want to run one server so you're not having to spin up three or four virtual machines every time you want to do a little dev work. You'd also like a little debugging help.

In production, it's a different story. One server for your MySQL database, another for Redis, two for nginx, and certainly no XDebug.

Groups could help you here.






All our groups are named with [bracket] syntax.

Underneath, we can put in the any host name we used at the top of our hosts file.

In one group defintion, we can ensure for example, that nginx will be installed in the same way on all of our web servers.

We can also ensure all our nginx servers get PHP installed by using the special group_name:children syntax, and then rather than using an individual hosts name, we pass in an entire group name. This way we can begin nesting our groups inside groups inside groups. This is not only a time saver, but a space saver as well. Although it can get a little hard to follow, so don't go too deep.

Running Playbooks Against Specific Groups

Now that we have created our [nginx] group for example, how might we run the nginx role against this group?

Well, of course, we would need a playbook and the role to begin with.

Assuming we had them, running this would be simple:

ansible-playbook -i hosts nginx.yml -k -K -s

Inside the nginx.yml playbook, we would specify which hosts should recieve this playbook:

# nginx.yml
- hosts: nginx

And so, only members of the nginx group will have this playbook run against them.

Running Playbooks Against Specific Hosts

What if we wanted to run this playbook against only a specific host?

Well, that's easy too:

ansible-playbook -i hosts -l nginx.yml -k -K -s

Now we would run the nginx playbook against only the server.

We can combine all this together to make very specific adjustments to our set up. And when we introduce group_vars and host_vars, we can start getting very granular with the exact set ups we want on any box, at any time.

Honestly, when your infrastructure gets Ansible-ised, you will start experiencing a wonderful freedom to experiment and adapt, rebuilding and reprovisioning at will.

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