Understanding Privilege Escalation in Ansible Playbooks

Just as with regular commands that you execute on a terminal, some tasks will require special privileges in order for Ansible to execute them successfully on your remote nodes.

It is important to understand how privilege escalation works in Ansible so that you’re able to execute your tasks with appropriate permissions. By default, tasks will run as the connecting user – this might be either root or any regular user with SSH access to the remote nodes in an inventory file.

To run a command with extended permissions, such as a command that requires sudo, you’ll need to include a become directive set to yes in your play. This can be done either as a global setting valid to all tasks in that play, or as an individual instruction applied per task. Depending on how your sudo user is set up within the remote nodes, you may also need to provide the user’s sudo password. The following example updates the apt cache, a task that requires root permissions.

Create a new file called playbook-07.yml in your ansible-practice directory:

  • nano ~/ansible-practice/playbook-07.yml

Then add the following lines to the new playbook file:


--- - hosts: all   become: yes   tasks:     - name: Update apt cache       apt:         update_cache: yes 

Save and close the file when you’re done.

To run this playbook, you’ll need to include the -K option within the ansible-playbook command. This will make Ansible prompt you for the sudo password for the specified user.

  • ansible-playbook -i inventory playbook-07.yml -u sammy -K

You can also change which user you want to switch to while executing a task or play. To do that, set the become_user directive to the name of the remote user you want to switch to. This is useful when you have several tasks in a playbook that rely on sudo, but also a few tasks that should run as your regular user.

The following example defines that all tasks in this play will be executed with sudo by default. This is set at the play level, right after the hosts definition. The first task creates a file on /tmp using root privileges, since that is the default became_user value. The last task, however, defines its own become_user.

Create a new file called playbook-08.yml in your ansible-practice directory:

  • nano ~/ansible-practice/playbook-08.yml

Add the following content to the new playbook file:


--- - hosts: all   become: yes   vars:     user: "{{ ansible_env.USER }}"   tasks:     - name: Create root file       file:         path: /tmp/my_file_root         state: touch      - name: Create user file       become_user: "{{ user }}"       file:         path: /tmp/my_file_{{ user }}         state: touch  

Save and close the file when you’re finished.

The ansible_env.USER fact contains the username of the connecting user, which can be defined at execution time when running the ansible-playbook command with the -u option. Throughout this guide, we’re connecting as sammy:

  • ansible-playbook -i inventory playbook-08.yml -u sammy -K
OutputBECOME password:   PLAY [all] **********************************************************************************************  TASK [Gathering Facts] ********************************************************************************** ok: []  TASK [Create root file] ********************************************************************************* changed: []  TASK [Create user file] ********************************************************************************* changed: []  PLAY RECAP **********************************************************************************************           : ok=3    changed=2    unreachable=0    failed=0    skipped=0    rescued=0    ignored=0    

When the playbook is finished running, you can log onto the remote node(s) to verify that two new files were created on /tmp, each with different ownership information:

  • ls -la /tmp/my_file*
Output-rw-r--r-- 1 root  root 0 Apr 14 13:19 /tmp/my_file_root -rw-r--r-- 1 sammy sudo 0 Apr 14 12:07 /tmp/my_file_sammy 

For more detailed information about privilege escalation in Ansible, please refer to the official documentation.