Debugging modules

Debugging (local)

To break into a module running on localhost and step through with the debugger:

  • Set a breakpoint in the module: import pdb; pdb.set_trace()

  • Run the module on the local machine: $ python -m pdb ./ ./args.json


echo ‘{“msg”: “hello”}’ | python ./

Debugging (remote)

To debug a module running on a remote target (i.e. not localhost):

  1. On your controller machine (running Ansible) set ANSIBLE_KEEP_REMOTE_FILES=1 to tell Ansible to retain the modules it sends to the remote machine instead of removing them after you playbook runs.

  2. Run your playbook targeting the remote machine and specify -vvvv (verbose) to display the remote location Ansible is using for the modules (among many other things).

  3. Take note of the directory Ansible used to store modules on the remote host. This directory is usually under the home directory of your ansible_user, in the form ~/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-....

  4. SSH into the remote target after the playbook runs.

  5. Navigate to the directory you noted in step 3.

  6. Extract the module you want to debug from the zipped file that Ansible sent to the remote host: $ python explode. Ansible will expand the module into ./debug-dir. You can optionally run the zipped file by specifying python

  7. Navigate to the debug directory: $ cd debug-dir.

  8. Modify or set a breakpoint in

  9. Ensure that the unzipped module is executable: $ chmod 755

  10. Run the unzipped module directly, passing the args file that contains the params that were originally passed: $ ./ args. This approach is good for reproducing behavior as well as modifying the parameters for debugging.

Debugging AnsibleModule-based modules


If you’re using the hacking/ script then most of this is taken care of for you. If you need to do some debugging of the module on the remote machine that the module will actually run on or when the module is used in a playbook then you may need to use this information instead of relying on

Starting with Ansible 2.1, AnsibleModule-based modules are put together as a zip file consisting of the module file and the various python module boilerplate inside of a wrapper script instead of as a single file with all of the code concatenated together. Without some help, this can be harder to debug as the file needs to be extracted from the wrapper in order to see what’s actually going on in the module. Luckily the wrapper script provides some helper methods to do just that.

If you are using Ansible with the ANSIBLE_KEEP_REMOTE_FILES environment variables to keep the remote module file, here’s a sample of how your debugging session will start:

$ ANSIBLE_KEEP_REMOTE_FILES=1 ansible localhost -m ping -a 'data=debugging_session' -vvv
<> EXEC /bin/sh -c '( umask 77 && mkdir -p "` echo $HOME/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1461434734.35-235318071810595 `" && echo "` echo $HOME/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1461434734.35-235318071810595 `" )'
<> PUT /var/tmp/tmpjdbJ1w TO /home/badger/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1461434734.35-235318071810595/ping
<> EXEC /bin/sh -c 'LANG=en_US.UTF-8 LC_ALL=en_US.UTF-8 LC_MESSAGES=en_US.UTF-8 /usr/bin/python /home/badger/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1461434734.35-235318071810595/ping'
localhost | SUCCESS => {
    "changed": false,
    "invocation": {
        "module_args": {
            "data": "debugging_session"
        "module_name": "ping"
    "ping": "debugging_session"

Setting ANSIBLE_KEEP_REMOTE_FILES to 1 tells Ansible to keep the remote module files instead of deleting them after the module finishes executing. Giving Ansible the -vvv option makes Ansible more verbose. That way it prints the file name of the temporary module file for you to see.

If you want to examine the wrapper file you can. It will show a small python script with a large, base64 encoded string. The string contains the module that is going to be executed. Run the wrapper’s explode command to turn the string into some python files that you can work with:

$ python /home/badger/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1461434734.35-235318071810595/ping explode
Module expanded into:

When you look into the debug_dir you’ll see a directory structure like this:

├── args
└── ansible
    └── module_utils
  • is the code for the module itself. The name is based on the name of the module with a prefix so that we don’t clash with any other python module names. You can modify this code to see what effect it would have on your module.

  • The args file contains a JSON string. The string is a dictionary containing the module arguments and other variables that Ansible passes into the module to change its behaviour. If you want to modify the parameters that are passed to the module, this is the file to do it in.

  • The ansible directory contains code from ansible.module_utils that is used by the module. Ansible includes files for any ansible.module_utils imports in the module but not any files from any other module. So if your module uses ansible.module_utils.url Ansible will include it for you, but if your module includes requests then you’ll have to make sure that the python requests library is installed on the system before running the module. You can modify files in this directory if you suspect that the module is having a problem in some of this boilerplate code rather than in the module code you have written.

Once you edit the code or arguments in the exploded tree you need some way to run it. There’s a separate wrapper subcommand for this:

$ python /home/badger/.ansible/tmp/ansible-tmp-1461434734.35-235318071810595/ping execute
{"invocation": {"module_args": {"data": "debugging_session"}}, "changed": false, "ping": "debugging_session"}

This subcommand takes care of setting the PYTHONPATH to use the exploded debug_dir/ansible/module_utils directory and invoking the script using the arguments in the args file. You can continue to run it like this until you understand the problem. Then you can copy it back into your real module file and test that the real module works via ansible or ansible-playbook.


The wrapper provides one more subcommand, excommunicate. This subcommand is very similar to execute in that it invokes the exploded module on the arguments in the args. The way it does this is different, however. excommunicate imports the main function from the module and then calls that. This makes excommunicate execute the module in the wrapper’s process. This may be useful for running the module under some graphical debuggers but it is very different from the way the module is executed by Ansible itself. Some modules may not work with excommunicate or may behave differently than when used with Ansible normally. Those are not bugs in the module; they’re limitations of excommunicate. Use at your own risk.