The following is a list (and re-explanation) of term definitions used elsewhere in the Ansible documentation.

Consult the documentation home page for the full documentation and to see the terms in context, but this should be a good resource to check your knowledge of Ansible’s components and understand how they fit together. It is something you might wish to read for review or when a term comes up on the mailing list.


An action is a part of a task that specifies which of the modules to run and which arguments to pass to that module. Each task can have only one action, but it may also have other parameters.

Ad Hoc

Refers to running Ansible to perform some quick command, using /usr/bin/ansible, rather than the orchestration language, which is /usr/bin/ansible-playbook. An example of an ad hoc command might be rebooting 50 machines in your infrastructure. Anything you can do ad hoc can be accomplished by writing a playbook and playbooks can also glue several other operations together.

Ansible (the package)

A software package (Python, deb, rpm, and so on) that contains ansible-core and a select group of collections. Playbooks that worked with Ansible 2.9 should still work with the Ansible 2.10 package. See the ansible-<version>.build file in the release-specific directory at ansible-build-data for a list of collections included in Ansible, as well as the included ansible-core version.


Used only for 2.10. The installable package (RPM/Python/Deb package) generated from the ansible/ansible repository. See ansible-core.


Name used starting with 2.11. The installable package (RPM/Python/Deb package) generated from the ansible/ansible repository. Contains the command-line tools and the code for basic features and functions, such as copying module code to managed nodes. The ansible-core package includes a few modules and plugins and allows you to add others by installing collections.

Ansible Galaxy

An online distribution server for finding and sharing Ansible community content, sometimes referred to as community Galaxy. Also, the command-line utility that lets users install individual Ansible Collections, for example ansible-galaxy collection install community.crypto.


Refers to a task that is configured to run in the background rather than waiting for completion. If you have a long process that would run longer than the SSH timeout, it would make sense to launch that task in async mode. Async modes can poll for completion every so many seconds or can be configured to “fire and forget”, in which case Ansible will not even check on the task again; it will just kick it off and proceed to future steps. Async modes work with both /usr/bin/ansible and /usr/bin/ansible-playbook.

Callback Plugin

Refers to some user-written code that can intercept results from Ansible and do something with them. Some supplied examples in the GitHub project perform custom logging, send email, or even play sound effects.

Check Mode

Refers to running Ansible with the --check option, which does not make any changes on the remote systems, but only outputs the changes that might occur if the command ran without this flag. This is analogous to so-called “dry run” modes in other systems, though the user should be warned that this does not take into account unexpected command failures or cascade effects (which is true of similar modes in other systems). Use this to get an idea of what might happen, but do not substitute it for a good staging environment.


A packaging format for bundling and distributing Ansible content, including plugins, roles, modules, and more. Collections release independent of other collections or ansible-core so features can be available sooner to users. Some collections are packaged with Ansible (version 2.10 or later). You can install other collections (or other versions of collections) with ansible-galaxy collection install <namespace.collection>.

Collection name

The second part of a Fully Qualified Collection Name. The collection name divides the collection namespace and usually reflects the function of the collection content. For example, the cisco namespace might contain cisco.ios, cisco.aci, and cisco.nxos, with content for managing the different network devices maintained by Cisco.

community.general (collection)

A special collection managed by the Ansible Community Team containing all the modules and plugins which shipped in Ansible 2.9 that do not have their own dedicated Collection. See community.general on Galaxy. (collection)

Similar to community.general, focusing on network content. on Galaxy.

Connection Plugin

By default, Ansible talks to remote machines through pluggable libraries. Ansible uses native OpenSSH (SSH (Native)) or a Python implementation called paramiko. OpenSSH is preferred if you are using a recent version, and also enables some features like Kerberos and jump hosts. This is covered in the getting started section. There are also other connection types like accelerate mode, which must be bootstrapped over one of the SSH-based connection types but is very fast, and local mode, which acts on the local system. Users can also write their own connection plugins.


A conditional is an expression that evaluates to true or false that decides whether a given task is executed on a given machine or not. Ansible’s conditionals are powered by the ‘when’ statement, which are discussed in the Working with playbooks.


An approach to achieving a task that uses a description of the final state rather than a description of the sequence of steps necessary to achieve that state. For a real world example, a declarative specification of a task would be: “put me in California”. Depending on your current location, the sequence of steps to get you to California may vary, and if you are already in California, nothing at all needs to be done. Ansible’s Resources are declarative; it figures out the steps needed to achieve the final state. It also lets you know whether or not any steps needed to be taken to get to the final state.

Diff Mode

A --diff flag can be passed to Ansible to show what changed on modules that support it. You can combine it with --check to get a good ‘dry run’. File diffs are normally in unified diff format.

Distribution server

A server, such as Ansible Galaxy or Red Hat Automation Hub where you can distribute your collections and allow others to access these collections. See Distributing collections for a list of distribution server types. Some Ansible features are only available on certain distribution servers.


A core software component of Ansible that is the power behind /usr/bin/ansible directly – and corresponds to the invocation of each task in a playbook. The Executor is something Ansible developers may talk about, but it is not really user land vocabulary.


Facts are simply things that are discovered about remote nodes. While they can be used in playbooks and templates just like variables, facts are things that are inferred, rather than set. Facts are automatically discovered by Ansible when running plays by executing the internal setup module on the remote nodes. You never have to call the setup module explicitly, it just runs, but it can be disabled to save time if it is not needed or you can tell ansible to collect only a subset of the full facts through the gather_subset: option. For the convenience of users who are switching from other configuration management systems, the fact module will also pull in facts from the ohai and facter tools if they are installed. These are fact libraries from Chef and Puppet, respectively. (These may also be disabled through gather_subset:)

Filter Plugin

A filter plugin is something that most users will never need to understand. These allow for the creation of new Jinja2 filters, which are more or less only of use to people who know what Jinja2 filters are. If you need them, you can learn how to write them in the API docs section.


Ansible talks to remote nodes in parallel and the level of parallelism can be set either by passing --forks or editing the default in a configuration file. The default is a very conservative five (5) forks, though if you have a lot of RAM, you can easily set this to a value like 50 for increased parallelism.

Fully Qualified Collection Name (FQCN)

The full definition of a module, plugin, or role hosted within a collection, in the form <namespace.collection.content_name>. Allows a Playbook to refer to a specific module or plugin from a specific source in an unambiguous manner, for example, community.grafana.grafana_dashboard. The FQCN is required when you want to specify the exact source of a plugin. For example, if multiple collections contain a module plugin called user, the FQCN specifies which one to use for a given task. When you have multiple collections installed, the FQCN is always the explicit and authoritative indicator of which collection to search for the correct plugin for each task.

Gather Facts (Boolean)

Facts are mentioned above. Sometimes when running a multi-play playbook, it is desirable to have some plays that don’t bother with fact computation if they aren’t going to need to utilize any of these values. Setting gather_facts: False on a playbook allows this implicit fact gathering to be skipped.


Globbing is a way to select several hosts based on wildcards, rather than the name of the host specifically, or the name of the group they are in. For example, it is possible to select ww* to match all hosts starting with www. This concept is pulled directly from Func, one of Michael DeHaan’s (an Ansible Founder) earlier projects. In addition to basic globbing, various set operations are also possible, such as ‘hosts in this group and not in another group’, and so on.


A group consists of several hosts assigned to a pool that can be conveniently targeted together, as well as given variables that they share in common.

Group Vars

The group_vars/ files are files that live in a directory alongside an inventory file, with an optional file name named after each group. This is a convenient place to put variables that are provided to a given group, especially complex data structures, so that these variables do not have to be embedded in the inventory file or playbook.


Handlers are just like regular tasks in an Ansible playbook (see Tasks) but are only run if the Task contains a notify keyword and also indicates that it changed something. For example, if a config file is changed, then the task referencing the config file templating operation may notify a service restart handler. This means services can be bounced only if they need to be restarted. Handlers can be used for things other than service restarts, but service restarts are the most common usage.


A host is simply a remote machine that Ansible manages. They can have individual variables assigned to them, and can also be organized in groups. All hosts have a name they can be reached at (which is either an IP address or a domain name) and, optionally, a port number, if they are not to be accessed on the default SSH port.

Host Specifier

Each Play in Ansible maps a series of tasks (which define the role, purpose, or orders of a system) to a set of systems.

This hosts: keyword in each play is often called the hosts specifier.

It may select one system, many systems, one or more groups, or even some hosts that are in one group and explicitly not in another.

Host Vars

Just like Group Vars, a directory alongside the inventory file named host_vars/ can contain a file named after each hostname in the inventory file, in YAML format. This provides a convenient place to assign variables to the host without having to embed them in the inventory file. The Host Vars file can also be used to define complex data structures that can’t be represented in the inventory file.


An operation is idempotent if the result of performing it once is exactly the same as the result of performing it repeatedly without any intervening actions.


The idea that playbook files (which are nothing more than lists of plays) can include other lists of plays, and task lists can externalize lists of tasks in other files, and similarly with handlers. Includes can be parameterized, which means that the loaded file can pass variables. For example, an included play for setting up a WordPress blog may take a parameter called user and that play could be included more than once to create a blog for both alice and bob.


A file (by default, Ansible uses a simple INI format) that describes Hosts and Groups in Ansible. Inventory can also be provided through an Inventory Script (sometimes called an “External Inventory Script”).

Inventory Script

A very simple program (or a complicated one) that looks up hosts, group membership for hosts, and variable information from an external resource – whether that be a SQL database, a CMDB solution, or something like LDAP. This concept was adapted from Puppet (where it is called an “External Nodes Classifier”) and works more or less exactly the same way.


Jinja2 is the preferred templating language of Ansible’s template module. It is a very simple Python template language that is generally readable and easy to write.


Ansible uses JSON for return data from remote modules. This allows modules to be written in any language, not just Python.


The main expressions that make up Ansible, which apply to playbook objects (Play, Block, Role and Task). For example ‘vars:’ is a keyword that lets you define variables in the scope of the playbook object it is applied to.

Lazy Evaluation

In general, Ansible evaluates any variables in playbook content at the last possible second, which means that if you define a data structure that data structure itself can define variable values within it, and everything “just works” as you would expect. This also means variable strings can include other variables inside of those strings.


A collection of modules made available to /usr/bin/ansible or an Ansible playbook.

Limit Groups

By passing --limit somegroup to ansible or ansible-playbook, the commands can be limited to a subset of hosts. For example, this can be used to run a playbook that normally targets an entire set of servers to one particular server.

Local Action

This keyword is an alias for delegate_to: localhost. Used when you want to redirect an action from the remote to execute on the control node itself.

Local Connection

By using connection: local in a playbook, or passing -c local to /usr/bin/ansible, this indicates that we are executing a local fork instead of executing on the remote machine. You probably want local_action or delegate_to: localhost instead as this ONLY changes the connection and no other context for execution.

Lookup Plugin

A lookup plugin is a way to get data into Ansible from the outside world. Lookup plugins are an extension of Jinja2 and can be accessed in templates, for example, {{ lookup('file','/path/to/file') }}. These are how such things as with_items, are implemented. There are also lookup plugins like file which loads data from a file and ones for querying environment variables, DNS text records, or key value stores.


Generally, Ansible is not a programming language. It prefers to be more declarative, though various constructs like loop allow a particular task to be repeated for multiple items in a list. Certain modules, like yum and apt, actually take lists directly, and can install all packages given in those lists within a single transaction, dramatically speeding up total time to configuration, so they can be used without loops.


Modules are the units of work that Ansible ships out to remote machines. Modules are kicked off by either /usr/bin/ansible or /usr/bin/ansible-playbook (where multiple tasks use several different modules in conjunction). Modules can be implemented in any language, including Perl, Bash, or Ruby – but can take advantage of some useful communal library code if written in Python. Modules just have to return JSON. Once modules are executed on remote machines, they are removed, so no long running daemons are used. Ansible refers to the collection of available modules as a library.


The concept that IT systems are not managed one system at a time, but by interactions between multiple systems and groups of systems in well defined orders. For example, a web server may need to be updated before a database server and pieces on the web server may need to be updated after THAT database server and various load balancers and monitoring servers may need to be contacted. Ansible models entire IT topologies and workflows rather than looking at configuration from a “one system at a time” perspective.


The first part of a fully qualified collection name, the namespace usually reflects a functional content category. Example: in cisco.ios.ios_config, cisco is the namespace. Namespaces are reserved and distributed by Red Hat at Red Hat’s discretion. Many, but not all, namespaces will correspond with vendor names. See Galaxy namespaces on the Galaxy docsite for namespace requirements.


The act of a task registering a change event and informing a handler task that another action needs to be run at the end of the play. If a handler is notified by multiple tasks, it will still be run only once. Handlers are run in the order they are listed, not in the order that they are notified.


Many software automation systems use this word to mean different things. Ansible uses it as a conductor would conduct an orchestra. A datacenter or cloud architecture is full of many systems, playing many parts – web servers, database servers, maybe load balancers, monitoring systems, continuous integration systems, and so on. In performing any process, it is necessary to touch systems in particular orders, often to simulate rolling updates or to deploy software correctly. Some system may perform some steps, then others, then previous systems already processed may need to perform more steps. Along the way, emails may need to be sent or web services contacted. Ansible orchestration is all about modeling that kind of process.


Ansible can use a Python SSH implementation called paramiko. The paramiko library is generally fast and easy to manage. To use paramiko you need to specify the connection type in your playbooks, or by using the -c paramiko flag.


Playbooks are the language by which Ansible orchestrates, configures, administers, or deploys systems. They are called playbooks partially because it is a sports analogy, and it is supposed to be fun using them. They aren’t workbooks :)


A playbook is a list of plays. A play is minimally a mapping between a set of hosts selected by a host specifier (usually chosen by groups but sometimes by hostname globs) and the tasks which run on those hosts to define the role that those systems will perform. There can be one or many plays in a playbook.

Pull Mode

By default, Ansible runs in push mode, which allows it very fine-grained control over when it talks to each system. Pull mode is provided for when you would rather have nodes check in every N minutes on a particular schedule. It uses a program called ansible-pull and can also be set up (or reconfigured) using a push-mode playbook. Most Ansible users use push mode, but pull mode is included for variety and the sake of having choices.

ansible-pull works by checking configuration orders out of git on a crontab and then managing the machine locally, using the local connection plugin.

Pulp 3 Galaxy

A self-hosted distribution server based on the GalaxyNG codebase, based on Pulp version 3. Use it to find and share your own curated set of content. You can access your content with the ansible-galaxy collection command.

Push Mode

Push mode is the default mode of Ansible. In fact, it is not really a mode at all – it is just how Ansible works when you aren’t thinking about it. Push mode allows Ansible to be fine-grained and conduct nodes through complex orchestration processes without waiting for them to check in.

Register Variable

The result of running any task in Ansible can be stored in a variable for use in a template or a conditional statement. The keyword used to define the variable is called register, taking its name from the idea of registers in assembly programming (though Ansible will never feel like assembly programming). There are an infinite number of variable names you can use for registration.

Resource Model

Ansible modules work in terms of resources. For example, the file module will select a particular file and ensure that the attributes of that resource match a particular model. As an example, we might wish to change the owner of /etc/motd to root if it is not already set to root, or set its mode to 0644 if it is not already set to 0644. The resource models are idempotent meaning change commands are not run unless needed, and Ansible will bring the system back to a desired state regardless of the actual state – rather than you having to tell it how to get to the state.


Roles are units of organization in Ansible. Assigning a role to a group of hosts (or a set of groups, or host patterns, and so on) implies that they should implement a specific behavior. A role may include applying certain variable values, certain tasks, and certain handlers – or just one or more of these things. Because of the file structure associated with a role, roles become redistributable units that allow you to share behavior among playbooks – or even with other users.

Rolling Update

The act of addressing a number of nodes in a group N at a time to avoid updating them all at once and bringing the system offline. For instance, in a web topology of 500 nodes handling very large volume, it may be reasonable to update 10 or 20 machines at a time, moving on to the next 10 or 20 when done. The serial: keyword in an Ansible playbooks control the size of the rolling update pool. The default is to address the batch size all at once, so this is something that you must opt-in to. OS configuration (such as making sure config files are correct) does not typically have to use the rolling update model, but can do so if desired.


See also

Rolling Update


Ansible does not require root logins, and since it is daemonless, definitely does not require root level daemons (which can be a security concern in sensitive environments). Ansible can log in and perform many operations wrapped in a sudo command, and can work with both password-less and password-based sudo. Some operations that don’t normally work with sudo (like scp file transfer) can be achieved with Ansible’s copy, template, and fetch modules while running in sudo mode.

SSH (Native)

Native OpenSSH as an Ansible transport is specified with -c ssh (or a config file, or a keyword in the playbook) and can be useful if wanting to login through Kerberized SSH or using SSH jump hosts, and so on. In 1.2.1, ssh will be used by default if the OpenSSH binary on the control machine is sufficiently new. Previously, Ansible selected paramiko as a default. Using a client that supports ControlMaster and ControlPersist is recommended for maximum performance – if you don’t have that and don’t need Kerberos, jump hosts, or other features, paramiko is a good choice. Ansible will warn you if it doesn’t detect ControlMaster/ControlPersist capability.


Ansible allows tagging resources in a playbook with arbitrary keywords, and then running only the parts of the playbook that correspond to those keywords. For example, it is possible to have an entire OS configuration, and have certain steps labeled ntp, and then run just the ntp steps to reconfigure the time server information on a remote host.


Playbooks exist to run tasks. Tasks combine an action (a module and its arguments) with a name and optionally some other keywords (like looping keywords). Handlers are also tasks, but they are a special kind of task that do not run unless they are notified by name when a task reports an underlying change on a remote system.


A list of Task.


Ansible can easily transfer files to remote systems but often it is desirable to substitute variables in other files. Variables may come from the inventory file, Host Vars, Group Vars, or Facts. Templates use the Jinja2 template engine and can also include logical constructs like loops and if statements.


Ansible uses :term:Connection Plugins to define types of available transports. These are simply how Ansible will reach out to managed systems. Transports included are paramiko, ssh (using OpenSSH), and local.


An optional conditional statement attached to a task that is used to determine if the task should run or not. If the expression following the when: keyword evaluates to false, the task will be ignored.

Vars (Variables)

As opposed to Facts, variables are names of values (they can be simple scalar values – integers, booleans, strings) or complex ones (dictionaries/hashes, lists) that can be used in templates and playbooks. They are declared things, not things that are inferred from the remote system’s current state or nature (which is what Facts are).


Ansible does not want to force people to write programming language code to automate infrastructure, so Ansible uses YAML to define playbook configuration languages and also variable files. YAML is nice because it has a minimum of syntax and is very clean and easy for people to skim. It is a good data format for configuration files and humans, but also machine readable. Ansible’s usage of YAML stemmed from Michael DeHaan’s first use of it inside of Cobbler around 2006. YAML is fairly popular in the dynamic language community and the format has libraries available for serialization in many languages (Python, Perl, Ruby, and so on).

See also

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions

Working with playbooks

An introduction to playbooks

Ansible tips and tricks

Tips and tricks for playbooks

User Mailing List

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Real-time chat

How to join Ansible chat channels