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Ansible Dynamic Inventory

Ansible Dynamic Inventory#

When is this needed:

  • Inventory fluctuates over time starting up and shutting down
  • Tracking hosts from different sources

Then you most probably have a dynamic external inventory system

The way ansible integrates with them in 2 ways:

  • inventory plugins
  • inventory scripts

Plugins are recommended over scripts

Ansible tower is a GUI for handling dynamic inventory, ithe nventory database syncs with all your dynamic inventory sources.

Run an ad hoc command#

You need to be able to ssh with no password

ansible -i root@, all -a 'uname -a'

To do this for multiple hosts:

ansible -i "root@, root@, root@" all -a 'uptime'

To run a module for multiple hosts:

ansible -i "root@, root@, root@" all -m setup

I have noticed that if one host requires a password, it will fail. Then if you set the -k to ask for the ssh password, they all fail.

$ ansible -i "root@, root@, root@" all -m setup
root@ | UNREACHABLE! => {
    "changed": false,
    "msg": "Failed to connect to the host via ssh: root@ Permission denied (publickey,gssapi-keyex,gssapi-with-mic,password).\r\n",
    "unreachable": true

Ensure that jenkins is started:

ansible -i "root@," all -m service -a "name=jenkins state=started"

To use an inventory script with an adhoc command:

ansible -i all -a 'uptime'

You can use the ansible-inventory utility to check the hosts visually

ansible-inventory -i --list

Remember to ensure the inventory script is executable with chmod +x

What output of a dynamic inventory should look like#

We want this inventory to know how to connect so we need to set the following variables


We need to ensure that the _meta variable is set

It should look like this:

    # results of inventory script as above go here
    # ...

    "_meta": {
        "hostvars": {
            "host001": {
                "var001" : "value"
            "host002": {
                "var002": "value"

If you intend to replace an existing static inventory file with an inventory script, it must return a JSON object which contains an ‘all’ group that includes every host in the inventory as a member and every group in the inventory as a child

    "_meta": {
        "hostvars": {}
    "all": {
        "children": [
    "ungrouped": {
        "children": [

Other variables we might want are:

  • guest os / distribution
  • name
  • networks []

Inventory scripts#

You can run a (python) script to get your hosts. This can be done by passing in the script as the inventory parameter: -i

If you want to do this implictly - Explicit is better than implicit.

You can place the script at /etc/ansible/hosts

There are existing integrations to checkout as scripts for:

There are other existing inventory scripts

Or you can create your own inventory script

Using Inventory Directories and Multiple Inventory Sources#

Using a directory can let ansible use mutliple inventories at the same time This also allows mixing of static and dynamic inventories

Files ending in ~, .orig, .bak, .ini, .cfg, .retry, .pyc, .pyo will be ignored

Which you can change to your own with the inventory_ignore_extensions entry in ansible.cfg

More info on using multiple inventory sources

Building a Dynamic Inventory#

In previous versions you had to create a script or program that can output JSON in the correct format when invoked with the proper arguments

Inventory Sources#

What you pass to -i, which can represent a path to a file, script or be the raw data for the plugin to use.

  • host list - comma separated list of hosts
  • yaml - path to yaml format data file
  • constructed - path to yaml config file
  • ini - path to ini formatted data file
  • virtualbox - path to yaml config file
  • script plugin - path to executable outputting json

More on developing plugins

Inventory plugins normally only execute at the start of a run, before playbooks/plays and roles are loaded, but they can be ‘re-executed’ via the meta: refresh_inventory task, which will clear out the existing inventory and rebuild it.