Ansible Overview for MariaDB Users

Ansible is a tool to automate servers configuration management. It is produced by Red Hat and it is open source software released under the terms of the GNU GPL.

It is entirely possible to use Ansible to automate MariaDB deployments and configuration. This page contains generic information for MariaDB users who want to learn, or evaluate, Ansible.

For information about how to install Ansible, see Installing Ansible in Ansible documentation.

Automation Hubs

Normally, Ansible can run from any computer that has access to the target hosts to be automated. It is not uncommon that all members of a team has Ansible installed on their own laptop, and use it to deploy.

Red Hat offers a commercial version of Ansible called Ansible Tower. It consists of a REST API and a web-based interface that work as a hub that handles all normal Ansible operations.

An alternative is AWX. AWX is the open source upstream project from which many Ansible Tower features are originally developed. AWX is released under the terms of the Apache License 2.0. However, Red Hat does not recommend to run AWX in production.

AWX development is fast. It has several features that may or may not end up in Ansible Tower. Ansible Tower is more focused on making AWS features more robust, providing a stable tool to automate production environments.

Design Principles

Ansible allows us to write playbooks that describe how our servers should be configured. Playbooks are lists of tasks.

Tasks are usually declarative. You don't explain how to do something, you declare what should be done.

Playbooks are idempotent. When you apply a playbook, tasks are only run if necessary.

Here is a task example:

- name: Install Perl
    name: perl
    state: present

"Install Perl" is just a description that will appear on screen when the task is applied. Then we use the package module to declare that a package called "perl" should be installed. When we apply the playbook, if Perl is already installed nothing happens. Otherwise, Ansible installs it.

When we apply a playbook, the last information that appears on the screen is a recap like the following:

PLAY RECAP ***************************************************************************************************
mariadb-01        : ok=6    changed=2    unreachable=0    failed=0    skipped=0    rescued=0    ignored=0

This means that six tasks were already applied (so no action was taken), and two tasks were applied.

As the above example shows, Ansible playbooks are written in YAML.

Modules (like package) can be written in any language, as long as they are able to process a JSON input and produce a JSON output. However the Ansible community prefers to write them in Python, which is the language Ansible is written in.


A piece of Ansible code that can be applied to a server is called a playbook.

A task is the smallest brick of code in a playbook. The name is a bit misleading, though, because an Ansible task should not be seen as "something to do". Instead, it is a minimal description of a component of a server. In the example above, we can see a task.

A task uses a single module, which is an interface that Ansible uses to interact with a specific system component. In the example, the module is "package".

A task also has attributes, that describe what should be done with that module, and how. In the example above, "name" and "state" are both attributes. The state attribute exists for every module, by convention (though there may be exceptions). Typically, it has at least the "present" and "absent" state, to indicate if an object should exist or not.

Other important code concepts are:

  • An inventory determines which hosts Ansible should be able to deploy. Each host may belong to one or more groups. Groups may have children, forming a hierarchy. This is useful because it allows us to deploy on a group, or to assign variables to a group.
  • A role describes the state that a host, or group of hosts, should reach after a deploy.
  • A play associates hosts or groups to their roles. Each role/group can have more than one role.
  • A role is a playbook that describes how certain servers should be configured, based on the logical role they have in the infrastructure. Servers can have multiple roles, for example the same server could have both the "mariadb" and the "mydumper" role, meaning that they run MariaDB and they have mydumper installed (as shown later).
  • Tasks can use variables. They can affect how a task is executed (for example a variable could be a file name), or even whether a task is executed or not. Variables exist at role, group or host level. Variables can also be passed by the user when a play is applied.
  • Facts are data that Ansible retrieves from remote hosts before deploying. This is a very important step, because facts may determine which tasks are executed or how they are executed. Facts include, for example, the operating system family or its version. A playbook sees facts as pre-set variables.
  • Modules implement actions that tasks can use. Action examples are file (to declare that files and directories must exist) or mysql_variables (to declare MySQL/MariaDB variables that need to be set).


Let's describe a hypothetical infrastructure to find out how these concepts can apply to MariaDB.

The inventory could define the following groups:

  • "db-main" for the cluster used by our website. All nodes belong to this group.
  • "db-analytics" for our replicas used by data analysts.
  • "dump" for one or more servers that take dumps from the replicas.
  • "proxysql" for one or more hosts that run ProxySQL.

Then we'll need the following nodes:

  • "mariadb-node" for the nodes in "db-main". This role describes how to setup nodes of a cluster using Galera.
  • "mariadb-replica" for the members of "db-analytics". It describes a running replica, and it includes the tasks that are necessary to provision the node if the data directory is empty when the playbook is applied. The hostname of the primary server is defined in a variable.
  • "mariadb". The aforementioned "mariadb-node" and "mariadb-replica" can be children of this group. They have many things in common (filesystem for the data directory, some basic MariaDB configuration, some installed tools...), so it could make sense to avoid duplication and describe the common traits in a super-role.
  • A "mariabackup" role to take backups with Mariabackup, running jobs during the night. We can associate this role to the "db-main" group, or we could create a child group for servers that will take the backups.
  • "mariadb-dump" for the server that takes dumps with mariadb-dump. Note that we may decide to take dumps on a replica, so the same host may belong to "db-analytics" and "mariadb-dump".
  • "proxysql" for the namesake group.


Ansible architecture is extremely simple. Ansible can run on any host. To apply playbooks, it connects to the target hosts and runs system commands. By default the connection happens via ssh, though it is possible to develop connection plugins to use different methods. Applying playbooks locally without establishing a connection is also possible.

Modules can be written in any language, though Python is the most common choice in the Ansible community. Modules receive JSON "requests" and facts from Ansible core, they are supposed to run useful commands on a target host, and then they should return information in JSON. Their output informs Ansible whether something has changed on the remote server and if the operations succeeded.

Ansible is not centralized. It can run on any host, and it is common for a team to run it from several laptops. However, to simplify things and improve security, it may be desirable to run it from a dedicated host. Users will connect to that host, and apply Ansible playbooks.

Ansible Resources and References

Further information about the concepts discussed in this page can be found in Ansible documentation:

Content initially contributed by Vettabase Ltd.


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