Ansible Variables and Vaults at ForestVPN

Published Categorized as Tips & Tricks

ForestVPN’s Approach to Ansible Implementation

At ForestVPN, we heavily rely on Ansible for seamless configuration management and efficient server operations. Unlike a centralized management approach, our development teams operate independently, owning the full life cycle of their products. This decentralized structure offers flexibility but places the responsibility on individuals to navigate a multitude of tools effectively.

To streamline knowledge sharing and ensure correct tool utilization, ForestVPN has established standardized practices for Ansible usage across the organization. In this article, we’ll delve into the lessons we’ve learned operating at scale, share reflections on our workflow, and outline how we manage Ansible in this decentralized context.

Unraveling Ansible Documentation Challenges

Navigating the Ansible documentation can be challenging, especially concerning end-to-end guidance. Frequently encountered questions revolve around variable precedence and the integration of Ansible Vault. While each of these topics is well-documented independently, the intersection between variables and vaults lacks comprehensive coverage.

Today, we aim to bridge this gap by exploring the interplay between Ansible variables and vaults, along with highlighting best practices.

Understanding the Versatility of Ansible Vault Files

In essence, Ansible Vault allows you to encrypt various elements within your Ansible folder, cleverly decrypting them during play execution. Surprisingly, the documentation about variables makes no reference to vault files, leaving users to decipher the connection independently. ForestVPN seeks to address this gap and shed light on proper usage.

The Role of Ansible Vault Files

Consider a typical Ansible folder structure:

. ├── group_vars │ ├── all │ ├── production │ └── staging ├── ansible.cfg ├── inventory └── playbook.yml

While seemingly well-organized, assumptions about which files are vaults can lead to potential issues. ForestVPN advocates for clarity in structuring your files to avoid pitfalls.

Now, let’s examine a sample ‘all’ file:

database: username: default_user password: false super_important_var_that_should_be_one: 1

And a production vault file:

database: username: produser password: supersecretpasswordnoonecansee super_important_var_that_should_be_one: 1

This scenario highlights the danger of mixing secrets and non-secrets in the ‘all’ file, risking oversights that might lead to critical errors.

Safeguarding Ansible Vault Files: Best Practices

ForestVPN aligns with best practices that emphasize limiting variables in vault files to secrets only. This approach ensures that the contents of these files remain obscured, adding a layer of security to your configuration.

Consider this improved structure:

. ├── group_vars │ ├── all │ │ └── vars.yml │ ├── production │ │ ├── vars.yml │ │ └── vault.yml │ └── staging │ └── vault.yml ├── ansible.cfg ├── inventory └── playbook.yml

Additionally, ForestVPN recommends employing a “layer of indirection” by templating variables from the vault file into the referenced variables within your playbooks. This practice enhances code review transparency and prevents potential issues by ensuring essential variables are not missing.

In your ‘all/vars.yml’:

database: username: default_user password: "{{ vault_database_password }}" super_important_var_that_should_be_one: 1

For ‘production/vars.yml’:

database: username: produser

And ‘production/vault.yml’ contains only:

vault_database_password: supersecretpasswordnoonecansee

Free vpn russian ip

This revised structure promotes clarity during code reviews and minimizes the risk of rendering errors due to missing variables.

Wrapping Up

ForestVPN hopes that this exploration of Ansible variables and vaults proves valuable for your operations. Implementing these best practices ensures a secure and transparent configuration management process, enhancing the overall efficiency of your Ansible workflow.


Q: How does ForestVPN approach Ansible implementation?
A: ForestVPN relies on a decentralized structure, allowing development teams to own the full life cycle of their products. Standardized practices ensure consistent and efficient Ansible usage.

Q: What is the role of Ansible Vault at ForestVPN?
A: Ansible Vault at ForestVPN encrypts elements within the Ansible folder, providing enhanced security. Best practices guide the limited use of vault files for storing secrets.

Q: What are the recommended best practices for using Ansible Vault files at ForestVPN?
A: ForestVPN recommends structuring files to separate secrets, using a “layer of indirection” for added security, and minimizing variables in vault files to enhance transparency during code reviews.