Controlling how Ansible behaves: precedence rules¶
To give you maximum flexibility in managing your environments, Ansible offers many ways to control how Ansible behaves: how it connects to managed nodes, how it works once it has connected. If you use Ansible to manage a large number of servers, network devices, and cloud resources, you may define Ansible behavior in several different places and pass that information to Ansible in several different ways. This flexibility is convenient, but it can backfire if you do not understand the precedence rules.
These precedence rules apply to any setting that can be defined in multiple ways (by configuration settings, command-line options, playbook keywords, variables).
Ansible offers four sources for controlling its behavior. In order of precedence from lowest (most easily overridden) to highest (overrides all others), the categories are:
Each category overrides any information from all lower-precedence categories. For example, a playbook keyword will override any configuration setting.
Within each precedence category, specific rules apply. However, generally speaking, ‘last defined’ wins and overrides any previous definitions.
Configuration settings include both values from the
ansible.cfg file and environment variables. Within this category, values set in configuration files have lower precedence. Ansible uses the first
ansible.cfg file it finds, ignoring all others. Ansible searches for
ansible.cfg in these locations in order:
ANSIBLE_CONFIG(environment variable if set)
ansible.cfg(in the current directory)
~/.ansible.cfg(in the home directory)
Environment variables have a higher precedence than entries in
ansible.cfg. If you have environment variables set on your control node, they override the settings in whichever
ansible.cfg file Ansible loads. The value of any given environment variable follows normal shell precedence: the last value defined overwrites previous values.
Any command-line option will override any configuration setting.
When you type something directly at the command line, you may feel that your hand-crafted values should override all others, but Ansible does not work that way. Command-line options have low precedence - they override configuration only. They do not override playbook keywords, variables from inventory or variables from playbooks.
You can override all other settings from all other sources in all other precedence categories at the command line by Using -e extra variables at the command line, but that is not a command-line option, it is a way of passing a variable.
At the command line, if you pass multiple values for a parameter that accepts only a single value, the last defined value wins. For example, this ad-hoc task will connect as
carol, not as
ansible -u mike -m ping myhost -u carol
Some parameters allow multiple values. In this case, Ansible will append all values from the hosts listed in inventory files inventory1 and inventory2:
ansible -i /path/inventory1 -i /path/inventory2 -m ping all
The help for each command-line tool lists available options for that tool.
Any playbook keyword will override any command-line option and any configuration setting.
Within playbook keywords, precedence flows with the playbook itself; the more specific wins against the more general:
play (most general)
blocks/includes/imports/roles (optional and can contain tasks and each other)
tasks (most specific)
A simple example:
- hosts: all connection: ssh tasks: - name: This task uses ssh. ping: - name: This task uses paramiko. connection: paramiko ping:
In this example, the
connection keyword is set to
ssh at the play level. The first task inherits that value, and connects using
ssh. The second task inherits that value, overrides it, and connects using
The same logic applies to blocks and roles as well. All tasks, blocks, and roles within a play inherit play-level keywords; any task, block, or role can override any keyword by defining a different value for that keyword within the task, block, or role.
Remember that these are KEYWORDS, not variables. Both playbooks and variable files are defined in YAML but they have different significance. Playbooks are the command or ‘state description’ structure for Ansible, variables are data we use to help make playbooks more dynamic.
Any variable will override any playbook keyword, any command-line option, and any configuration setting.
Variables that have equivalent playbook keywords, command-line options, and configuration settings are known as Connection variables. Originally designed for connection parameters, this category has expanded to include other core variables like the temporary directory and the python interpreter.
Connection variables, like all variables, can be set in multiple ways and places. You can define variables for hosts and groups in inventory. You can define variables for tasks and plays in
vars: blocks in playbooks. However, they are still variables - they are data, not keywords or configuration settings. Variables that override playbook keywords, command-line options, and configuration settings follow the same rules of variable precedence as any other variables.
When set in a playbook, variables follow the same inheritance rules as playbook keywords. You can set a value for the play, then override it in a task, block, or role:
- hosts: cloud gather_facts: false become: yes vars: ansible_become_user: admin tasks: - name: This task uses admin as the become user. dnf: name: some-service state: latest - block: - name: This task uses service-admin as the become user. # a task to configure the new service - name: This task also uses service-admin as the become user, defined in the block. # second task to configure the service vars: ansible_become_user: service-admin - name: This task (outside of the block) uses admin as the become user again. service: name: some-service state: restarted
Variable values set in a playbook exist only within the playbook object that defines them. These ‘playbook object scope’ variables are not available to subsequent objects, including other plays.
Variable values associated directly with a host or group, including variables defined in inventory, by vars plugins, or using modules like set_fact and include_vars, are available to all plays. These ‘host scope’ variables are also available via the
To override all other settings in all other categories, you can use extra variables:
-e at the command line. Values passed with
-e are variables, not command-line options, and they will override configuration settings, command-line options, and playbook keywords as well as variables set elsewhere. For example, this task will connect as
brian not as
ansible -u carol -e 'ansible_user=brian' -a whoami all
You must specify both the variable name and the value with