Fixing 'UNREACHABLE' SSH error when running Ansible playbooks against Ubuntu 18.04 or 16.04

Ubuntu 16.04 and 18.04 (and likely future versions) often don't have Python 2 installed by default. Sometimes Python 3 is installed, available at /usr/bin/python3, but for many minimal images I've used, there's no preinstalled Python at all.

Therefore, when you run Ansible playbooks against new VMs running Ubuntu, you might be greeted with the following error:

Changing a deeply-nested dict variable in an Ansible playbook

I recently had to build an Ansible playbook that takes in a massive inventory structure (read from a YAML file), modifies a specific key in that file, then dumps the file back to disk. There are some other ways that may be more efficient standalone (e.g. using a separate Python/PHP/Ruby/etc. script and a good YAML library), but since I had to do a number of other things in this Ansible playbook, I thought it would keep it simple if I could also modify the key inside the playbook.

I was scratching my head for a while, because while I knew that I could use the dict | combine() filter to merge two dicts together (this is a feature that was introduced in Ansible 2.0), I hadn't done so for a deeply-nested dict.

How to fix SSH errors when using Ansible with newer OSes like Ubuntu 16.04

Recently, as I've been building more and more servers running Ubuntu 16.04, I've hit the following errors:

PLAY [host] ************************************************************************************************************

TASK [Gathering Facts] *************************************************************************************************
fatal: []: UNREACHABLE! => {"changed": false, "msg": "SSH Error: data could not be sent to remote host "". Make sure this host can be reached over ssh", "unreachable": true}


/bin/sh: 1: /usr/bin/python: not found

The former error seems to happen when you're running a playbook on an Ubuntu 16.04 host (with gather_facts: yes), while the latter happens if you're using a minimal distribution that doesn't include Python at all. The problem, in both cases, is that Python 2.x is not installed on the server, and there are two different fixes:

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