The other day I wanted to automate some of my newly acquired MikroTik switches using Ansible and the excellent Ansible collection community.general.routeros.

With the aforementioned collection you get all sorts of modules and plugins. One of those modules is community.routeros.api_find_and_modify which is - as the name suggests - a module that will find a specific path on any RouterOS (ROS) capable device and modify the value, if required. The modules depends on the Python library librouteros, which talks to the REST API of any ROS device.

Is it idempotent?! #

Idempotency for newcomers in Ansible #

For those who are not new to Ansible, feel free to skip over this section; If you chose to read it: I know, this is overly simplified, but for the purpose of this blog post, it’s enough.

Here is the thing. Good Ansible modules are idempotent, which means, Ansible will only perform a change if the desired state is not already present.

Okay, for Ansible newcomers this might not mean a lot, so here is a quick example.

Imagine you want to disallow root logins via SSH. Naturally, you’d go to /etc/ssh/sshd_config adjust the option PermitRootLogin and restart or reload SSHd to pick up the change. The next day, you forgot whether you actually changed the value of PermitRootLogin and you want to ensure that you really changed it. Obviously, there a few ways to check that, but for this example, let’s assume, you’d just login via SSH and open up /etc/ssh/sshd_config and verify whether the desired value for PermitRootLogin is already present.

There could be two possible outcomes for you when you open up the SSHd configuration file:

  1. PermitRootLogin has the appropriate value set
  2. PermitRootLogin has not set the appropriate value

With option number 2, you’d obviously change the value of PermitRootLogin and restart or reload the SSHd.

.. but what about option 1? Would you really change the file again and restart or reload the SSHd again, although you verified that the appropriate value for PermitRootLogin has been set? Of course not.

This is precisely what idempotency with regards to Ansible is. Ansible compares a desired state to an existing state for each task in the play and acts accordingly. If there is nothing to change to achieve the desired state, nothing is changed. In theory (and mostly in practice) this type of transaction (checking whether the desired state is already present) takes up less resources and thus needs less time to apply when compared to an operation that actually changes something.

Idempotency enables you to rerun the same automation over and over again and you will always receive the same result. If something changed, you know that somebody or something has messed around with your system and if nothing changes, you can be sure everything is exactly the way it should be.

.. now, is the community.routeros.api_find_and_modify module idempotent?! #

Apparently, it is. A small sentence in the documentation reveals it:

[..] The latter case is needed for idempotency of the task: once the values have been changed, there should be no further match.

With that cleared up, I wanted to ensure that my SSHd port on my switches listens to a different port (default is 22). First, I logged into my switch via SSH and came up with the following command to change it:

/ip/service/set ssh port=2222

Okay, that was easy. Let’s put that into an Ansible playbook:

- name: 'Play around with MikroTik'
  hosts: 'all'
  gather_facts: false

    - name: 'Configure SSH'
        hostname: ''
        username: 'username'
        password: 'password' 
        ca_path: 'example.com_ca_bundle.pem'
        tls: true
        validate_cert_hostname: true
        validate_certs: true
        path: 'ip service'
          name: 'ssh'
          name: 'ssh'
          port: 2222
        require_matches_min: 1
        require_matches_max: 1
      delegate_to: 'localhost'

Perfect, it works. The module reports back properly when nothing needs changing, thus it is idempotent.

As I don’t want to repeat that very same task for each and every service (HTTP/S, API, telnet, etc.) I decided to write a role which would configure all my “basic stuff” (such as services).

I came up with the following task:

- name: 'Configure service {{ }}'                                                                                                                                       
    hostname: '{{ _mk_hostname }}'
    username: '{{ _mk_username }}'
    password: '{{ _mk_password }}'
    port: '{{ _mk_api_port }}'
    ca_path: '{{ _mk_ca_path | default(omit) }}'
    tls: '{{ _mk_tls }}'
    validate_cert_hostname: '{{ _mk_validate_cert_hostname }}'
    validate_certs: '{{ _mk_validate_certs }}'
    path: 'ip service'
      name: '{{ }}'
      name: '{{ }}'
      disabled: '{{ __t_service.disabled | default(omit) }}'
      port: '{{ __t_service.port | default(omit) }}'
      certificate: '{{ __t_service.certificate | default(omit) }}'
      tls-version: "{{ __t_service['tls-version'] | default(omit) }}"
    require_matches_min: 1
    require_matches_max: 1
  delegate_to: 'localhost'

I defined my variables like the following:

  # enabled services
  - name: 'ftp'
    disabled: false
    port: 21

  - name: 'ssh'
    disabled: false
    port: 2222

  - name: 'www-ssl'
    disabled: false
    port: 443 
    certificate: ''
    tls-version: 'only-1.2'

  - name: 'api-ssl'
    disabled: false
    port: 8729
    certificate: ''
    tls-version: 'only-1.2'

  - name: 'winbox'
    port: 8291
    disabled: false

  # disables services
  - name: 'telnet'
    disabled: true

  - name: 'www'
    disabled: true

  - name: 'api'
    disabled: true

In the main.yml of the role I would iterate over all the defined services like so:

- name: 'Include tasks to configure IP services'
    file: 'services.yml'
  loop: '{{ _mk_services }}'
    loop_var: '__t_service' 

… and that should be it. It wasn’t.

Getting mad #

So whenever I ran the playbook that would include my role, it would report a changed status for the services:

  • ftp
  • ssh
  • www-ssl
  • api-ssl
  • winbox

.. and would not report a changed status for:

  • www
  • api

I started debugging, using Ansible’s diff mode, which was luckily possible with this module (diff mode is optional) and it reported the following:

TASK [mikrotik_base : Configure service ftp] ********************************************************************************************************************************************
--- before
+++ after
@@ -6,7 +6,7 @@
             "disabled": false,
             "invalid": false,
             "name": "ftp",
-            "port": 21
+            "port": "21"

changed: [ -> localhost]

.. wait what?! Why is this a string? Okay, never mind, let’s add a conversion to int using | int for the port value:

port: '{{ __t_service.port | int }}'

That will do it :sunglasses:

… and it didn’t do it.

I started debugging with the ansible.builtin.debug module:

- ansible.builtin.debug:                                                                                                                                                                 
    var: __t_service.port

- ansible.builtin.debug:
    msg: '{{ __t_service.port | type_debug }}'

- ansible.builtin.debug:
    var: \_\_t\_service.port | int 

- ansible.builtin.assert:
      - __t_service.port is number

- ansible.builtin.debug:
    msg: '{{ __t_service.port | int | type_debug }}'

- ansible.builtin.meta: end_play

.. and I couldn’t understand the result:

TASK [mikrotik_base : ansible.builtin.debug] ********************************************************************************************************************************************
ok: [] => {
    "__t_service.port": "21"

TASK [mikrotik_base : ansible.builtin.debug] ********************************************************************************************************************************************
ok: [] => {
    "msg": "int"

TASK [mikrotik_base : ansible.builtin.debug] ********************************************************************************************************************************************
ok: [] => {
    \"\_\_t\_service.port | int\": \"21\"

TASK [mikrotik_base : ansible.builtin.assert] *******************************************************************************************************************************************
ok: [] => {
    "changed": false,
    "msg": "All assertions passed"

TASK [mikrotik_base : ansible.builtin.debug] ********************************************************************************************************************************************
ok: [] => {
    "msg": "int"

TASK [mikrotik_base : ansible.builtin.meta] *********************************************************************************************************************************************

PLAY RECAP ****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************** : ok=13   changed=0    unreachable=0    failed=0    skipped=0    rescued=0    ignored=0   

All of the tests clearly indicated that {{ __t_service.port }} is an integer even without | int.

Meet jinja2_native #

While I almost lost any hope and was that close to either open an issue in the community.routeros’ Github (which I hesitated because I didn’t want to look like an idiot) or simply live with the non-idempotency, I decided to give it a last try after I left that topic alone for a few days.

After a ton of looking around the internet, I found a pull request for Ansible that fixed the conversion of a JSON string to a dict, where the conversion would corrupt that dict. After looking at the change log, I realized my issue:

The jinja2_native setting now does not affect the template module which implicitly returns strings. For the template lookup there is a new argument jinja2_native (off by default) to control that functionality. The rest of the Jinja2 expressions still operate based on the jinja2_native setting.

I looked through the closed PRs to find the one which introduced jinja2_native, and there it was: Allow config to enable native jinja types. The documentation describes jinja2_native as follows:

This option preserves variable types during template operations.

Surely, that must be it! I went ahead and added jinja2_native to the [defaults] section of my ansible.cfg and re-ran my playbook.

It worked. Finally.

For why jinja2_native is off by default, I can only speculate and would guess for backwards compatibility reasons. Not a bad reasoning, but in my case, it would have been a lot less painful if it was turned on by default ..

.. oh well, the next challenge surely won’t wait for long. :smile: