Patching or using a forked version of an Ansible Galaxy role

I maintain a lot of Ansible Galaxy roles. I probably have a problem, but I won't admit it, so I'll probably keep adding more roles :)

One thing I see quite often is someone submitting a simple Pull Request for one of my roles on GitHub, then checking in here and there asking if I have had a chance to merge it yet. I'm guessing people who end up doing this might not know about one of the best features of Ansible Galaxy (and more generally, open source!): you can fork the role and maintain your changes in the fork, and it's pretty easy to do.

I just had to do it for one project I'm working on. I am using the rvm_io.ruby role to install specific versions of Ruby on some servers. But there seems to have been a breaking change to the upstream packages RVM uses, summarized in this GitHub issue. I found a pretty simple fix (removing one array item from a variable), and submitted this PR.

So far, so good, but how can I tell my Ansible playbooks to patch in this fix? If I can't do that, I'll either have to download and commit a forked version of the role to my repository (yuck! Don't include dependencies in your codebase except in extreme cases!), or wait until the maintainer merges the PR and tags a new release.

But I need this working today! Otherwise, my project will be at a standstill.

Luckily, I can change one thing in my Galaxy requirements.yml file, and all will be well. Instead of asking for the rvm_io.ruby role from Galaxy, like this:

# Ansible Galaxy roles.
- src: rvm_io.ruby
  version: v2.0.0

I can instead reference my fork and branch (from which I generated the earlier-mentioned pull request):

# Ansible Galaxy roles.
# - src: rvm_io.ruby
#   version: v2.0.0
# Forked Ansible Galaxy roles.
- src: # URL to my fork of the Galaxy role's GitHub repository.
  version: 157-remove-testrb # the name of my patch branch.
  name: rvm_io.ruby # save the role with the name it had when downloaded from Galaxy.

Or if you have any trouble getting the forked role from git, you can just download a .tar.gz file for the role instead:

- src:
  name: rvm_io.ruby

Then update your downloaded dependencies with: ansible-galaxy install -r requirements.yml --force (the --force is necessary if you've already downloaded dependencies, so that your new forked role overwrites the existing downloaded role version).

The nice thing is, this kills two birds with one stone:

  1. I've submitted an upstream PR so that others can benefit from my fix.
  2. I have a fork that's easier to maintain than a separate patch file or diffing the codebase, since I can just do a git pull upstream master then do a rebase on my branch to update with the latest upstream fixes.

If you don't do it this way, you're basically creating a hard fork of the upstream role and taking on the entire maintenance responsibility for the role. 99% of the time, I don't want to do that—I just want to patch a role until the upstream maintainer merges my patch. So every month or so, when I update role dependencies in my projects, I go back and check if I can switch back from my forked/patched repository to the original Galaxy role!


Hey Jeff, thanks for explaining new Python-esque requirements.yml feature.