Ansible is an open-source software automation platform written primarily in Python. Known for its simplicity and agentless architecture, It has gained widespread popularity in the DevOps community for automating various IT tasks, such as configuration management, application deployment, and orchestration. One of its critical features is its use of YAML (Yet Another Markup Language) to define automation workflows and data structures. However, you may wonder if YAML is the only option or if you can use alternative formats with Ansible.

The Short Answer: No, You Don’t Have to Use YAML with Ansible

While YAML is the default and recommended format for Ansible Playbooks and data structures, Ansible also supports several other data formats. This flexibility allows teams to choose the format that best suits their needs or preferences.

YAML: The Default and Recommended Format

YAML is the recommended format for Ansible Playbooks and data structures for several reasons:

  1. Simplicity and Readability: YAML is designed to be human-friendly and easily readable, making it an excellent choice for defining automation workflows and configurations.
  2. Optimized for Ansible: Ansible is primarily designed and optimized for working with YAML. While alternative formats are supported, some advanced features or functionality may require the use of YAML.
  3. Community Standard: YAML is the standard format used by the Ansible community, and most available Roles, Playbooks, and examples are written in YAML, making it easier to leverage existing resources and collaborate with others.
  4. Future-proof: As Ansible continues to evolve, it’s likely that YAML will remain the primary format, ensuring compatibility with future releases and features.

Alternative Formats Supported by Ansible

Despite YAML being the recommended format, Ansible supports several other data formats as well:

  1. JSON (JavaScript Object Notation): Ansible supports using JSON for Playbooks, Roles, and data structures. JSON is a widely-used data format that is easily readable by both humans and machines, making it a viable alternative to YAML.
  2. INI (INI files): Ansible can use INI-style configuration files for its inventory files, which list the target hosts or systems.
  3. XML (Extensible Markup Language): Although not commonly used, Ansible does support using XML for Playbooks and data structures.
  4. Python Dictionaries and Lists: Since Ansible is written in Python, you can also express Playbooks and data structures as native Python dictionaries and lists within the Python code itself.

To use an alternative format like JSON or INI, you typically need to specify the format explicitly when running Ansible commands or when referencing the files. For example, you can use the -e option to pass JSON data as extra variables to Ansible Playbooks.

In Conclusion

While Ansible supports alternative data formats like JSON, INI, and XML, YAML remains the recommended choice due to its simplicity, readability, and optimized integration with Ansible. However, alternative formats provide flexibility for teams with specific requirements or preferences.

Unless you have a compelling reason to use an alternative format, it’s generally advisable to stick with YAML for Ansible Playbooks and data structures. Ansible is primarily designed and optimized for this format, and it aligns with the community standard.