How Network Automation is Different

Network automation leverages the basic Ansible concepts, but there are important differences in how the network modules work. This introduction prepares you to understand the exercises in this guide.

Execution on the Control Node

Unlike most Ansible modules, network modules do not run on the managed nodes. From a user’s point of view, network modules work like any other modules. They work with ad-hoc commands, playbooks, and roles. Behind the scenes, however, network modules use a different methodology than the other (Linux/Unix and Windows) modules use. Ansible is written and executed in Python. Because the majority of network devices can not run Python, the Ansible network modules are executed on the Ansible control node, where ansible or ansible-playbook runs.

Execution on the control node shapes two other differences in how network modules function:

  • Network modules do not run every task in a playbook. They request current config first, compare current config to the state described by the task or playbook, and execute a task only if it changes the state of the managed node.
  • Network modules that offer a backup option write the backup files onto the control node. With Linux/Unix modules, where a configuration file already exists on the managed node(s), the backup file gets written by default in the same directory as the new, changed file. Network modules do not update configuration files on the managed nodes, because network configuration is not written in files. Network modules write backup files on the control node, in the backup directory under the playbook root directory.

Multiple Communication Protocols

Because network modules execute on the control node instead of on the managed nodes, they can support multiple communication protocols. The communication protocol (XML over SSH, CLI over SSH, API over HTTPS) selected for each network module depends on the platform and the purpose of the module. Some network modules support only one protocol; some offer a choice. The most common protocol is CLI over SSH. You set the communication protocol with the ansible_connection variable:

Value of ansible_connection Protocol Requires
network_cli CLI over SSH network_os setting
netconf XML over SSH network_os setting
local depends on provider provider setting

Beginning with Ansible 2.5, we recommend using network_cli or netconf for ansible_connection whenever possible. For details on using API over HTTPS connections, see the platform-specific pages.

Modules Organized by Network Platform

A network platform is a set of network devices with a common operating system that can be managed by a collection of modules. The modules for each network platform share a prefix, for example:

  • Arista: eos_
  • Cisco: ios_, iosxr_, nxos_
  • Juniper: junos_
  • VyOS vyos_

All modules within a network platform share certain requirements. Some network platforms have specific differences - see the platform-specific documentation for details.

Privilege Escalation: authorize and become

Several network platforms support privilege escalation, where certain tasks must be done by a privileged user. This is generally known as enable mode (the equivalent of sudo in *nix administration). Ansible network modules offer privilege escalation for those network devices that support it. However, different platforms use privilege escalation in different ways.

Network platforms that support connection: network_cli and privilege escalation use the top-level Ansible parameter become: yes with become_method: enable. For modules in these platforms, a group_vars file would look like:

ansible_connection: network_cli
ansible_network_os: ios
ansible_become: yes
ansible_become_method: enable

We recommend using network_cli connections whenever possible.

Some network platforms support privilege escalation but cannot use network_cli connections yet. This includes all platforms in older versions of Ansible (< 2.5) and HTTPS connections using eapi in version 2.5. With these connections, you must use a provider dictionary and include authorize: yes and auth_pass: my_enable_password. For that use case, a group_vars file looks like:

ansible_connection: local
ansible_network_os: eos
# provider settings
  authorize: yes
  auth_pass: " {{ secret_auth_pass }}"
  port: 80
  transport: eapi
  use_ssl: no

And you use the eapi variable in your play(s) or task(s):

- name: provider demo with eos
    banner: motd
    text: |
      this is test
      of multiline
    state: present
    provider: "{{ eapi }}"

For more information, see Become and Networks