Finding the Balance: Mixing Encrypted Data and Plain YAML in Ansible


Ansible is an open-source automation tool that is widely used across IT organizations for managing, deploying, and configuring infrastructure. Ansible allows users to automate repetitive tasks and provides a simple, yet powerful language for describing IT infrastructure.

It promotes consistency, efficiency and allows engineers to focus on other critical areas of the organization. In today’s environment, data security has become a paramount concern for many businesses, both large and small.

The need to protect sensitive data has led to the widespread adoption of encryption technologies. Hence Ansible provides an easy way of connecting securely with remote servers using SSH keys.

While encryption is crucial in securing sensitive data, it can also create challenges when trying to balance encrypted data with plain YAML files in Ansible playbooks. This article focuses on how to find the balance between encrypted data and plain YAML files while using Ansible.

Explanation of the need for encrypted data in Ansible

As more companies move towards cloud-based infrastructures or hybrid infrastructures that are partially hosted on-premises and partially in the cloud, there is a growing need for secure communication between different hosts. An efficient way of achieving this goal is by encrypting sensitive information such as passwords or keys used during configuration management systems like Puppet or Chef. With encryption implemented into networks, should unauthorized access occur; even if someone were able to intercept network packets or have physical access to a machine containing confidential information, they would be unable to read it without decryption tools making it much harder for hackers.

Importance of finding the balance between encrypted data and plain YAML in Ansible

Ansible uses YAML syntax as its playbook language which makes creating playbooks straightforward work without any programming skills required from users with its “human-readable” format. However often, organizations face the challenge of balancing encrypted and unencrypted data within their playbooks.

Ansible uses ansible-vault command to encrypt sensitive data, but this can make the playbooks harder to read and modify. Encrypting everything in a playbook makes it less flexible, and application of changes takes longer.

Finding the balance between encrypted data and plain YAML files is critical in ensuring that applications can be deployed quickly while maintaining security standards. In the next sections, we will look at how to mix encrypted data and plain YAML files to maintain both flexibility and security.

Encrypted Data in Ansible

The Need for Encrypted Data in Ansible

Ansible is a popular automation tool used by IT professionals to quickly and easily configure and manage servers. In order to perform these tasks, Ansible uses YAML files called playbooks that contain instructions for the automation process.

These playbooks can also include sensitive data such as passwords, API keys, and other credentials that should not be shared or exposed. Storing sensitive information in plain text YAML files can expose this information to potential hackers or unauthorized users which could lead to serious security breaches.

This is where encrypted data comes into play. Encryption is the process of converting plain text into unreadable characters to protect its contents from unauthorized access.

With Ansible, you can use the ansible-vault command to encrypt sensitive information within a playbook. By encrypting this information, you can ensure that only authorized individuals have access to it while still being able to use it in your playbook.

How To Encrypt Sensitive Data Using ansible-vault Command

The ansible-vault command is used to create and manage encrypted files with Ansible. To create an encrypted file with ansible-vault, simply run the following command: “` ansible-vault create .yml “`

This will open up a new file for you to input your sensitive data into and encrypt it at the same time. Once inside the file, type your sensitive information as normal YAML syntax but prefix each line with “vault_” so that it is clear what lines are encrypted: “`

password: vault_password123 api_key: vault_api_key123 “`

Once complete, save and exit out of the file. This will automatically encrypt your sensitive data using a randomly generated key which is then stored securely on your machine.

Best Practices for Managing Encrypted Data

It is important to note that with encrypted data, you will need to supply the correct encryption key in order to decrypt the data for use within a playbook. Therefore, it is important to store this key securely and make sure it is accessible only by authorized individuals who need access.

Additionally, it is best practice to separate encrypted data from your playbook code. This can be done by creating a separate file for encrypted data and importing it into your playbook as needed.

This allows you to keep the sensitive information separate from your playbook logic while also allowing easier management of encryption keys and access control. Always keep track of any changes made to your encrypted files as any inadvertent changes could lead to decryption failures or other security issues.

Plain YAML in Ansible

Explanation of plain YAML and its importance in Ansible playbooks

Ansible is an open-source automation tool widely used for IT automation, configuration management, and application deployment. Its strength lies in its ability to automate tasks across multiple servers using one or more playbooks.

Plain YAML (Yet Another Markup Language) is the default format used by Ansible to define variables, tasks, and other information within a playbook. Plain YAML is easy to read and write, making it accessible to developers with little-to-no experience with automation scripting languages.

It also allows for the creation of complex playbooks that can perform various tasks across multiple remote hosts. Playbooks consisting of plain YAML variables contribute to readability and maintainability, as it offers transparency when reading the playbook.

Overview of how to use plain YAML variables

Using plain YAML variables within an Ansible playbook is straightforward. Variables can be defined at different levels such as inventory level, group level or host-level basis. The first step in using a variable is defining it in the playbook file using the “vars” keyword followed by the name-value pairs enclosed within curly braces.

For example: “` — – name: Example Playbook

hosts: all vars:

var1: Value1 var2: Value2

tasks: – name: Task1

debug: msg: “{{ var1 }}” “`

In the above example, we have defined two plain YAML variables named ‘var1’ and ‘var2’ at play-level scope. These variables can be accessed anywhere throughout this specific Ansible playbook.

Best practices for managing plain YAML variables

Maintaining a clear structure when defining and managing plain YAML variables is critical for ensuring readable and maintainable playbooks. Best practices include defining your variables in a separate file, which can be included in the playbook using the “vars_files” section. This approach makes it easier to manage variables across different playbooks and avoids repetition.

It’s also important to assign meaningful names to your variables that are easy to understand and maintain across your codebase. Use of descriptive names for variable increases readability and reduces the likelihood of errors.

Another best practice is defining default values for your variables, this ensures that you have a fallback value when you don’t explicitly define a variable in every context. Minimize the use of global variables as they can increase complexity and decrease flexibility in your playbook.

Finding the Balance: Mixing Encrypted Data and Plain YAML in Ansible

Using Vaulted Variables Within a Playbook

One of the most common ways to mix encrypted data and plain YAML variables within an Ansible playbook is to use vaulted variables. These are variables that have been encrypted using the ansible-vault command and can be used in a playbook just like any other variable. To use a vaulted variable, you must first decrypt it using the ansible-vault command with proper credentials.

For example, let’s say you have an encrypted variable called “db_password” in your playbook. You can access this variable by using the syntax “{{ db_password }}” within your playbook’s task or role.

When running your playbook, you will be prompted for credentials to decrypt this variable before it can be used. Using vaulted variables is a secure way to keep sensitive information hidden from prying eyes but still accessible within your playbook.

Using Unencrypted Variables Within a Playbook

While encrypted data provides added security, there may be times when you need to use unencrypted variables within your playbook. For example, if you have a large dataset or configuration file that may contain some sensitive information but is mostly unclassified, encrypting the entire file may not be practical.

In such cases, you can use unencrypted variables in your playbook by including them directly in the YAML file. These plain YAML variables are accessible just like any other variable and do not require decryption before they can be used.

However, it’s important to remember that this means anyone with access to the playbook will also have access to these unencrypted values. Therefore, only include information that needs no protection or encrypt everything confidential while keeping public data outside of playbooks.

Combining Both Types of Variables Within a Playbook

In many cases, it makes sense to combine both vaulted and unencrypted variables within your playbook. This allows you to keep sensitive information secure while still providing easy access to more general configuration data.

For example, you may have an unencrypted variable called “environment” that specifies whether your playbook is running in a development or production environment. You can then use this variable within your playbook to determine which tasks or roles are executed.

At the same time, you may also have vaulted variables containing sensitive database credentials that are required for certain tasks. By combining both types of variables, you can maintain a balance between security and accessibility.

Best Practices for Mixing Encrypted Data and Plain YAML

When mixing encrypted data and plain YAML variables within Ansible playbooks, it’s important to follow some best practices: 1) Always encrypt any variable that contains sensitive information. 2) Use vaulted variables whenever possible.

3) Keep unencrypted variables separate from encrypted ones for better management. 4) Use descriptive names for all variables so it’s clear what they contain.

5) Keep credentials safe: store them encrypted using tools like HashiCorp Vault or similar options. By following these best practices in your Ansible playbooks, you can ensure the security of sensitive information while still maintaining flexibility and ease of use with plain YAML variables.


Ansible has become an essential tool for IT automation, and it has revolutionized the way organizations deploy and manage infrastructure. Encrypted data is necessary to protect sensitive information such as passwords, API keys, and other confidential data. Ansible offers a built-in feature called ansible-vault that allows users to encrypt sensitive information using symmetric encryption.

However, it’s important to find the right balance between encrypted data and plain YAML in Ansible playbooks. Encrypted data ensures confidentiality but can make it difficult for others to review or modify playbooks.

On the other hand, plain YAML variables are easy to read and modify but can leave sensitive information exposed. Finding the balance between encrypted data and plain YAML in Ansible requires careful consideration of your organization’s security policy.

Organizations should use encrypted data for sensitive information while utilizing plain YAML variables for non-sensitive information. By doing so, organizations can ensure their infrastructure’s security while maintaining flexibility in their playbook management.

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