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The better way to access Puppet facts

ragnarkon profile image Bryan Woolsey Updated on ・3 min read

I spend a lot of time working with facts in Puppet. I've probably spent more time figuring out the best way to manage custom external facts unique to our environment (node lifecycle status, datacenter, etc.) this past year than anything else in the Puppet universe. So I was rather surprised to find out there are better ways to access node facts within manfiests than using the standard $facts hash.

Most of the information that follows came from a recent office-hours conversation on the Puppet Community Slack. If you haven't already, I highly suggest you check out the Puppet Community Slack channel. It is a great place to bounce ideas off of Puppet engineers and other members of the community.

The fact variables

Classic top-scope variables

Node facts have always been accessible in Puppet using top scope variables. For example, the fact kernel is automatically available within a manifests in the variable $kernel.

if $kernel == 'Linux' {
  # do stuff...
}
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The downside of using variables is that it isn't immediately obvious you are using a node fact in your manifest. May not be an issue for common well-known facts, but for custom facts it'll cause your manifest to be difficult to read. Many developers will explicitly call a top-scope variable (ie. $::kernel) as a hint, but it still doesn't completely resolve the issue.

The $facts hash

In Puppet 3.5 (I think), PuppetLabs added the $facts hash. Node facts are merged together into a single hash, with may be accessed using the fact name as the key.

unless $facts['kernel'] == 'Linux' {
  # do non-Linux stuff...
}
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This is how I've always accessed facts within my manifests, and so far I haven't had any trouble. However, while this approach works for most facts, it does not work well for structured facts.

Take a node that has the following custom structured fact:

{
  "cmdb_data": {
    "datacenter": "virginia"
  }
}
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If I wanted to retrieve the node's datacenter within my manifest, I could simply use the variable $facts['cmdb_data']['datacenter']. On nodes that do not have the custom structured fact (a newly provisioned node, for example), I had assumed the variable would simply have the value undef. Turns out this is not the case, in reality the catalog will blow up and fail to compile.

The functions that help

Luckily there are a few functions available to help you access structured facts.

dig

Similar to Ruby's built-in dig function, the Puppet variant allows you to "dig" into complex data structures. Refer to Puppet's function documentation for more information.

Example fact:

{
  "node_meta": {
    "owner": {
      "name": "johndoe"
    },
    "datacenter": "virginia"
  }
}
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$facts.dig('node_meta', 'owner', 'name') # returns: 'johndoe'
$facts.dig('node_meta', 'enclosure', 'rack') # returns: undef

$facts['node_meta']['enclosure']['rack'] # fails with catalog compilation error
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fact

A relatively new entry to the puppetlabs/stdlib forge module, the fact function behaves similarly to the dig function, but is explicitly used for facts. The function also supports dot notation, making it relatively compact and easy to read.

$server_owner = fact('node_meta.owner.name')
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get

get is a new function added in Puppet 6. It provides generally the same functionality as dig and fact, but has the ability to return a default value if the value isn't present in the data structure. Like the fact function, this function uses dot notation for navigation values.

As an aside, for those who are huge fans of stdlib's pick function, the get function has the potential to replace pick in many situations.

$facts.get('node_meta.owner.name', 'no_owner_information')
$server_owner = get($facts, 'node_meta.owner.name', 'no_owner_information')
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The get function also has an optional lambda for more advanced error handing should the value not exist. More information is available in Puppet's function
documentation
.

TL;DR

You should probably be using the dig, fact, or get functions to retrieve fact values rather than top-scope variables or the $facts hash.

If you are on Puppet 6, the get function is a no-brainer in my opinion. If you can't make the jump to Puppet 6, my vote would be the fact function available in puppetlabs/stdlib.
dig is my least favorite of the three (not a fan of the array notation), but it will still get the job done.

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