How to deploy a container with Ansible

Find out how to deploy a Docker container using an Ansible playbook.

How to deploy a container with Ansible

There are so many ways to deploy containers. You can use Docker, Kubernetes, MicroK8s, AWS, Google Cloud Platform…. the list goes on and on. But if you're an Ansible admin, you have yet another method. That's right, with an Ansible playbook, you can deploy a Docker container. 

And that, my friends, is exactly what I'm going to show you how to do. I'll be demonstrating with only two servers, both of which will run Ubuntu Server 18.04. You can test this with as many servers as you like, but I prefer to keep it simple at this level.

SEE: Hybrid cloud: A guide for IT pros (TechRepublic download)

What you'll need

To make this work, you'll need the following:

  • At least two servers (one of which has Ansible), installed and running
  • A user with sudo privileges

It is important that you first go through the How to Install Ansible on Ubuntu Server 18.04 guide, otherwise this will not work. And make sure you follow the steps for setting up SSH key authentication. 

How to install Docker

Because we're going to be deploying a Docker container, we need Docker installed on every machine. This can be done by opening a terminal window and issuing the following command:

sudo apt-get install python3-docker -y

Once the installation is complete, start and enable the docker service with the commands:

sudo systemctl start docker
sudo systemctl enable docker

Finally, add your user to the docker group with the command:

sudo usermod -aG docker $USER

Log out and log back in so the changes will take effect.

How to create the directory structure and files

On the Ansible server, create a new directory with the following command:

mkdir docker_project

Change into the docker_project directory with the command cd docker_project and create a hosts file with the command:

nano hosts

In that file, add the following contents:



Where SERVER_IP is the IP address of the other server(s). Save and close the file.

We're going to create a playbook that will do the following:

  • Install aptitude
  • Install a number of dependencies
  • Add a docker repository
  • Install docker-ce
  • Install the docker Python module
  • Pull the official Ubuntu image
  • Create four containers based on the Ubuntu image 

Issue the command nano ubuntu_playbook.yml. In that new file, paste the following (making sure the formatting follows the standard YAML format):

- hosts: all
  become: true
    create_containers: 4
    default_container_name: docker
    default_container_image: ubuntu
    default_container_command: sleep 1d

    - name: Install aptitude using apt
      apt: name=aptitude state=latest update_cache=yes force_apt_get=yes

    - name: Install required system packages
      apt: name={{ item }} state=latest update_cache=yes
      loop: [ 'apt-transport-https', 'ca-certificates', 'curl', 'software-properties-common', 'python3-pip', 'virtualenv', 'python3-setuptools']

    - name: Add Docker GPG apt Key
        state: present

    - name: Add Docker Repository
        repo: deb xenial stable
        state: present

    - name: Update apt and install docker-ce
      apt: update_cache=yes name=docker-ce state=latest

    - name: Install Docker Module for Python
        name: docker

    - name: Pull default Docker image
        name: "{{ default_container_image }}"
        source: pull

    - name: Create default containers
        name: "{{ default_container_name }}{{ item }}"
        image: "{{ default_container_image }}"
        command: "{{ default_container_command }}"
        state: present
      with_sequence: count={{ create_containers }}

Save and close the file. Once you have a feel for how this playbook works, you can also modify it to fit your needs. Consider this a solid template for which to deploy containers from Ansible.

How to run the Ansible playbook

We can now run our Ansible playbook. To do this, issue the command:

ansible-playbook -i hosts ubuntu_playbook.yml --ask-become-pass

You will be prompted for the sudo password for the remote user. Type that and hit Enter. The playbook should then execute without fail. When the playbook completes, you should see the output indicates success (Figure A).

Figure A


Our playbook has succeeded.

If you go over to one of your remote servers and issue the command docker ps -a, you should see all four ubuntu containers running (Figure B).

Figure B


Our containers are running.

And that's it. You now know how to deploy a Docker container by way of an Ansible playbook. This is certainly not the easiest route, but it does make it possible for you to get really creative with both your containers and Ansible.

Also see


Image: TechRepublic/Jack Wallen