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One very common use case with Windows is trying to access a file from a network location, for example installing a project from a network path, or copying application settings from a central file share. When trying to do a similar action when logged on interactively, things typically just work, but trying to do the same thing in Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform might fail.

A specific example in Ansible would be trying to copy a file from a UNC path to a local directory using

- name: Copy application config file
    src: \\fs\share\app\app.config
    dest: C:\app\app.config
    remote_src: true

Running the above example would fail with:

fatal: [win-host]: FAILED! =>
    changed: false
    dest: C:\app\app.config
    msg: 'Unhandled exception while executing module: Access is denied'
    src: \\fs\share\app\app.config

The culprit behind this problem is something called credential delegation and is also known as the double hop problem. This post will try to explain the reason why this fails and ways we can get it working.

Windows authentication

To understand this problem, we first need to understand how authentication works in Windows. A basic workflow of the win_copy example from above is:

When Ansible Automation Platform authenticates with a remote Windows host, it typically uses an authentication protocol like Kerberos, NTLM or CredSSP, among others. These protocols typically rely on proving to the Windows server that we know a secret only the user can know, for example a Kerberos ticket derived from their password, or the SSH private key pair. Some protocols provide enough information to the server that allows it to generate new tokens for subsequent authentication attempts whereas others do not. If the logon session does not have this information, it cannot then re-authenticate itself with the File Server resulting in an Access is denied error message.

The Windows server cannot re-use the token provided by Ansible because that is scoped just for Ansible to authenticate with Windows Server. That means to overcome this problem we have to provide enough information for the Windows server to be able to re-authenticate the user with file server. With Ansible Automation Platform, we have a few possible solutions to this problem:

  • Using become on the task
  • Using a connection authentication protocol that supports delegation
  • Providing explicit credentials if the module/script supports it


The simplest solution to this problem is to use Ansible Automation Platform’s become implementation, as it requires no changes to the connection used by Ansible Automation Platform. For Windows we can use the ansible.builtin.runas become plugin that will run the module task either as a different user or with explicit credentials used for outbound authentication. Using our win_copy example here, we can use runas to set credentials for delegation:

- name: Copy application config file
    src: \\fs\share\app\app.config
    dest: C:\app\app.config
    remote_src: true
  become: true
  become_method: runas
  become_flags: logon_type=new_credentials logon_flags=netcredentials_only
    ansible_become_user: '{{ ansible_user }}'
    ansible_become_pass: '{{ ansible_password }}'

Breaking down the above example, we can see the following task directives have been added.

become: true

This enables become on this specific task.

become_method: runas

This sets the become plugin that is run for this task to be the runas plugin. The runas plugin is specifically designed to work with Windows hosts. The become plugin can also be set through the ansible_become_method variable on the host/group vars simplifying the task definition.

become_flags: logon_type=new_credentials logon_flags=netcredentials_only

These are special flags for runas which tells it to only use the credentials specified for any outbound authentication attempts, for example when accessing a file server. The default behavior without these flags would be to run the whole module process as the user specified. For just solving the double hop problem, we only need it for outbound authentication, so the become flags limit the scope in which the credentials are used.

  ansible_become_user: '{{ ansible_user }}'
  ansible_become_pass: '{{ ansible_password }}'

Provide the explicit username and password for the become plugin through specific variables on that task. These will be the credentials used to authenticate with the target file server fs in this example. The username and password can be set to any value that is relevant for our environment. In this case, we are just re-using the same connection variables to solve the double hop problem.

It is important that the Windows host Ansible Automation Platform is connecting to is trusted to handle the become credentials, as it is a form of unconstrained delegation. If the Windows host is compromised, it could theoretically re-use the credentials provided and pretend to be that user for other tasks. To avoid this problem, we will need to use a form of constrained delegation through a connection based solution.

Connection-based delegation

It is possible to solve the double hop problem by using features that are part of the connection plugin Ansible uses. As these features are specific to the connection plugin, there is no one option available in all cases. For example, the builtin connection plugins that work with Windows can be used with the following authentication protocols for credential delegation:


Connection Plugin

Delegation Type


winrm, psrp


Plaintext Password




winrm, psrp, ssh

Unconstrained and Constrained

The CredSSP and SSH plaintext password authentication protocols solve the problem in a similar way to how become works by sending the explicit username and password to the Windows server. In delegation terms, this is called unconstrained delegation as it allows the server to authenticate with any target it wishes using those credentials.

The Kerberos protocol also has a way to achieve unconstrained delegation, but it can also be used with constrained delegation. Constrained delegation is ideal, as it restricts how the server can re-use the user’s identity, but it requires extra configuration in the Active Directory environment before it can work. How to use Kerberos delegation is a complex topic in itself and will be the focus of a future blog post.

Context specific credentials

The final option available to Ansible Automation Platform for solving the double hop problem is to provide credentials as part of a module specific option. For example, the module has a domain_username and domain_password option that can be used to authenticate to the Active Directory server with specific credentials.

- name: Create domain user
    name: MyUser
    state: present
    password: '{{ user_password }}'
    domain_username: '{{ ad_username }}'
    domain_password: '{{ ad_password }}'

In the above example, the module will authenticate with the username/password specified by the ad_username and ad_password variables respectively. Being able to provide a credential in this manner is dependent on the module that is being used and whether it exposes such an option. In the case of running custom PowerShell code through or it requires the cmdlet being used to expose the functionality through a parameter like -Credential.

It is important in the above examples that the task is run with no_log: true so the credentials are not persisted in any logging mechanism accidentally:

- name: Run win_powershell example with explicit credentials
    script: |
      param($UserName, $Password)

      $cred = [PSCredential]::new($UserName, (ConvertTo-SecureString -AsPlainText -Force $Password))
      Get-CmdletExample -Credential $cred
      UserName: MyUser
      Password: '{{ script_password }}'
  no_log: true

Next steps

With all this information we should now be able to identify when a double hop problem can occur as well as how to workaround the issue. By using become, connection authentication settings or utilizing existing available module options, we easily workaround this issue and write tasks that work in the same way that it does when running it interactively.

To learn more about automating Linux and Windows in the cloud read this brief.

For hands-on self-paced labs on Ansible Automation Platform, please visit this page or try this lab on getting started with Windows automation.


I am currently a Senior Software Engineer for Red Hat working on the Ansible Core product. Ansible, if you haven’t heard, is a popular open source tool that handles configuration-management, application deployment, cloud provisioning, and much more. Within this team I mostly focus on the Windows integration and have had years of experience on working on a Microsoft stack. I try to be active on various community boards and on IRC, if you see someone talking under jborean93 that would be me. In the past I’ve worked as a system analyst in the financial industry and worked with applications that spanned hundreds of servers and had to deal with things like AWS, PCI DSS, Spring Boot applications, among other things.

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