New in Ansible 1.5, “Vault” is a feature of ansible that allows keeping sensitive data such as passwords or keys in encrypted files, rather than as plaintext in your playbooks or roles. These vault files can then be distributed or placed in source control.

To enable this feature, a command line tool, ansible-vault is used to edit files, and a command line flag –ask-vault-pass or –vault-password-file is used. Alternately, you may specify the location of a password file or command Ansible to always prompt for the password in your ansible.cfg file. These options require no command line flag usage.

For best practices advice, refer to Variables and Vaults.

What Can Be Encrypted With Vault

The vault feature can encrypt any structured data file used by Ansible. This can include “group_vars/” or “host_vars/” inventory variables, variables loaded by “include_vars” or “vars_files”, or variable files passed on the ansible-playbook command line with “-e @file.yml” or “-e @file.json”. Role variables and defaults are also included!

Ansible tasks, handlers, and so on are also data so these can be encrypted with vault as well. To hide the names of variables that you’re using, you can encrypt the task files in their entirety. However, that might be a little too much and could annoy your coworkers :)

The vault feature can also encrypt arbitrary files, even binary files. If a vault-encrypted file is given as the src argument to the copy module, the file will be placed at the destination on the target host decrypted (assuming a valid vault password is supplied when running the play).

As of version 2.3, Ansible also supports encrypting single values inside a YAML file, using the !vault tag to let YAML and Ansible know it uses special processing. This feature is covered in more details below.

Creating Encrypted Files

To create a new encrypted data file, run the following command:

ansible-vault create foo.yml

First you will be prompted for a password. The password used with vault currently must be the same for all files you wish to use together at the same time.

After providing a password, the tool will launch whatever editor you have defined with $EDITOR, and defaults to vi (before 2.1 the default was vim). Once you are done with the editor session, the file will be saved as encrypted data.

The default cipher is AES (which is shared-secret based).

Editing Encrypted Files

To edit an encrypted file in place, use the ansible-vault edit command. This command will decrypt the file to a temporary file and allow you to edit the file, saving it back when done and removing the temporary file:

ansible-vault edit foo.yml

Rekeying Encrypted Files

Should you wish to change your password on a vault-encrypted file or files, you can do so with the rekey command:

ansible-vault rekey foo.yml bar.yml baz.yml

This command can rekey multiple data files at once and will ask for the original password and also the new password.

Encrypting Unencrypted Files

If you have existing files that you wish to encrypt, use the ansible-vault encrypt command. This command can operate on multiple files at once:

ansible-vault encrypt foo.yml bar.yml baz.yml

Decrypting Encrypted Files

If you have existing files that you no longer want to keep encrypted, you can permanently decrypt them by running the ansible-vault decrypt command. This command will save them unencrypted to the disk, so be sure you do not want ansible-vault edit instead:

ansible-vault decrypt foo.yml bar.yml baz.yml

Viewing Encrypted Files

Available since Ansible 1.8

If you want to view the contents of an encrypted file without editing it, you can use the ansible-vault view command:

ansible-vault view foo.yml bar.yml baz.yml

Running a Playbook With Vault

To run a playbook that contains vault-encrypted data files, you must pass one of two flags. To specify the vault-password interactively:

ansible-playbook site.yml --ask-vault-pass

This prompt will then be used to decrypt (in memory only) any vault encrypted files that are accessed. Currently this requires that all files be encrypted with the same password.

Alternatively, passwords can be specified with a file or a script, the script version will require Ansible 1.7 or later. When using this flag, ensure permissions on the file are such that no one else can access your key and do not add your key to source control:

ansible-playbook site.yml --vault-password-file ~/.vault_pass.txt

ansible-playbook site.yml --vault-password-file ~/

The password should be a string stored as a single line in the file.


You can also set ANSIBLE_VAULT_PASSWORD_FILE environment variable, e.g. ANSIBLE_VAULT_PASSWORD_FILE=~/.vault_pass.txt and Ansible will automatically search for the password in that file.

If you are using a script instead of a flat file, ensure that it is marked as executable, and that the password is printed to standard output. If your script needs to prompt for data, prompts can be sent to standard error.

This is something you may wish to do if using Ansible from a continuous integration system like Jenkins.

(The –vault-password-file option can also be used with the Ansible-Pull command if you wish, though this would require distributing the keys to your nodes, so understand the implications – vault is more intended for push mode).

Single Encrypted Variable

As of version 2.3, Ansible can now use a vaulted variable that lives in an otherwise ‘clear text’ YAML file:

notsecret: myvalue
mysecret: !vault |
other_plain_text: othervalue

This vaulted variable be decrypted with the supplied vault secret and used as a normal variable. The ansible-vault command line supports STDIN and STDOUT for encrypting data on the fly, which can be used from your favorite editor to create these vaulted variables; you just have to be sure to add the !vault tag so both Ansible and YAML are aware of the need to decrypt. The | is also required, as vault encryption results in a multi-line string. The leading spaces will be ignored and some indentation is required for it to be valid YAML.

As of version 2.3, one way to generate the inline secret is to use ansible-vault encrypt_string which will output the secret to STDOUT:

$ ansible-vault encrypt_string "42"
!vault-encrypted |
       <vault cipher text here>

$ ansible-vault encrypt_string "42" --stdin-name "the_answer"
 the_answer: !vault-encrypted |
       <vault cipher text here>

$ echo -n "the plaintext to encrypt" | ansible-vault encrypt_string
!vault-encrypted |
       <vault cipher text here>

Note the use of echo -n. If you use just echo the encrypted string will have a new line (n) on the end.

Speeding Up Vault Operations

By default, Ansible uses PyCrypto to encrypt and decrypt vault files. If you have many encrypted files, decrypting them at startup may cause a perceptible delay. To speed this up, install the cryptography package:

pip install cryptography