Skip to main content

How to navigate Ansible documentation

Ansible's documentation can be daunting. Here's a tour that might help.
Image
Compass

Right from the start, Ansible boasts that it is simple, agentless, and that anyone can learn and be productive with it. Ansible makes it easy to do things like automate application deployments, configuration management, and orchestration. The hope and purpose of this article is to also show not only how to navigate Ansible documentation, but that it is straightforward and painless to apply.

We take our first glimpse at the Ansible documentation on the official website. While Ansible can be overwhelming with so many immediate options, let’s break down what is presented to us here. Putting our attention on the page’s main pane, we are given five offerings from Ansible. This pane is a central location, or one-stop-shop, to maneuver through the documentation for products like Ansible Tower, Ansible Galaxy, and Ansible Lint:

Image
The Ansible documentation web page, main pane.

We can even dive into Ansible Network for specific module documentation that extends the power and ease of Ansible automation to network administrators. The focal point of the rest of this article will be around Ansible Project, to give us a great starting point into our automation journey:

Image
The Ansible documentation main page’s project sections.

Once we click the Ansible Documentation tile under the Ansible Project section, the first action we should take is to ensure we are viewing the documentation’s correct version. We can get our current version of Ansible from our control node’s command line by running ansible --version. Armed with the version information provided by the output, we can select the matching version in the site’s upper-left-hand corner using the drop-down menu, that by default says latest:

Image
The Ansible documentation versions drop-down.

It is also possible to modify the URL, https://docs.ansible.com/ansible/latest/index.html to find documentation all the way back to version 2.3 by replacing latest with the version that we need. For example, to find the documentation for version 2.4, we can modify the URL to be https://docs.ansible.com/ansible/2.4/index.html:

Image
Choosing the right Ansible documentation version.

Moving forward with our website exploration, we discover the left pane lined with points of interest. Upon clicking any of the links presented, we then notice bread crumbs lining the top of the main pane to help us find our way back to our starting point. Another item to note on the main pane is that most headings are linkable. So, if we hover our mouse pointer just to the right of a heading, a link element appears that we can copy to send to ourselves or a teammate, so we can find our way back to the exact topic we wanted to share:

Image
How to share specific parts of the Ansible documentation.

Investigating the left pane a little closer, we identify popular entries like Installation Guide, User Guide, and Developer Guide. Most of the time, no matter how deep we dive into one of these guides, we can always jump back to the left pane for help with another topic. Before shifting away from the GUI documentation, let’s acknowledge a few other important areas worth delving into. Again, located in the left pane is the Glossary. If at any time during our playing with Ansible we need a refresher on what a term means, this should be the go-to resource. There is another section in the left pane with the title Common Ansible Scenarios that contains guides for Public Cloud, Network Technology, and Virtualization and Containerization. These guides cover specific use cases and explain the features in much greater depth:

Image
The common scenarios section of the Ansible documentation.

 

For every Yin there is a Yang, and that is exactly what the documentation available via the command line interface (CLI) is to the plethora of documentation discovered on the webpage. The first place many sysadmins default to for help is the coveted man pages. Ansible comes with some great in-depth man pages, starting with man ansible. This man page is set up just like all the other man pages for Linux commands. We can find usage info, along with all the options and arguments, followed by the available environment variables and important related files. The SEE ALSO section of this man page includes other Ansible commands that we can view manuals for:

Image
The Ansible command man page showing related commands.

Invariably, while working with Ansible, we need to find a module that helps perform a task, or find specific information for a module. The ansible-doc command included with Ansible is an extremely helpful tool for presenting a module’s description, as well as the options and responses. We can leverage ansible-doc to list all available modules, or find a module to use by piping grep and including a keyword:

Image
Grepping the output of ansible-doc for the firewall docs.

This command also gives examples of common use cases for a module, but it goes a step farther and will output a snippet if used with the -s flag. The output not only includes all the available options that can be used but even outputs in the correct format. All that is left for us to do is copy and paste, and then replace the comments with our values. This command and its features are essential to navigating Ansible documentation:

Image
Code faster with Ansible snippets.

The Ansible community is strong and constantly growing. There is even documentation on how contributions can be made, whether contributing a new module or improvements to the documentation itself. Hopefully, we can all recognize not only how robust Ansible documentation is, but also how it can directly enhance our ability to create both simple and comprehensive Ansible Projects.

Topics:   Ansible   Documentation  
Author’s photo

Brady Thompson

Brady is a Sr. More about me

Related Content

Image
Industrial fans at base of a tower
Are Terraform and Ansible an unlikely pairing, two star-crossed lovers, or just the right technological marriage to simplify workflows for sysadmins, developers, and users? Find the right answer here.

OUR BEST CONTENT, DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX