Ansible provision/deploy setup

Tags: python, django

I never got around to write down the ansible setup I figured out (together with others, of course, at my previous job) for deploying/provisioning django websites.

The whole setup (as a cookiecutter template) can be found in https://github.com/reinout/cookiecutter-djangosite-template . The relevant code is in the ansible/ directory. Note: this is a “cookiecutter template” from which you can generate a project so you’ll see some {{ }} and {% %}: when you create the actual project these items will be filled in.

My goal was to keep the setup simple and safe. With “safe”, I mean that you normally cannot accidentally do something wrong.

And it was intended for getting one website project onto the server(s). It is not a huge ansible setup to set up the whole infra in one fell swoop.

First the inventory files:

  • Yes, multiple: there are two of them. production_inventory and staging_inventory. The safe aspect is that we used to have a single inventory file with [production] and [staging] headings in it. If you wanted to update staging, you had to add --limit staging on the command line. If you forgot that…

    With two separate files, you never have this problem. Accidents are much less likely to occur.

  • The simple aspect is that variables are right there in the inventory. It are only a few variables after all: servername, hostname, checkout (master or tag).

    A “problem” with ansible is that you can place variables in lots of places (playbook, inventory, host variable file, group variable file and another two or three I don’t remember right away). So where to look? I figured that the inventory was the right place for this kind of simple setup:

    [web]
    p-web-1234.internal.network
    
    [web:vars]
    site_name=myproject.example.org
    checkout_name="1.2"
    

Second, the ansible playbooks:

  • There are two. A provision.yml and a deploy.yml. Provisioning is for one-time setup (well, you probably want to change stuff sometimes, but you’ll rarely run this one). Deploy is for the regular deploys of the actual code. The stuff you regularly do.

  • Provision should be run as a user that can do sudo su on the target machine. Provisioning installs packages and adds the nginx config file in /etc/. And it creates a user for running/deploying the django site (in my previous job, this user was historically called buildout).

  • The deploy playbook connects as the abovementioned deploy user, does a “git pull” (or whatever deploy mechanism you prefer), runs the database migration and so.

  • Now, how can the person who deploys connect as that deploy user? Well, the provision playbook creates the deploy user (“buildout”), disables the password and adds the public ssh keys of the deployers to the /home/buildout/.ssh/authorized_keys file:

    - name: Add user "buildout" and set an unusable password.
       user: name=buildout password='*' state=present shell="/bin/bash"
    
     - name: Add maintainers' ssh keys so they can log in as user buildout.
       authorized_key: user=buildout key=https://github.com/{{ item}}.keys
       with_items:
         - reinout
         - another_colleague
    

    It is simple because you only need a very limited number of people on any server with sudo rights. Or a very limited number of people with the password of a generic admin account. Re-provisioning is basically only needed if something changed in the nginx config file. In practice: hardly ever.

    It is simple because you don’t need to give the deployers each a separate user account (or access to a password): their public ssh key is enough.

    It safe because it limits the (root-level) mistakes you can do during regular deploys. And the small amount of users you need on your system is also an advantage.

  • The ansible playbooks are short. Just a couple of tasks. Even though I’m normally all in favour of generic libraries and so: for a 65 line playbook I personally don’t need the mental overhead of one or two generic ansible roles.

    The playbooks do basically the same thing I did years earlier with “Fabric” scripts. So: the basic structure has quite proven itself (for me).

There are all sorts of approaches you can take. Automatic deploys from your Jenkins or Gitlab, for instance. That’d be something I like to do once. For not-automatically-deployed projects, a simple setup such as I showed here has much to recommend itself.

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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