Avoid Ansible Playbooks Decay: Importance of Daily Playbook Testing

March 26, 2024 - Words by The Spotter Team

March 26, 2024
Words by The Spotter Team

This post was originally published on the XLAB Steampunk blog.

Sounds familiar? You’ve invested hours into writing a perfect Ansible Playbook only to see it fail a few months later. No matter how high-quality, super secure and reliable your playbooks are, the real challenge begins there. To maintain their functionality, consistent scanning is crucial. That may not seem like a big deal, but what if you’re dealing with thousands of playbooks? Sounds frustrating, we know. And yes, we’re here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way.

Understanding Playbook Decay

Ansible Playbooks are the lifeblood of automation workflows. While they automate your infrastructure, they’re not self-sustaining. Just like living things, they need constant care – that means continuous testing to ensure they remain effective, reliable and secure.

Infrastructure evolves, and so do best practices. A playbook created a year ago might not adhere to the latest security guidelines or performance optimizations. New software versions, updates, or changes in dependencies can render playbooks ineffective or, worse, cause failures in critical tasks. Your organization introduces new policies that affect your playbooks. Crucial security patches or bug fixes in modules might go unnoticed, leaving your systems vulnerable. Manual changes outside the automation workflow can create inconsistencies and conflicts with playbooks. Team member turnover can lead to lost knowledge and poorly documented playbooks, hindering maintenance and updates.

The list goes on, your playbooks are constantly at risk. This phenomenon, known as playbook decay, can lead to a number of challenges, from minor glitches to catastrophic failures.

So, how do we keep our playbooks in tip-top shape and prevent them from succumbing to decay? The answer lies in automated monitoring.

Don’t Let Your Playbooks Rust: Schedule Daily Scans

Call it daily scanning or nightly build, regular testing is key to long-lasting, effective automation. Set a time and schedule it.

Here’s why it matters:

Daily scanning ensures that your playbooks remain agile, adapting to changes in infrastructure, security protocols, and application landscapes promptly. Most importantly, automated testing saves you a lot of time by instantly identifying issues and fixing them as soon as they arise, instead of dealing with a whole bunch of issues at once and prevents them from accumulating and causing major disruptions.

1. Instantly identify issues: By continuously monitoring playbooks, you can catch anomalies or errors early on, which enables you to fix them before they impact your systems.

2. Troubleshooting and debugging: Playbook failures can occur due to various reasons, including changes in the underlying infrastructure or dependencies. Monitoring facilitates early detection of issues, making troubleshooting and debugging more efficient.

3. Ensure compliance: Regular monitoring ensures playbooks are adhering to established compliance standards, industry regulations, and your security policies.

4. Enhance security: Identify and address potential security risks before they can be exploited, safeguarding the integrity of the automaton process.

5. Optimize performance: Overtime, changes in infrastructure and configurations can impact the performance of Ansible Playbooks. Regular monitoring allows you to identify and address performance bottlenecks, ensuring the efficiency of automated tasks.

6. Assure reliability: Daily scanning validates the reliability of playbook’s and ensures they deliver consistent outcomes.

7. Documentation accuracy: Playbooks often double as documentation for system configurations. As they decay, the documentation becomes unreliable, making it challenging for teams to understand and troubleshoot issues. Regular scanning ensures that the documentation is accurate, aiding in troubleshooting and knowledge transfer within the team.

For service providers, regular daily monitoring is essential for providing reliable and secure services to clients.

Automate Automation with Steampunk Spotter

Continuous testing of all your playbooks can be time-consuming and stressful. Enter the hero: automated scanning. By incorporating tools like Steampunk Spotter into your workflow, you can proactively safeguard your playbooks against decay. Steampunk Spotter, Ansible Playbook Platform, seamlessly executes daily scanning and provides a centralized platform for monitoring Ansible playbooks effectively.

Incorporate Steampunk Spotter into Ansible Playbook Monitoring to:

1. Automate playbook scanning: Spotter automates the process of scanning Ansible Playbooks, providing a comprehensive analysis of potential issues and ensuring a consistent and thorough examination of playbooks.

2. Enforce security rules: By leveraging Spotter’s Custom rules feature, you can consistently enforce your security rules and best practices across all your playbooks. Learn more about ensuring security with Spotter.

3. Get real-time feedback: Spotter catches errors in playbooks as you write, so teams build high-quality, easily maintained playbooks from the start.

4. Integrate scanning in CI/CD pipelines: Integrating Steampunk Spotter into CI/CD pipelines ensures that playbook scans are performed automatically as part of the deployment process.

5. Get insights into automation: Centralize playbook management with Spotter App. Monitor and manage performance, security, and compliance in one place. Get clear insights, prioritize issues, and generate easy-to-share reports for collaborative and streamlined playbook maintenance. Learn more in this video.

6. Follow best practices: Spotter guides your teams towards writing playbooks that adhere to coding standards and security guidelines, improving overall quality and maintainability.

7. Version control compatibility: Spotter helps ensure your playbooks are compatible with different Ansible versions, simplifying upgrades and preventing future compatibility issues.

8. Continuous improvement: Automated testing fosters a culture of continuous improvement, encouraging frequent reviews and updates to keep your playbooks in sync with your evolving environment.

How to set up daily monitoring with Spotter?

1. Install Spotter: First, sign up for an account, then Install Spotter CLI. It’s available as a steampunk-spotter Python package, but you will need at least Python 3 to install it:

pip install steampunk-spotter

We recommend installing the package into a clean Python virtual environment. After the CLI is installed, you can explore its commands and options by running spotter --help.

2. Configure Spotter: Create custom rules and policies, determine which checks you’d like to always enforce or skip, adjust scan settings, customize outputs … Spotter is highly customizable to match your specific needs. Learn more about all the ways you can customize Spotter in the Getting started guide or Spotter Docs.

3. Schedule Spotter executions: Use CI/CD to trigger daily execution of Steampunk Spotter.

Setting Up Nightly Runs of Steampunk Spotter with Error Notifications

Here’s how to set up a nightly run of Steampunk Spotter and receive notifications for scans with errors:

1. Choose your platform:
  • Leverage integration features offered by your CI/CD platform (e.g., GitLab, Jenkins, CircleCI) to automate the process within your workflow.
2. Schedule the scan:
  • Follow your platform’s documentation for creating scheduled pipelines.
  • Define a pipeline step to execute the spotter scan command with necessary arguments.
  • Schedule the pipeline to run daily at midnight.
3. Set up error notifications:
  • Most platforms offer built-in notification features based on pipeline status and build outputs. Configure notifications for pipeline failures or specific error keywords in the scan report.
4. Additional tips:
  • Consider using Scan profiles for more specific scans (e.g., security checks).
  • Explore integrating Spotter with communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams for instant notifications.
  • Refer to the Spotter documentation for advanced configuration options and troubleshooting.

By following these steps, you can ensure nightly scans of your Ansible content with efficient error notification, helping you maintain playbook quality and catch issues proactively.

Remember to adapt these instructions to your specific environment and preferences. If you encounter any difficulties, reach out to the Spotter community or support for further assistance.

Interested in Spotter, but don’t know how to start? Explore our Getting started guide.


Regularly monitor Ansible Playbooks to maintain a secure, compliant, and efficient automation environment. Integrate Steampunk Spotter for automated, customizable, and real-time playbook scanning, ensuring reliability, compliance, and efficiency in your IT operations.

By implementing a daily scanning routine, you not only mitigate the risks associated with playbook decay but also foster a culture of continuous improvement within your automation workflows. Remember, a well-maintained playbook is the key to a resilient and future-ready automation strategy. Ready, set, go!

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