Managing Your Macbook With Ansible

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Managing Your Macbook With Ansible

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For a long time I’ve been a big believer in Infrastructure as Code and I have always wanted to use configuration management to provision my personal workstation and keep it constantly updated to an expected state. Boxen was one of the first tools I saw in this space and it even seemed like it might be comfortable since I was using Puppet at the time. However I never really had a lot of luck with it and the original aim of Boxen was actually lost on us at Zapier since we engineered a very nice docker-compose based setup that lets anyone begin running and hacking on zapier locally constrained by the time it takes to download the docker images for the first time.

That being said when we began transitioning from Puppet to Ansible last year and I naturally started using it locally to kind of whet my appetite a bit. Here’s a brief run down of how I’m currently using Ansible to manage my laptop and some notes on where to go next.

Getting Started

There are several guides out there on getting Ansible installed, the most authoritative being the instructions right on Ansible’s website. I won’t repeat those well written steps here.

Once that’s all done let’s run ansible --version and verify we’re running Ansible or above. If you’re visiting from the future then I will have to say that I am really unsure if this blog post will work with 3.0.0 or whatever release is out then. Keep in mind this post is written in 2016.

First up we’ll create a very simple Ansible playbook that just prints a hello world message to the console to ensure we have everything configured correctly.

Place this in a project directory (I name mine “personal-dev-laptop”) and run ansible-playbook main.yml. If all is configured correctly you’ll see a playbook run that executes a task that prints out “Hello World” to the console.


The most important piece to a provisioning system is the package management and Ansible is no different. Homebrew is the go to on OSX and thankfully Ansible has a pretty decent homebrew module for managing the state of different Homebrew packages. Let’s dip our toes in by adding a task to ensure macvim is installed and at the latest version.

The nice benefit here is that each time we run Ansible macvim will automatically get updated to the latest available package. However if we want to ensure a package is simply installed but don’t want to upgrade each time we run we can set the state to "present". After awhile if we’ve worked with vim and decided that it’s just not for us and we’d prefer to use emacs instead we could just set macvim’s state to absent and emacs state to latest.

Taking It Further

Sure we can just keep adding our own tasks to install roles, perhaps even using a with_items iterator to include a big list of them but sooner or later we’re going to be duplicating a lot of work someone else has done. Which is a good time to introduce third party roles installed via ansible galaxy. There are most likely several good roles out there but my favorite so far is geerlinguy.homebrew. I usually put a requirements yaml file in the main root of my project with the module I want to use and the version I want to lock in.

Now to install this third party role we’ll run ansible-galaxy install -p vendor -r requirements.yaml. The -p switch will install it to a local directory named vendor so we don’t clobber the global include path and we can add that directory to our project’s .gitignore so that it isn’t stored in git. We also add an ansible.cfg to specify the role path for third party roles we’ll be using.

Now we also update our main.yaml to include a few changes. Firstly we want to include the new role we just imported and then we move the packages we want to install as variables that the homebrew role will utilize.

This time we’ll run with the -K switch since this role also ensures that homebrew is installed and will require sudo access to do so. Now I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking “James is trying to hack my box!” and quickly closing your browser tab. Obviously you should never provide sudo without giving the source code a look over and the most important pieces will be the main task file and meta file where there could be dependent roles. After careful inspection we decide all is good and run ansible-playbook -K main.yml. Congratulations, you now have Spotify and iterm2 installed!

One small improvement to make before we move on is to extract these variables that are specifically for homebrew to their own var file. While it might seem silly now, sooner or later we might be using many roles that utilize many different variables and mixing them will lead to a lot of confusion. I personally like to name the variable files after the role they’re used for as illustrated below.

Managing OSX Settings

You can do a lot of tweaking to how your OSX behaves by using the osx_defaults module to manage OSX Defaults. There’s a lot of opportunities here but I’ll just leave a quick and dirty example to set our preferred screensaver below.

You could possibly even go as far as using this to manage various applications you have installed and possibly even setting registration keys for those applications. I haven’t even gotten to that point yet either so I’m not covering it here.

Further Reading

Well I hope this was good for you… it was good for me and helped me flesh out some of my current setup. I’m still on my path to learning how to best utilize ansible to manage my development environment so there’s definitely more to learn that I’ll continue to share as time progresses. I’m also not ignorant of a few other projects that aim to make working with ansible to manage development environments easier and one I’ve been looking at is Battleschool.

You can find the completed work for this blog post on github at jamescarr/ansible-mac-demo.

ansible, configuration management, osx

Published at DZone with permission of James Carr , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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