Re-using Ansible artifacts

You can write a simple playbook in one very large file, and most users learn the one-file approach first. However, breaking your automation work up into smaller files is an excellent way to organize complex sets of tasks and reuse them. Smaller, more distributed artifacts let you reuse the same variables, tasks, and plays in multiple playbooks to address different use cases. You can use distributed artifacts across multiple parent playbooks or even multiple times within one playbook. For example, you might want to update your customer database as part of several different playbooks. If you put all the tasks related to updating your database in a tasks file or a role, you can reuse them in many playbooks while only maintaining them in one place.

Creating reusable files and roles

Ansible offers four distributed, reusable artifacts: variables files, task files, playbooks, and roles.

  • A variables file contains only variables.

  • A task file contains only tasks.

  • A playbook contains at least one play, and may contain variables, tasks, and other content. You can reuse tightly focused playbooks, but you can only reuse them statically, not dynamically.

  • A role contains a set of related tasks, variables, defaults, handlers, and even modules or other plugins in a defined file-tree. Unlike variables files, task files, or playbooks, roles can be easily uploaded and shared through Ansible Galaxy. See Roles for details about creating and using roles.

New in version 2.4.

Re-using playbooks

You can incorporate multiple playbooks into a main playbook. However, you can only use imports to reuse playbooks. For example:

- import_playbook: webservers.yml
- import_playbook: databases.yml

Importing incorporates playbooks in other playbooks statically. Ansible runs the plays and tasks in each imported playbook in the order they are listed, just as if they had been defined directly in the main playbook.

You can select which playbook you want to import at runtime by defining your imported playbook file name with a variable, then passing the variable with either --extra-vars or the vars keyword. For example:

- import_playbook: "/path/to/{{ import_from_extra_var }}"
- import_playbook: "{{ import_from_vars }}"
    import_from_vars: /path/to/one_playbook.yml

If you run this playbook with ansible-playbook my_playbook -e import_from_extra_var=other_playbook.yml, Ansible imports both one_playbook.yml and other_playbook.yml.

When to turn a playbook into a role

For some use cases, simple playbooks work well. However, starting at a certain level of complexity, roles work better than playbooks. A role lets you store your defaults, handlers, variables, and tasks in separate directories, instead of in a single long document. Roles are easy to share on Ansible Galaxy. For complex use cases, most users find roles easier to read, understand, and maintain than all-in-one playbooks.

Re-using files and roles

Ansible offers two ways to reuse files and roles in a playbook: dynamic and static.

Task include and import statements can be used at arbitrary depth.

You can still use the bare roles keyword at the play level to incorporate a role in a playbook statically. However, the bare include keyword, once used for both task files and playbook-level includes, is now deprecated.

Includes: dynamic reuse

Including roles, tasks, or variables adds them to a playbook dynamically. Ansible processes included files and roles as they come up in a playbook, so included tasks can be affected by the results of earlier tasks within the top-level playbook. Included roles and tasks are similar to handlers - they may or may not run, depending on the results of other tasks in the top-level playbook.

The primary advantage of using include_* statements is looping. When a loop is used with an include, the included tasks or roles will be executed once for each item in the loop.

The file names for included roles, tasks, and vars are templated before inclusion.

You can pass variables into includes. See Variable precedence: Where should I put a variable? for more details on variable inheritance and precedence.

Imports: static reuse

Importing roles, tasks, or playbooks adds them to a playbook statically. Ansible pre-processes imported files and roles before it runs any tasks in a playbook, so imported content is never affected by other tasks within the top-level playbook.

The file names for imported roles and tasks support templating, but the variables must be available when Ansible is pre-processing the imports. This can be done with the vars keyword or by using --extra-vars.

You can pass variables to imports. You must pass variables if you want to run an imported file more than once in a playbook. For example:

- import_tasks: wordpress.yml
    wp_user: timmy

- import_tasks: wordpress.yml
    wp_user: alice

- import_tasks: wordpress.yml
    wp_user: bob

See Variable precedence: Where should I put a variable? for more details on variable inheritance and precedence.

Comparing includes and imports: dynamic and static reuse

Each approach to re-using distributed Ansible artifacts has advantages and limitations. You may choose dynamic reuse for some playbooks and static reuse for others. Although you can use both dynamic and static reuse in a single playbook, it is best to select one approach per playbook. Mixing static and dynamic reuse can introduce difficult-to-diagnose bugs into your playbooks. This table summarizes the main differences so you can choose the best approach for each playbook you create.



Type of reuse



When processed

At runtime, when encountered

Pre-processed during playbook parsing

Task or play

All includes are tasks

import_playbook cannot be a task

Task options

Apply only to include task itself

Apply to all child tasks in import

Calling from loops

Executed once for each loop item

Cannot be used in a loop

Using --list-tags

Tags within includes not listed

All tags appear with --list-tags

Using --list-tasks

Tasks within includes not listed

All tasks appear with --list-tasks

Notifying handlers

Cannot trigger handlers within includes

Can trigger individual imported handlers

Using --start-at-task

Cannot start at tasks within includes

Can start at imported tasks

Using inventory variables

Can include_*: {{ inventory_var }}

Cannot import_*: {{ inventory_var }}

With playbooks

No include_playbook

Can import full playbooks

With variables files

Can include variables files

Use vars_files: to import variables


  • There are also big differences in resource consumption and performance, imports are quite lean and fast, while includes require a lot of management and accounting.

Re-using tasks as handlers

You can also use includes and imports in the Handlers: running operations on change section of a playbook. For example, if you want to define how to restart Apache, you only have to do that once for all of your playbooks. You might make a restarts.yml file that looks like:

# restarts.yml
- name: Restart apache
    name: apache
    state: restarted

- name: Restart mysql
    name: mysql
    state: restarted

You can trigger handlers from either an import or an include, but the procedure is different for each method of reuse. If you include the file, you must notify the include itself, which triggers all the tasks in restarts.yml. If you import the file, you must notify the individual task(s) within restarts.yml. You can mix direct tasks and handlers with included or imported tasks and handlers.

Triggering included (dynamic) handlers

Includes are executed at run-time, so the name of the include exists during play execution, but the included tasks do not exist until the include itself is triggered. To use the Restart apache task with dynamic reuse, refer to the name of the include itself. This approach triggers all tasks in the included file as handlers. For example, with the task file shown above:

- name: Trigger an included (dynamic) handler
  hosts: localhost
    - name: Restart services
      include_tasks: restarts.yml
    - command: "true"
      notify: Restart services

Triggering imported (static) handlers

Imports are processed before the play begins, so the name of the import no longer exists during play execution, but the names of the individual imported tasks do exist. To use the Restart apache task with static reuse, refer to the name of each task or tasks within the imported file. For example, with the task file shown above:

- name: Trigger an imported (static) handler
  hosts: localhost
    - name: Restart services
      import_tasks: restarts.yml
    - command: "true"
      notify: Restart apache
    - command: "true"
      notify: Restart mysql

See also

Utilities modules

Documentation of the include* and import* modules discussed here.

Working with playbooks

Review the basic Playbook language features

Using Variables

All about variables in playbooks


Conditionals in playbooks


Loops in playbooks

General tips

Tips and tricks for playbooks

Galaxy User Guide

How to share roles on galaxy, role management

Mailing List

Questions? Help? Ideas? Stop by the list on Google Groups