DEV Community

loading...

Gotcha: Configuring Containers with Ansible

jacobsee profile image Jacob See Originally published at jacobsee.com on ・4 min read

If you're running serious container infrastructure these days, chances are strong that you're using an orchestration system like Kubernetes or OpenShift. But, what if your workloads are a little less... clustered? A little more traditional? Maybe you have containers as a part of your workload, but don't need to migrate the entire system to them? Running one-off containers on normal Linux hosts is still very much a thing, it's just more on you to manage them - perhaps using an automation tool like Ansible. I was doing this recently, and hit a bit of a snag, so I thought I'd write about it here!

To kick things off - running a container on a target machine in Ansible is a pretty easy task. Depending on your target container type, you can use the docker_container or podman_container modules in a task like so:

- name: Run the container 
  docker_container: 
    name: my_container 
    image: "{{ my_exporter_image }}:{{ my_exporter_image_version }}" 
    state: "started"
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Fair enough.

Reading through the documentation for those modules above, we see that we can also mount files from the host into the container as volumes - an important thing to do when a container takes some kind of a configuration file in order to run. Since it's likely that we're also creating that config file with Ansible, let's take a look at what writing that file and then mounting it into the container would look like:

- name: write the config file
  template:
    src: config.yml.j2
    dest: "/home/{{ ansible_user }}/my_config.yml"
          # ^ we're writing the config file here

- name: Run the container
  docker_container:
    name: my_container
    image: "{{ my_exporter_image }}:{{ my_exporter_image_version }}"
    state: started
    volumes: 
      - "/home/{{ ansible_user }}/my_config.yml:/config.yml"
        # ^ and mounting it into the container here
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

And there we go! The my_config.yml file in the home directory of whichever user is running this task is now mounted into the container at /config.yml.

This works nicely... once. This is where the "gotcha" is!

If we were to run this task a second time with different values for the config file, we would notice some interesting behavior. The file on the host (at /home/{{ ansible_user }}/my_config.yml) would appear to have our new configuration in it, but the application in the container would not be performing as expected! In fact, if we were to ssh into the remote machine and run docker exec my_container cat /config.yml to see the contents of the config file from the container's perspective, we would see that it has retained the old config data from before we ran the task a second time! Why have the file on the host and the file in the container diverged?

The answer lies in a combination of how Ansible writes files, and how Docker mounts them. Files in a UNIX-based filesystem are represented by inodes, which are records in a table that contain metadata about those files (including where they physically exist on a disk). If you're familiar with hard links and symbolic links - congratulations! You're already manipulating inodes! Hard links are paths on the filesystem that point at an underlying inode, and symbolic links are paths on the filesystem that act as shortcuts to other paths.

Two things are important to know at this point, and they are that:

  • Containers mount a file by referencing that file's inode at the container's creation time, and:
  • When creating files, Ansible first writes the data to a temporary file, and then moves that temporary file into its final location

This is important because, on the filesystem level, Ansible is actually creating a new inode every time it writes this data - even though, intuitively, it seems like we're writing to the same path every time. It then updates the hard link at that path to point at this newly created inode. This makes sense as it is actually a safer way for Ansible to write data remotely, but it means that any already-running container with that path (and therefore the old inode) mounted do not get updated with our newly-written config data.

There are two easy fixes for this.

First, we could force a container restart every time we make a change to the config file. The Ansible module has a restart flag to make this easy:

- name: write the config file
  template:
    src: config.yml.j2
    dest: "/home/{{ ansible_user }}/my_config.yml"
          # ^ we're writing the config file here

- name: Run the container
  docker_container:
    name: my_container
    image: "{{ my_exporter_image }}:{{ my_exporter_image_version }}"
    state: started
    restart: yes
    volumes: 
      - "/home/{{ ansible_user }}/my_config.yml:/config.yml"
        # ^ and mounting it into the container here
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

However, if our application can live-reload its config and we don't want to force a restart every time we make a change to the config file, we have to get slightly more creative. Notice how earlier we said that moving a file changes the inode referenced by a certain path. Copying a file does not have this same effect. We can use this to our advantage!

- name: write the config file (temporary)
  template:
    src: config.yml.j2
    dest: "/home/{{ ansible_user }}/my_config.yml.tmp"

- name: copy the config file to the correct path (so that the inode stays intact)
  command: "cp /home/{{ ansible_user }}/my_config.yml.tmp /home/{{ ansible_user }}/config.yml"

- name: remove the temporary config file
  file:
    path: "/home/{{ ansible_user }}/my_config.yml.tmp"
    state: absent
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

By doing this, we have ensured that the inode at the path mounted into the container is not modified, and our new configuration is ready to use in the container immediately!

Happy automating!

Discussion (0)

pic
Editor guide