Host names and patterns in Ansible 2

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <>

Nearly lost among the many significant changes in Ansible 2 (not yet released) are a number of related changes to how hostnames and host patterns are handled.

Host patterns

Ansible uses patterns like foo* to target managed nodes; one could match multiple patterns by separating them with colons, semicolons, or commas, e.g., foo*:bar*. The use of colons is now discouraged (and will eventually be deprecated) because of the conflict with IPv6 addresses, and the (undocumented) use of semicolons attracts a deprecation warning. Ansible 2 recommends only the comma: foo*,bar*.

This usage applies to the list of target hosts: for a play, the host pattern argument to the ansible command, and the argument to ansible-playbook --limit.

The groupname[x-y] syntax is no longer supported. Use groupname[0:2] to match the first three hosts in a group. The first host is g[0], the last is g[-1], and g[1:] matches all hosts except g[0].

Inventory hostnames

Ansible 2 requires inventory hostnames to be valid IPv4/IPv6 addresses or hostnames (i.e., or x, but not or x--). As an extension, it accepts Unicode word characters in hostname labels. Any mistakes result in specific parsing errors, not mysterious failures during execution.

Inventory hostnames may also use alphabetic or numeric ranges to define more than one host. For example, foo[1:3] defines foo1 through foo3, while foo[x:z:2] expands to fox and foz. Addresses may use numeric ranges: 192.0.2.[3:42].

IPv6 addresses

A number of problems with the parsing of IPv6 addresses have also been fixed, and their behaviour has been made consistent across the inventory (.ini files) and in playbooks (e.g., in hosts: lines and with add_host).

All of the recommended IPv6 address notations (from spelling out all 128 bits to the various compressed forms) are supported. Addresses with port numbers must be written as [addr]:port. One can also use hexadecimal ranges to define multiple hosts in inventory files, e.g. 9876::[a:f]:2.

A couple of small but necessary bugfixes go hand-in-hand with the parsing changes, and fix problems with passing IPv6 addresses to ssh and to rsync. Taken together, these changes make it possible to use IPv6 in practice with Ansible.

Bigger on the inside

The changes described above merit only a couple of lines in the 2.0 changelog, but the implementation involved a complete rewrite of the inventory file parser and the address parser. A variety of incidental bugs were fixed along the way.

The upshot is that the code—for the first time—now imposes syntactic requirements on host names, addresses, and patterns in a systematic, documented, testable way.