Controlling where tasks run: delegation and local actions

By default Ansible gathers facts and executes all tasks on the machines that match the hosts line of your playbook. This page shows you how to delegate tasks to a different machine or group, delegate facts to specific machines or groups, or run an entire playbook locally. Using these approaches, you can manage inter-related environments precisely and efficiently. For example, when updating your webservers, you might need to remove them from a load-balanced pool temporarily. You cannot perform this task on the webservers themselves. By delegating the task to localhost, you keep all the tasks within the same play.

Tasks that cannot be delegated

Some tasks always execute on the controller. These tasks, including include, add_host, and debug, cannot be delegated.

Delegating tasks

If you want to perform a task on one host with reference to other hosts, use the delegate_to keyword on a task. This is ideal for managing nodes in a load balanced pool or for controlling outage windows. You can use delegation with the serial keyword to control the number of hosts executing at one time:

- hosts: webservers
  serial: 5

    - name: Take out of load balancer pool
      ansible.builtin.command: /usr/bin/take_out_of_pool {{ inventory_hostname }}

    - name: Actual steps would go here
        name: acme-web-stack
        state: latest

    - name: Add back to load balancer pool
      ansible.builtin.command: /usr/bin/add_back_to_pool {{ inventory_hostname }}

The first and third tasks in this play run on, which is the machine running Ansible. There is also a shorthand syntax that you can use on a per-task basis: local_action. Here is the same playbook as above, but using the shorthand syntax for delegating to

# ...

    - name: Take out of load balancer pool
      local_action: ansible.builtin.command /usr/bin/take_out_of_pool {{ inventory_hostname }}

# ...

    - name: Add back to load balancer pool
      local_action: ansible.builtin.command /usr/bin/add_back_to_pool {{ inventory_hostname }}

You can use a local action to call ‘rsync’ to recursively copy files to the managed servers:

# ...

    - name: Recursively copy files from management server to target
      local_action: ansible.builtin.command rsync -a /path/to/files {{ inventory_hostname }}:/path/to/target/

Note that you must have passphrase-less SSH keys or an ssh-agent configured for this to work, otherwise rsync asks for a passphrase.

To specify more arguments, use the following syntax:

# ...

    - name: Send summary mail
        module: community.general.mail
        subject: "Summary Mail"
        to: "{{ mail_recipient }}"
        body: "{{ mail_body }}"
      run_once: True


Although you can delegate_to a host that does not exist in inventory (by adding IP address, DNS name or whatever requirement the connection plugin has), doing so does not add the host to your inventory and might cause issues. Hosts delegated to in this way do not inherit variables from the “all” group’, so variables like connection user and key are missing. If you must delegate_to a non-inventory host, use the add host module.

Delegating facts

Delegating Ansible tasks is like delegating tasks in the real world - your groceries belong to you, even if someone else delivers them to your home. Similarly, any facts gathered by a delegated task are assigned by default to the inventory_hostname (the current host), not to the host which produced the facts (the delegated to host). To assign gathered facts to the delegated host instead of the current host, set delegate_facts to true:

- hosts: app_servers

    - name: Gather facts from db servers
      delegate_to: "{{ item }}"
      delegate_facts: true
      loop: "{{ groups['dbservers'] }}"

This task gathers facts for the machines in the dbservers group and assigns the facts to those machines, even though the play targets the app_servers group. This way you can lookup hostvars[‘dbhost1’][‘ansible_default_ipv4’][‘address’] even though dbservers were not part of the play, or left out by using –limit.

Local playbooks

It may be useful to use a playbook locally on a remote host, rather than by connecting over SSH. This can be useful for assuring the configuration of a system by putting a playbook in a crontab. This may also be used to run a playbook inside an OS installer, such as an Anaconda kickstart.

To run an entire playbook locally, just set the hosts: line to hosts: and then run the playbook like so:

ansible-playbook playbook.yml --connection=local

Alternatively, a local connection can be used in a single playbook play, even if other plays in the playbook use the default remote connection type:

- hosts:
  connection: local


If you set the connection to local and there is no ansible_python_interpreter set, modules will run under /usr/bin/python and not under {{ ansible_playbook_python }}. Be sure to set ansible_python_interpreter: “{{ ansible_playbook_python }}” in host_vars/localhost.yml, for example. You can avoid this issue by using local_action or delegate_to: localhost instead.

See also

Intro to playbooks

An introduction to playbooks

Controlling playbook execution: strategies and more

More ways to control how and where Ansible executes

Ansible Examples on GitHub

Many examples of full-stack deployments

User Mailing List

Have a question? Stop by the google group!

#ansible IRC chat channel