Working with Ansible Jinja2 code and filters

When working with Ansible Jinja2 code and filters, it is helpful to write small playbooks to test out functionality. This is especially true if you are developing a large role/playbook and want to try out a filter in one of the tasks. You do not want to have to run the entire playbook with a virtual machine just to test one filter output in one task.

Example playbook

Here is an example of such a playbook:

- name: Test to_nice_json
  hosts: localhost
  gather_facts: false
    foo: bar
    - name: Show value of foo
        msg: |
          foo is {{ foo | to_nice_json }}

Run this playbook like this:

ANSIBLE_STDOUT_CALLBACK=debug ansible-playbook -vv debug.yml

I like to use ANSIBLE_STDOUT_CALLBACK=debug and filters like to_nice_json because it really helps me see the structure of the data in a multi-line format rather than in a single line JSON blob with escaped quotes and embedded newlines.

Example with nested dict data and map

Here is an example testing out a filter in a complex nested data structure - given the result dict, I want to extract a list of cidr_block values:

- name: Test map and list
  hosts: localhost
  gather_facts: false
          - id: block1
              state: present
          - id: block2
              state: disabled
    - name: Show cidr_block values
        msg: blocks {{ result.vpc.cidr_block_association_set |
          map(attribute="cidr_block") | list | to_nice_json }}

and this is the output of the task:

TASK [debug] *******************************************************************************
task path: /home/rmeggins/ansible_sandbox/vpc-test.yml:16
ok: [localhost] => {}


blocks [

Example that uses facts

Typically you will set gather_facts: false to speed up playbooks when you don’t need system facts. Even fact gathering from localhost takes time. However, if you do need to test some functionality that requires ansible_facts, omit the gather_facts: false.

- name: Test with ansible_facts
  hosts: localhost
    - name: Set some facts
        facts: "{{ ansible_facts }}"
        separators: ["-", "_"]
          - "{{ ansible_facts['distribution_version'] }}"
          - "{{ ansible_facts['distribution_major_version'] }}"
    - name: Set more facts
        varfiles: "{{ [facts['distribution']] | product(separators) |
          map('join') | product(versions | unique) | map('join') |
          list + [facts['distribution'], facts['os_family']] }}"
    - name: Show varfiles
        msg: varfiles {{ varfiles | to_nice_json }}

Here is an example that parses service_facts:

- name: Parse service_facts
  hosts: localhost
    - name: service facts
    - debug:
        msg: |
          service_facts {{ | to_nice_json }}
          again {{ | dict2items |
            selectattr('key', 'match', '^systemd-cryptsetup@') |
            map(attribute='value') | map(attribute='name') | list }}

Using Different Jinja2 Versions

System Roles still has to support Ansible 2.9 and Jinja2 2.9 for EL7. The easiest way to test with this is to use a python virtualenv:

python -mvenv ~/.venv-ans29-jinja29
. ~/.venv-ans29-jinja29/bin/activate
pip install 'ansible==2.9.*' 'jinja2==2.7.*'
ANSIBLE_STDOUT_CALLBACK=debug ansible-playbook -vv debug.yml

This will run your playbook with ansible 2.9 and jinja 2.7.

When you are done testing, type deactivate to “leave” the virtualenv. For more information about virtualenv see python venv

Coding for multiple versions of Ansible and Jinja

In general, use the filters and tests provided by Ansible 2.9 wherever possible:

If you must use a Jinja2 feature (like map or selectattr), and you want to make sure it works with Jinja 2.7, it is a bit tricky, because there are no docs. If you use the Jinja 2.10 and later docs at Jinja2 docs, you’ll have to be very careful because some of the features are not supported in jinja 2.7, and you’ll have to reference the code at and to see if your filter/test is supported. Some notable differences:

  • namespace is not available
  • the tests eq, equalto, and == are not available

For namespace, you’ll just have to figure out how to write your for loops in such a way that they don’t need namespace.

For the eq filter - it is quite common to want to write a filter expression like this:

{{ somelistofdicts | selectattr('someattr', '==', 'somevalue') | list }}

but that will not work in jinja 2.7 because the test == is not available. Fortunately, ansible 2.9 provides the match test, so you can rewrite the above like this:

{{ somelistofdicts | selectattr('someattr', 'match', '^somevalue$') | list }}

which will work on all versions of ansible and jinja2.

Complex Ansible/Jinja Data Manipulation

See Manipulating data for many examples of complex data parsing and manipulation.

How to solve some common ansible-lint issues

Line Wrapping

ansible-lint has a pretty short line length, which causes problems if you are trying to use good programming practices by having descriptive variable names, which usually end up being quite long. On top of that, ansible-lint enforces spacing in Jinja constructs and expressions. Here are some examples of how to deal with line wrapping in common scenarios:

Use the YAML >- flow scalars.

For example - instead of this:

- name: This is a very, very, very, ........................... very long line

use this:

- name: >-
    This is a very, very, very,
    very long line

The >- flow scalar operator will concatenate each line into a single line string, with a single space character replacing the new line and leading spaces.

Jinja expressions can be wrapped

For example - instead of this:

  foo: "{{ | somefilter('with', 'many', 'arguments') | another_filter | list }}"

use the filter | as a natural line break:

  foo: "{{ |
    somefilter('with', 'many', 'arguments') |
    another_filter | list }}"

Remember, in a when, that, failed_when, or other such keywords, you can just write Jinja code - you do not need the "":

  when: |
    somefilter('with', 'many', 'arguments') |
    another_filter | list

But what if the code is already indented a lot, and the variable I’m assigning to is already very long, and I can’t put anything else on the line? Just start the assignment on the next line:

                    foo: "{{
                      somefilter('with', 'many', 'arguments') |
                      another_filter | list }}"

If you have to do the same thing in a when, that, etc., you can use a backslash:

                    foo: \
                      somefilter('with', 'many', 'arguments') |
                      another_filter | list

Use vars for locally scoped intermediate values

But what if my variable name is very long, and/or I use it in several places? Use a vars in the task to assign a locally scoped variable with a short name, or pre-digest some of the work:

- name: Set some test variables
    my_very_long_variable_1: "{{ | some_filter | filter1 }}"
    my_very_long_variable_2: "{{ | some_filter | filter2 }}"

Notice that both assignments have | some_filter in common, so we can “pre-digest” that with a local variable:

- name: Set some test variables
    my_very_long_variable_1: "{{ __pre_digest | filter1 }}"
    my_very_long_variable_2: "{{ __pre_digest | filter2 }}"
    __pre_digest: "{{ | some_filter }}"

You can use a vars on any task - even include_role, include_tasks, etc. You can also use vars in a block to create variables used by multiple tasks in the block that are locally scoped to the block.

Use backslash escapes in double quoted strings

But what if I have a very long string that I cannot use >- to wrap because I cannot have extra spaces in the value e.g. like a url value?

    url: "https://{{ my_very_long_value_for_hostname }}:{{ my_very_long_value_for_port }}{{ my_very_long_value_for_uri }}{{ my_very_long_value_for_query }}"

You can use a backslash escape in a double quoted string:

    url: "https://{{ my_very_long_value_for_hostname }}:\
      {{ my_very_long_value_for_port }}\
      {{ my_very_long_value_for_uri }}?\
      {{ my_very_long_value_for_query }}"

yaml will concatenate the values with no spaces: https://myhost:myport/myuri?myquery