Using Ansible and Windows

When using Ansible to manage Windows, many of the syntax and rules that apply for Unix/Linux hosts also apply to Windows, but there are still some differences when it comes to components like path separators and OS-specific tasks. This document covers details specific to using Ansible for Windows.

Use Cases

Ansible can be used to orchestrate a multitude of tasks on Windows servers. Below are some examples and info about common tasks.

Installing Software

There are three main ways that Ansible can be used to install software:

  • Using the win_chocolatey module. This sources the program data from the default public Chocolatey repository. Internal repositories can be used instead by setting the source option.
  • Using the win_package module. This installs software using an MSI or .exe installer from a local/network path or URL.
  • Using the win_command or win_shell module to run an installer manually.

The win_chocolatey module is recommended since it has the most complete logic for checking to see if a package has already been installed and is up-to-date.

Below are some examples of using all three options to install 7-Zip:

# install/uninstall with chocolatey
- name: ensure 7-Zip is installed via Chocolatey
    name: 7zip
    state: present

- name: ensure 7-Zip is not installed via Chocolatey
    name: 7zip
    state: absent

# install/uninstall with win_package
- name: download the 7-Zip package
    dest: C:\temp\7z.msi

- name: ensure 7-Zip is installed via win_package
    path: C:\temp\7z.msi
    state: present

- name: ensure 7-Zip is not installed via win_package
    path: C:\temp\7z.msi
    state: absent

# install/uninstall with win_command
- name: download the 7-Zip package
    dest: C:\temp\7z.msi

- name: check if 7-Zip is already installed
    name: HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall\{23170F69-40C1-2702-1701-000001000000}
  register: 7zip_installed

- name: ensure 7-Zip is installed via win_command
  win_command: C:\Windows\System32\msiexec.exe /i C:\temp\7z.msi /qn /norestart
  when: 7zip_installed.exists == False

- name: ensure 7-Zip is uninstalled via win_command
  win_command: C:\Windows\System32\msiexec.exe /x {23170F69-40C1-2702-1701-000001000000} /qn /norestart
  when: 7zip_installed.exists == True

Some installers like Microsoft Office or SQL Server require credential delegation or access to components restricted by WinRM. The best method to bypass these issues is to use become with the task. With become, Ansible will run the installer as if it were run interactively on the host.


Many installers do not properly pass back error information over WinRM. In these cases, if the install has been verified to work locally the recommended method is to use become.


Some installers restart the WinRM or HTTP services, or cause them to become temporarily unavailable, making Ansible assume the system is unreachable.

Installing Updates

The win_updates and win_hotfix modules can be used to install updates or hotfixes on a host. The module win_updates is used to install multiple updates by category, while win_hotfix can be used to install a single update or hotfix file that has been downloaded locally.


The win_hotfix module has a requirement that the DISM PowerShell cmdlets are present. These cmdlets were only added by default on Windows Server 2012 and newer and must be installed on older Windows hosts.

The following example shows how win_updates can be used:

- name: install all critical and security updates
    - CriticalUpdates
    - SecurityUpdates
    state: installed
  register: update_result

- name: reboot host if required
  when: update_result.reboot_required

The following example show how win_hotfix can be used to install a single update or hotfix:

- name: download KB3172729 for Server 2012 R2
    dest: C:\temp\KB3172729.msu

- name: install hotfix
    hotfix_kb: KB3172729
    source: C:\temp\KB3172729.msu
    state: present
  register: hotfix_result

- name: reboot host if required
  when: hotfix_result.reboot_required

Set Up Users and Groups

Ansible can be used to create Windows users and groups both locally and on a domain.


The modules win_user, win_group and win_group_membership manage Windows users, groups and group memberships locally.

The following is an example of creating local accounts and groups that can access a folder on the same host:

- name: create local group to contain new users
    name: LocalGroup
    description: Allow access to C:\Development folder

- name: create local user
    name: '{{}}'
    password: '{{item.password}}'
    groups: LocalGroup
    update_password: no
    password_never_expired: yes
  - name: User1
    password: Password1
  - name: User2
    password: Password2

- name: create Development folder
    path: C:\Development
    state: directory

- name: set ACL of Development folder
    path: C:\Development
    rights: FullControl
    state: present
    type: allow
    user: LocalGroup

- name: remove parent inheritance of Development folder
    path: C:\Development
    reorganize: yes
    state: absent


The modules win_domain_user and win_domain_group manages users and groups in a domain. The below is an example of ensuring a batch of domain users are created:

- name: ensure each account is created
    name: '{{}}'
    upn: '{{}}@MY.DOMAIN.COM'
    password: '{{item.password}}'
    password_never_expires: no
    - Test User
    - Application
    company: Ansible
    update_password: on_create
  - name: Test User
    password: Password
  - name: Admin User
    password: SuperSecretPass01
  - name: Dev User
    password: '@fvr3IbFBujSRh!3hBg%wgFucD8^x8W5'

Running Commands

In cases where there is no appropriate module available for a task, a command or script can be run using the win_shell, win_command, raw, and script modules.

The raw module simply executes a Powershell command remotely. Since raw has none of the wrappers that Ansible typically uses, become, async and environment variables do not work.

The script module executes a script from the Ansible controller on one or more Windows hosts. Like raw, script currently does not support become, async, or environment variables.

The win_command module is used to execute a command which is either an executable or batch file, while the win_shell module is used to execute commands within a shell.

Choosing Command or Shell

The win_shell and win_command modules can both be used to execute a command or commands. The win_shell module is run within a shell-like process like PowerShell or cmd, so it has access to shell operators like <, >, |, ;, &&, and ||. Multi-lined commands can also be run in win_shell.

The win_command module simply runs a process outside of a shell. It can still run a shell command like mkdir or New-Item by passing the shell commands to a shell executable like cmd.exe or PowerShell.exe.

Here are some examples of using win_command and win_shell:

- name: run a command under PowerShell
  win_shell: Get-Service -Name service | Stop-Service

- name: run a command under cmd
  win_shell: mkdir C:\temp
    executable: cmd.exe

- name: run a multiple shell commands
  win_shell: |
    New-Item -Path C:\temp -ItemType Directory
    Remove-Item -Path C:\temp -Force -Recurse
    $path_info = Get-Item -Path C:\temp

- name: run an executable using win_command
  win_command: whoami.exe

- name: run a cmd command
  win_command: cmd.exe /c mkdir C:\temp

- name: run a vbs script
  win_command: cscript.exe script.vbs


Some commands like mkdir, del, and copy only exist in the CMD shell. To run them with win_command they must be prefixed with cmd.exe /c.

Argument Rules

When running a command through win_command, the standard Windows argument rules apply:

  • Each argument is delimited by a white space, which can either be a space or a tab.
  • An argument can be surrounded by double quotes ". Anything inside these quotes is interpreted as a single argument even if it contains whitespace.
  • A double quote preceded by a backslash \ is interpreted as just a double quote " and not as an argument delimiter.
  • Backslashes are interpreted literally unless it immediately preceeds double quotes; for example \ == \ and \" == "
  • If an even number of backslashes is followed by a double quote, one backslash is used in the argument for every pair, and the double quote is used as a string delimiter for the argument.
  • If an odd number of backslashes is followed by a double quote, one backslash is used in the argument for every pair, and the double quote is escaped and made a literal double quote in the argument.

With those rules in mind, here are some examples of quoting:

- win_command: C:\temp\executable.exe argument1 "argument 2" "C:\path\with space" "double \"quoted\""

argv[0] = C:\temp\executable.exe
argv[1] = argument1
argv[2] = argument 2
argv[3] = C:\path\with space
argv[4] = double "quoted"

- win_command: '"C:\Program Files\Program\program.exe" "escaped \\\" backslash" unqouted-end-backslash\'

argv[0] = C:\Program Files\Program\program.exe
argv[1] = escaped \" backslash
argv[2] = unquoted-end-backslash\

# due to YAML and Ansible parsing '\"' must be written as '{% raw %}\\{% endraw %}"'
- win_command: C:\temp\executable.exe C:\no\space\path "arg with end \ before end quote{% raw %}\\{% endraw %}"

argv[0] = C:\temp\executable.exe
argv[1] = C:\no\space\path
argv[2] = arg with end \ before end quote\"

For more information, see escaping arguments.

Creating and Running a Scheduled Task

WinRM has some restrictions in place that cause errors when running certain commands. One way to bypass these restrictions is to run a command through a scheduled task. A scheduled task is a Windows component that provides the ability to run an executable on a schedule and under a different account.

Ansible version 2.5 added modules that make it easier to work with scheduled tasks in Windows. The following is an example of running a script as a scheduled task that deletes itself after running:

- name: create scheduled task to run a process
    name: adhoc-task
    username: SYSTEM
    - path: PowerShell.exe
      arguments: |
        Start-Sleep -Seconds 30 # this isn't required, just here as a demonstration
        New-Item -Path C:\temp\test -ItemType Directory
    # remove this action if the task shouldn't be deleted on completion
    - path: cmd.exe
      arguments: /c schtasks.exe /Delete /TN "adhoc-task" /F
    - type: registration

- name: wait for the scheduled task to complete
    name: adhoc-task
  register: task_stat
  until: (task_stat.state is defined and task_stat.state.status != "TASK_STATE_RUNNING") or (task_stat.task_exists == False)
  retries: 12
  delay: 10


The modules used in the above example were updated/added in Ansible version 2.5.

Path Formatting for Windows

Windows differs from a traditional POSIX operating system in many ways. One of the major changes is the shift from / as the path separator to \. This can cause major issues with how playbooks are written, since \ is often used as an escape character on POSIX systems.

Ansible allows two different styles of syntax; each deals with path separators for Windows differently:

YAML Style

When using the YAML syntax for tasks, the rules are well-defined by the YAML standard:

  • When using a normal string (without quotes), YAML will not consider the backslash an escape character.
  • When using single quotes ', YAML will not consider the backslash an escape character.
  • When using double quotes ", the backslash is considered an escape character and needs to escaped with another backslash.


You should only quote strings when it is absolutely necessary or required by YAML, and then use single quotes.

The YAML specification considers the following escape sequences:

  • \0, \, ", \a, \b, \e, \f, \n, \r, \t and \v – Single character escape
  • <TAB>, <SPACE>, <NBSP>, <LNSP>, <PSP> – Special characters
  • \x.. – 2-digit hex escape
  • \u.... – 4-digit hex escape
  • \U........ – 8-digit hex escape

Here are some examples on how to write Windows paths:

tempdir: C:\Windows\Temp

tempdir: 'C:\Windows\Temp'
tempdir: "C:\\Windows\\Temp"

tempdir: C:\\Windows\\Temp
tempdir: 'C:\\Windows\\Temp'
tempdir: C:/Windows/Temp

tempdir: "C:\Windows\Temp"

# example of single quotes when they are required
- name: copy tomcat config
    src: log4j.xml
    dest: '{{tc_home}}\lib\log4j.xml'

Legacy key=value Style

The legacy key=value syntax is used on the command line for adhoc commands, or inside playbooks. The use of this style is discouraged within playbooks because backslash characters need to be escaped, making playbooks harder to read. The legacy syntax depends on the specific implementation in Ansible, and quoting (both single and double) does not have any effect on how it is parsed by Ansible.

The Ansible key=value parser parse_kv() considers the following escape sequences:

  • \, ', ", \a, \b, \f, \n, \r, \t and \v – Single character escape
  • \x.. – 2-digit hex escape
  • \u.... – 4-digit hex escape
  • \U........ – 8-digit hex escape
  • \N{...} – Unicode character by name

This means that the backslash is an escape character for some sequences, and it is usually safer to escape a backslash when in this form.

Here are some examples of using Windows paths with the key=value style:





The failing examples don’t fail outright but will substitute \t with the <TAB> character resulting in tempdir being C:\Windows<TAB>emp.


Some things you cannot do with Ansible and Windows are:

  • Upgrade PowerShell
  • Interact with the WinRM listeners

Because WinRM is reliant on the services being online and running during normal operations, you cannot upgrade PowerShell or interact with WinRM listeners with Ansible. Both of these actions will cause the connection to fail. This can technically be avoided by using async or a scheduled task, but those methods are fragile if the process it runs breaks the underlying connection Ansible uses, and are best left to the bootstrapping process or before an image is created.

Developing Windows Modules

Because Ansible modules for Windows are written in PowerShell, the development guides for Windows modules differ substantially from those for standard standard modules. Please see Windows Ansible Module Development Walkthrough for more information.

See also

Ansible Documentation
The documentation index
An introduction to playbooks
Best Practices
Best practices advice
List of Windows Modules
Windows specific module list, all implemented in PowerShell
User Mailing List
Have a question? Stop by the google group!
#ansible IRC chat channel