Demystifying Ansible Collections: Understanding and Leveraging this Powerful Feature


In the world of IT automation, Ansible has become one of the most popular configuration management and deployment tools. It is an open-source tool that automates cloud provisioning, configuration management, application deployment, and other IT processes.

However, as infrastructure continues to grow in complexity and scale, so does the need for more robust solutions. This is where Ansible Collections come in.

Explanation of Ansible Collections

Ansible Collections are a new way to package and distribute content such as playbooks, modules, roles, plugins, and documentation. They enable users to share automation content with others in a structured manner.

With Ansible Collections, users can organize their content into namespaces that allow for easy categorization and reuse. In essence, it is a way to create modular code that can be shared with others as building blocks for more complex automation tasks.

Importance of understanding and leveraging Ansible Collections

The ability to leverage Ansible Collections is essential for anyone looking to scale their automation efforts effectively. By organizing code into reusable chunks or collections instead of monolithic playbooks or roles – it allows for greater flexibility when it comes to managing your infrastructure at scale. Moreover – utilizing Collections lead towards better collaboration between team members since they promote sharing common language constructs via Namespaces based on your organization’s specific needs.

Without understanding how to leverage collections effectively – users may find themselves re-inventing the wheel every time they write a new playbook or module which can quickly become frustratingly inefficient. – understanding how collections work will offer you an entirely new level of control over your automation efforts; this article aims to help you get started by providing insight into what collections are all about and how best to utilize them going forward.

What are Ansible Collections?

When it comes to automating IT tasks, Ansible is one of the most popular tools used by IT professionals. It offers a simple and effective way to manage systems, applications, and networks using a language that is easy to learn.

However, as automation requirements grew in complexity over time, there arose a need for more modularity and flexibility in managing automation content. This is where Ansible Collections come into play.

Simply put, an Ansible Collection is a set of content that can include playbooks, roles, modules, plugins and documentation all bundled together under one namespace. Collections can be published by anyone – individuals or organizations – thus they serve as an excellent way to distribute automation content across different users.

Definition and Explanation of Ansible Collections

Ansible collections are essentially modular units that allow for better organization and distribution of code in the form of playbooks, modules etc., thus enabling reusability across different projects/teams. They allow you to package up your automation code into shareable units with stable APIs that other users can leverage with ease. Collections support versioning at both collection level (major/minor versions) and components level (modules/plugins), which makes it possible for contributors to evolve their code over time while ensuring backward compatibility.

Advantages of Using Ansible Collections

Using collections provides several benefits such as: 1. Better Organization: As mentioned earlier collections provide a mechanism for grouping related functionalities together thus making it easier to find/play/use them across different projects/teams.

2. Reusability: By packaging your code into collections you make it possible for others to reuse them without having to rewrite existing code from scratch. 3. Maintainability: The use of collections also makes it easier for contributors/maintainers to evolve and maintain their code over time, while ensuring backward compatibility.

Examples of Popular Ansible Collections

There are several collections available today, some created by the Ansible team while others have been contributed by the community. Some popular examples include:

1. Amazon AWS Collection: This is a collection that provides modules to manage AWS resources. 2. Cisco ACI Collection: This is a collection that provides modules to manage Cisco ACI (Application Centric Infrastructure).

3. Kubernetes Core Collection: This is a collection that provides modules to deploy and manage Kubernetes clusters. These are just some of the many collections available today, with more being added every day as contributors continue to create new content for different use-cases.

Understanding the Structure of an Ansible Collection

Ansible Collections are structured in a way that makes it easy to organize code into a specific directory hierarchy. There are several components of an Ansible Collection, including roles, modules, plugins, playbooks, and documentation. Each component serves a unique purpose and is essential to the overall structure and functionality of an Ansible Collection.

Components of an Ansible Collection

Roles are reusable sets of tasks used to configure the system or application. They can be thought of as building blocks for more complex automation. Modules contain Python code that implements the functionality needed to automate a task using Ansible.

Plugins include inventory plugins, callback plugins and lookup plugins among others while playbooks specify what tasks should be executed on which hosts. Documentation provides information about how to use the collection’s components correctly while metadata specifies information about the collection such as its name, description and license.

How to create an Ansible Collection

Creating a basic Ansible collection only requires creating a directory with specific subdirectories that contain YAML files defining metadata, roles and other collections required by your collection. This can be done manually or using `ansible-galaxy init` command which initializes new collections with all necessary directories pre-populated with some basic files. To create more complex modules or functionalities within your collection you’ll need Python programming experience since modules are written in Python language.

Best practices for organizing an Ansible Collection

Following best practices when organizing your files ensures consistency across your collections making them easier to understand by anyone who might work on them in future. For instance, you should store configuration variables separately from playbook logic in order to make maintenance easier later on down the line.

It is also important to use role dependencies cautiously since they can increase complexity making it hard for other users in administering your collections Overall an organized Ansible Collection will make it easier for other users to use and understand the contents of the collection.

Leveraging the Power of Ansible Collections

Integrating Third-Party Content with Your Own Collections

One of the significant benefits of using Ansible Collections is the ability to integrate third-party content with your own collections. This enables you to leverage the functionality of other developers, thus speeding up your automation tasks. To import external content into your collection, you need to add it as a dependency in your collection’s manifest file.

You can then reference any modules or plugins in that external content as if they were part of your collection. Another advantage of integrating third-party content is that it allows you to keep up with new developments quickly.

As new modules and plugins become available, other developers in the community will be quick to integrate them into their collections. By pulling in those collections, you can make use of that functionality without having to create it from scratch.

Using Community-Contributed Collections to Enhance Your Automation Tasks

Ansible has a vast and active community who contribute various collections regularly. These contributed collections often contain specialized modules and plugins that aren’t available by default in Ansible Core. By leveraging these community-contributed collections, you can enhance your automation tasks beyond what is possible with just Ansible Core.

When using community-contributed collections, it’s important to choose carefully which ones you integrate into your workflow. Some considerations include how often they are updated and whether they are maintained by reputable developers who follow best practices for development and documentation.

Tips for Managing and Maintaining Multiple Collections

As more teams adopt Ansible as their main tool for automation tasks, the number of collections used within each organization can grow quickly. Managing multiple collections can become challenging without proper processes in place.

One useful tip is consolidating all dependencies across all teams into a single repository for easier maintenance and dependency tracking. It’s also recommended to develop a standard process for contributing and maintaining collections across teams to ensure consistency.

Having a plan for updating dependencies and ensuring backward compatibility is essential to minimizing downtime. By following these tips, you can keep your collections organized, easy to maintain, and up-to-date while taking advantage of the power of Ansible Collections.

Advanced Techniques for Working with Ansible Collections

The true power of Ansible collections comes from their flexibility and extensibility. In this section, we will explore some advanced techniques for working with Ansible collections that will help you take your automation to the next level.

Creating custom modules within a collection

One of the most powerful features of Ansible is the ability to create custom modules to perform specific tasks that are not covered by the built-in modules. With the advent of collections, this capability has become even more powerful as it allows you to package and distribute your custom modules alongside other related content.To create a custom module within a collection, you need to follow these steps:

  1. Create a new directory within your collection’s directory called ‘modules’.
  2. Create a new Python file in the ‘modules’ directory with a ‘.py’ extension.
  3. Add your code to the Python file and define any necessary arguments or options as required by your module.
  4. Save and close the Python file, making sure that it is executable.
  5. Add an entry for your module in the collection’s ‘galaxy.yml’ file.
  6. Test your module using Ansible’s built-in testing tools before distributing it!

Extending existing modules in a collection

Sometimes it may be necessary to extend an existing module in an Ansible Collection rather than creating an entirely new one. This can be done easily by adding additional functionality or modifying existing functionality using plugins or action plugins. Plugins are used to modify specific components of an existing task while Action Plugins allow modification of pre-task actions themselves including output control. To extend an existing module in a collection, you need to follow these steps:

  1. Create a new directory called ‘plugins’ within the collection’s directory.
  2. Create a new Python file in the ‘plugins’ directory with an appropriate name for your plugin (e.g. ‘’).
  3. Add your code to the Python file and define any necessary arguments or options as required by your plugin.
  4. Save and close the Python file, making sure that it is executable.
  5. Add an entry for your plugin in the collection’s ‘galaxy.yml’ file specifying which module it will be applied to as well as other configuration options that may exist for that type of plugin.

Using plugins to extend functionality

In addition to extending existing modules, you can also use plugins to extend other areas of Ansible functionality. Plugins are essentially small scripts or modules that can be used to modify different components of Ansible’s workflow such as inventory management, connection management, and dynamic lookup etcetera.

Some examples of plugins include:

  • Action plugins: These modify pre-task actions themselves including output control.
  • Lookup plugins: These allow dynamic lookup of variables based on varying conditions like querying external data sources or generating pseudo-random numbers during runtime.
  • Filter plugins: These get/modify/format data passed through tasks during runtime (Ansible supports both Jinja2 filters and custom-built python filters).

To use a plugin within an Ansible Collection, you need to add its configuration details into either your playbook or inventory files depending on where they will be used. The actual implementation details vary based on the type of plug-in being used; however once implemented, they can help you extend your Ansible automation in countless ways.


Recap on the Importance and Benefits of Using Collections in Ansible

Ansible Collections have emerged as a powerful feature to help automate complex IT infrastructure tasks. By grouping related code, modules, and plugins together as a single collection, it becomes easier for teams to manage their automation codebases and enforce best practices. The benefits of using Collections in Ansible are numerous:

Firstly, they allow for more modular and reusable code that can be shared across teams or even with the open-source community. This means that developers can focus on innovating solutions instead of reinventing the wheel each time.

Secondly, Collections enable better organization of code by separating concerns into separate repositories – making maintenance and upgrades easier. They help improve collaboration across teams by providing an efficient way to share code snippets – this makes it possible for team members to leverage each other’s strengths and skills.

Final Thoughts on How to Get Started with Using Ansible Collections Effectively

As you begin your journey into leveraging Ansible collections effectively there are a few things to keep in mind: Firstly, take time to learn about the structure of an Ansible Collection so that you can organize your own collections properly.

Keep in mind that while there are some rules you should follow for organization (like ensuring all roles exist within a namespace), not all collections will be organized identically. Secondly, make sure to leverage existing collections before creating your own from scratch; there is likely already a community-contributed collection out there that will fit your needs exactly.

It’s also important when creating custom or extending existing modules to ensure they follow best practices like being idempotent where possible – meaning if run multiple times the outcome remains unchanged. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different approaches or workflows until you find what works best for your specific use case.

Always keep in mind that Ansible Collections exist to help developers solve complex problems with automation, and by using them effectively you can reduce time-to-delivery, improve developer productivity and reduce the likelihood of errors. Ansible Collections are an essential tool for modern IT infrastructure automation.

By understanding their capabilities and leveraging them effectively, developers can create modular and reusable code that can be easily shared across teams or communities. Whether you’re a seasoned Ansible user or just starting out, learning how to use collections will elevate your automation game to the next level and help you join the ranks of the most efficient and effective IT infrastructure teams.

Related Articles