The Advisory Boar

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

More control over SSH pipelining in Ansible 2

2015-11-04, updated 2015-11-18

SSH pipelining is an Ansible feature to reduce the number of connections to a host.

Ansible will normally create a temporary directory under ~/.ansible (via ssh), then for each task, copy the module source to the directory (using sftp or scp) and execute the module (ssh again).

With pipelining enabled, Ansible will connect only once per task using ssh to execute python, and write the module source to its stdin. Even with persistent ssh connections enabled, it's a noticeable improvement to make only one ssh connection per task.

Unfortunately, pipelining is disabled by default because it is incompatible with sudo's requiretty setting (or su, which always requires a tty). This is because of a quirk of the Python interpreter, which enters interactive mode automatically when you pipe in data from a (pseudo) tty.

Update 2015-11-18: I've submitted a pull request to make pipelining work with requiretty. The rest of this post still remains true, but if the PR is merged, the underlying problem will just go away.

Pipelining can be enabled globally by setting “pipelining=True” in the ssh section of ansible.cfg, or setting “ANSIBLE_SSH_PIPELINING=1” in the environment.

With Ansible 2 (not yet released), you can also set ansible_ssh_pipelining in the inventory or in a playbook. You can leave it enabled in ansible.cfg, but turn it off for some hosts (where requiretty must remain enabled), or even write a play with pipelining disabled in order to remove requiretty from /etc/sudoers.

- lineinfile:
    dest: /etc/sudoers
    line: 'Defaults requiretty'
    state: absent
  sudo_user: root
  vars:
      ansible_ssh_pipelining: no

The above lineinfile recipe is simplistic, but it shows that it's now possible to disable requiretty, even if it's by replacing /etc/sudoers altogether.

Note the use of another Ansible 2 feature above: vars can also be set for individual tasks (and blocks), not only plays.

SSH configuration in Ansible 2

2015-11-07

The ability to use “jump hosts” with Ansible is another often-requested feature. This has been discussed repeatedly on the mailing list and on Stackoverflow, has had a number of howto articles written about it, and multiple independent implementations have been submitted as pull requests to Ansible.

The recommended solution was to set a ProxyCommand in ~/.ssh/config. This meant duplicating inventory data and keeping two sources of connection information in sync. It worked, but grew rapidly less manageable with a larger inventory. Similarly, the ssh_config inventory plugin was a makeshift solution at best.

This post describes the general mechanism provided in Ansible 2 (not yet released) to make SSH configuration changes—including jump hosts—without depending on any data external to Ansible.

SSH configuration

The ssh_args setting in the ssh_connection section of ansible.cfg is a global setting whose contents are prepended to every command-line for ssh/scp/sftp. This behaviour has been retained unmodified for backwards compatibility, but I don't recommend its use, because it overrides the default persistence settings.

In addition to the above, the new ansible_ssh_common_args inventory variable is appended to every command-line for ssh/scp/sftp. This can be set in the inventory (for a group or a host) or in a playbook (for a play, or block, or task). This is the place to configure any ProxyCommand you want to use.

[gatewayed_hosts:vars]
ansible_ssh_common_args='-o ProxyCommand="ssh -W %h:%p someuser@jumphost.example.com"'

In addition to that, the new ansible_ssh_extra_args variable is appended only to command-lines for ssh. There are analogous ansible_scp_extra_args and ansible_sftp_extra_args variables to change scp and sftp command-lines. This allows you to do truly odd things like open a reverse-tunnel to the control node with -R (which is an option only ssh accepts, not scp or sftp).

The --ssh-common-args command-line option is useful when debugging (there's also --ssh-extra-args, --scp-extra-args, and --sftp-extra-args). Note that any values you set on the command-line will be overriden by the inventory or playbook settings described above (which seems backwards, but that's how Ansible handles other command-line options too).

Also note that ansible_user, ansible_host, and ansible_port are now preferred to the old ansible_ssh_* versions.

Internal changes

Once again, the modest user-visible changes are accompanied by major changes internally. The SSH connection plugin was rewritten to be more maintainable, and an entire class of “my connection just hangs” and other bugs (especially around privilege escalation) were fixed in the process.