Imagine a situation where you have two machines, where one is your workstation. Let’s call it the management node. The other one is a fresh ubuntu/centos machine which can be bare metal physical box or a cloud instance. Let’s say you have to configure this machine into a apache or nginx web server.

One way to go about this would be to manually ssh into the machine, install the necessary packages and editing the configuration files.

This is a pretty common practice, but this manual work can quickly pile up if you have say tens or even hundreds of machines. Not only will this take up a lot of your precious time and energy, but the chances of making an error are there as well, as we are doing everything manually. Also there are always these scenarios when something important dies and you are not sure about how to recreate it quickly. And you again engage into such manual work which created this mess in the first place.

There should be a better way, right.

This is where configuration management tools come in to automate such tasks, saving you time and improving the overall process.

Ansible is one such easy to use open source configuration management and orchestration tool, and is directly targeted at solving such problems.

Let’s just get started. Let’s go back to our problem. We had many instances and everyone needed to configured in a different way.

So what we need is Ansible installed on your machine/workstation. This is generally called the Ansible management node. Also you need an inventory file and playbook(s).

What do these terms, inventory file and playbooks mean?

An inventory file is basically just a listing of host names or ip addresses of instances you want to configure. You can either use fqdn or just host names or even ip addresses, neat right. You can also group a number of instances under a heading, if those nodes are to configured the same way.



Above is a sample host inventory file. Notice how can we group these instances together. So now while running a script, I can just mention the group load-balancer and it will run on all the three instances mentioned.

Playbooks are configuration files, that outline tasks that are to be run against a host, that otherwise we would have performed manually. Playbooks are in written in yaml which makes it very easy to write and it also increases the readablity as its almost plain English. Below is an example playbook file.

- hosts: web-app
  sudo: yes


  - name: install nginx
    apt: name=nginx state=installed update_cache=yes

  - name: load config file
    template: src=templates/nginx.conf.j2 dest=/etc/nginx/nginx.conf


  - name: restart nginx
    service: name=nginx state=restarted

One can see the playbook is self-explanatory in itself, which is really great if we have multiple people on the same team.

Now, when we run ansible-playbook shell command, along with other parameters, ansible will look into the hosts file for the machines, ssh-trusts into them and performs the tasks listed in the playbook.

And that’s it. It’s really as easy as that.

Below are some links for further reading.