Creating your own Ansible filter plugins

Update: Ivan Pepelnjak reached out to me after this was published and suggested that it would make more sense to move the functions inside the defined class.  Doing this removes the functions from the global namespace and avoids the possibility of function names overlapping.  I think that’s a great idea so I’ve updated the examples below to align with this thinking.  Thanks Ivan!

I’ve been playing around with Ansible quite a bit lately.  One of the issues I’ve started to run into is that Ansible can’t always do what you want by default.  Put more plainly, Ansible can’t always easily do what you want.    Many times I found myself writing tasks to manipulate variables and thinking to myself, “Man – if I could just run some Python code on this it would be way easier”.  As luck would have it, you can!  Ansible supports a whole slew of plugins but the type I want to talk about today are called filter plugins.  Filter plugins, in my opinion, are one of the easiest ways to manipulate your variables with native Python.  And once you know how to do it you’ll see that it opens up a whole realm of possibilities in your playbooks.  Some of the most popular filters that exist today were once custom filters that someone wrote and then contributed to Ansible.  The IP address (ipaddr) filter set is a great example of filters that can be used to manipulate IP related information.

When I first looked into writing a custom filter I found the Ansible documentation not very helpful.  It essentially points you to their GitHub repo where you can look at the current filters.  Since I learn best by example, let’s write a quick filter so you can see how easy it is to do…

Nothing to it right?  This file defines a single filter called ‘a_filter’.  When called it receives the variable being passed into it (the variable to the left of the pipe (|)), appends the string ‘ CRAZY NEW FILTER’ to it, and then returns the new variable.  Now the trick is where to put this file.  For now, let’s create a folder called ‘filter_plugins’ in the same location as your playbook.  So in my case, the file structure would look like this…

/home/user/my_playbook.yml
/home/user/filter_plugins/my_filters.py

So let’s go ahead and create a quick little test playbook too…

This is a pretty simply playbook.  All it does is use the debug module to output a variable.  However, note that instead of just outputting the word ‘test’, we’re wrapping it in double curly braces like we do for any normal Ansible variable and we’re also piping it to ‘a_filter’.   The piping piece is what’s typically used to pass the variable to any of the predefined, or built-in, filters.  In this case, we’re piping the variable to our own custom filter.

This playbook assumes that you’ve told Ansible to use a local connection when talking to the locahost.  To do this, you need to set the ‘ansible_connection’ variable for the localhost to ‘local’ in your Ansible host file…

Once this is set, and you have both the playbook and the filter files in place, we can try running the playbook…

As you can see, the filter worked as expected.  The variable ‘test’ was passed to our custom filter where it was then modified and returned.  Pretty slick huh?  This is a uber simple example but it shows just how easy it is to inject custom Python functionality into your playbooks.  You’ll notice that in this example, there was only one variable passed to our function.  In this case, it was the variable to the left of the pipe.  In the case of filters, that will always be your first variable however, you can always add more.  For instance, let’s add a new filter to our function like this…

There are a couple of interesting things to point out in our new my_filters.py file.  First off – you’ll notice that we added another Python function called ‘b_filter’.  Its worthwhile to point out that your filter names don’t need to match your function names.  Down in the filters function at the bottom you’ll notice that we map the filter name ‘another_filter’ to the Python function ‘b_filter’.  You’ll also notice that the function b_filter takes 3 arguments.  The first will be the variable to the left of the pipe and the remaining need to be passed directly to the function as we’d normally pass variables.  For example…

Here you can see that we pass the second and third variables to the filter just like we’d normally pass variables to a function.  And while these examples only show doing this with strings, you can pass many other Python data types such as lists and dicts as well.

Lastly – I want to talk about the location of the filters.  By default, Ansible will look in the directory your playbook is located for a folder called ‘filter_plugins’ and load any filters it finds in that folder.  While this works, I don’t particularly care for this as I find it confusing for when you’re moving around playbooks.  I prefer to tell Ansible to look elsewhere for the filters.  To do this, we can edit the /etc/ansible/ansible.cfg file and uncomment and update the ‘filter_plugins’ parameter with your new location.

As you can see, filter plugins make it ridiculously easy to get your variables into native Python for manipulation.  Keep in mind that there are LOTS of default filter plugins so before you go crazy search the documentation to see if what you want already exists.

  1. Deirdre Storck’s avatar

    Thanks! This is great, so much easier to follow than than the ansible docs.

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