Let's say you spent the past 18 months building your MVP application complete with several microservices, SQL, NoSQL, Kafka, Redis, Elasticsearch, service discovery, and on demand configuration updates. You are the bleeding edge of technology and are prepared to scale to millions of users overnight. Your only problem? everything is running locally and nothing has been set up in AWS. Go hire a dev ops engineer and delay your launch another month or two, good luck.

Let's try that again and rewind 17 months. You decided to go with a single Java monolith app which you build a single deployable jar with Gradle using the shadowjar plugin. Sure, monoliths aren't sexy but they work. Realistically speaking they can scale pretty far, remember when Twitter was still on monoliths with millions of tweets a day? Our goal is to get the app up and running in as little effort as possible but keeping in mind we may want to be able to scale out to more than one server. No we don't need auto scaling just yet! and probably won't for a long while if ever.

Head over to Amazon Web Services and spin up a single server. Maybe even a t2.micro will be good enough for your use case. It can always be resized later. Next it would be nice to have a way to reliably install all of the dependencies for our app. Enter Ansible, Ansible is a SSH based automation solution for provisioning, configuring, and deploying applications using YAML. Take some time for a brief introduction getting started with ansible so we can dive right in. We will be following the second directory structure from Ansible best practices.

Ansible Playbook to configure our EC2 instance with Java and Supervisord

An Ansible Playbook is often the main entry point to some task / process / configuration. It can contain which hosts specific commands are to be run on and include all of the reusable modules (roles) for the task at hand. We can also provide variables or variable overrides here. Our playbook will include everything our app needs to be running on our newly spun up EC2 instance. This includes the current version of Java and Supervisord which we will use to run and make sure the processes gets restarted if it crashes.

# ansible-playbook --vault-password-file .vault_pw.txt -i inventories/production stubbornjava.yml
- hosts: stubbornjava
  become: true
    - role: common
    - role: apps/jvm_app_base
      app_name: stubbornjava
      app_command: "java8 -Denv={{env}} -Xmx640m -cp 'stubbornjava-all.jar' com.stubbornjava.webapp.StubbornJavaWebApp"

Ansible Hosts

The hosts property allows us to specify which hosts we want to execute the roles / tasks in this section on. In this case we are choosing our server group stubbornjava.


Ansible custom Java application base role

The common role is pretty trivial and just sets a time zone and enables the EPEL repo so we will skip it. The next role jvm_app_base is where most of our configuration happens. We are passing two parameters into our jvm_app_base role. Our app_name which is just an identifier for our app that will be used throughout the role and app_command the actual command we want to run.

Java application base variables

Our base role includes the following variables. As you can see we are reusing the app_name passed in from the playbook to define some additional variables.

  app_directory: "/apps/{{app_name}}"
  app_user: "{{app_name}}"
  app_user_group: "{{app_name}}"

Java application base role

Roles are one of Ansible primary building blocks. A role can be collections of tasks, variables, templates, files at its core. Our role is fairly generic so we can use it for multiple different Java applications if we want. Like a Playbook roles can also include other roles. We are using a public open source role geerlingguy.java to install Java for us. We are also including another custom role for Supervisord. Next we will use some built in Ansible modules to create a user and group for our app as well as the directory structure we want. Notice the use of variables cascading down and so far mostly being populated by just our app_name. Finally we wrap up with adding our Supervisord config file for this app. This file tells us where to put logs, what command to run and any other Supervisord specific settings we care about. Finally we are copying over our environment specific configuration with all of our secrets using Ansible Vault.

- name: Install Java
    name: geerlingguy.java
      - java-1.8.0-openjdk

- name: Including Supervisord
    name: supervisord

- name: "Creating {{app_user_group}} Group"
    name: "{{app_user_group}}"
    state: present

- name: "Creating {{app_user}} User"
    name: "{{app_user}}"
    group: "{{app_user_group}}"

- name: "Creating {{app_directory}} Directory"
    path: "{{app_directory}}"
    state: directory
    mode: 0755
    owner: "{{app_user}}"
    group: "{{app_user_group}}"

- name: "Copying supervisor {{app_name}}.conf"
    src: supervisorapp.conf.j2
    dest: "/etc/supervisor.d/{{app_name}}.conf"
  notify: restart supervisord

# If we start refreshing configs in the app we can
# turn off the restart. For now we load configs once
# at boot. So restart the app any time it changes.
- name: Copying stubbornjava secure.conf
    src: secure.conf.j2
    dest: "{{app_directory}}/secure.conf"
    owner: "{{app_user}}"
    group: "{{app_user_group}}"
    mode: u=r,g=r,o=
  notify: restart supervisord

As you can see the our config file with secrets is very bare bones. Most of our production config can live in our normal code base. The only thing we want split out is our secrets. We want them stored more securely. Also, we want our configs that change the most frequently to just be part of the build / deploy. Since our secrets change much less frequently it's reasonable to split it out.

db {

github {


In the previous role we mentioned including the Supervisord role as well as setting up the app specific conf file. Here is a quick look at the role with some files excluded, you can view them all here. The tasks should be fairly straight forward.

- name: Supervisor init script
  copy: src=supervisord dest=/etc/init.d/supervisord mode=0755
  notify: restart supervisord

- name: Supervisor conf
  copy: src=supervisord.conf dest=/etc/supervisord.conf
  notify: restart supervisord

- name: Supervisor conf dir
  file: path=/etc/supervisor.d/ state=directory
  notify: restart supervisord

- name: Install supervisord
  easy_install: name=supervisor
  notify: restart supervisord

# TODO: Don't always restart supervisord. We can reload configs
# or even just the app when we deploy new code. Restarting it all is overkill.

Next we have our Supervisord handlers. Ansible handlers are like tasks but with a very special property. They are triggered by notify and only run once each at the end of all tasks. Changing the database passwords, changing supervisor conf, changing JVM properties or any of our roles can trigger a handler with notify. Whether its triggered one or N times it will only run once after all of the tasks have completed. This is to prevent you from accidentally restarting your service N times when updating commands.

- name: restart supervisord
  service: name=supervisord state=restarted

- name: "supervisorctl restart {{app_name}}"
  command: "supervisorctl restart {{app_name}}"

Lastly for Supervisord here is the app specific config file that was referenced above in the jvm app role. Our app_command variable all the way from the playbook is what is getting passed here as the executing command.


Running our Playbook

All thats left is to run our playbook. By the end of the execution our server should be fully configured and only missing the actual JAR file to execute. We will cover that with a deploy script in another post. If we decide we need some redundancy or larger servers simply update the Ansible hosts file with the new hosts and run the playbook again and all the servers should then be configured. There are even dynamic inventories for cloud infrastructure like AWS where you can target all instances based on their tags. There are also options to stagger the commands across servers so not all of them are updating at once.

ansible-playbook --vault-password-file .vault_pw.txt -i inventories/production stubbornjava.yml

PLAY [stubbornjava] ************************************************************

TASK [setup] *******************************************************************
ok: []

TASK [common : EPEL] ***********************************************************
ok: []

TASK [common : New York Time Zone] *********************************************
ok: []

TASK [geerlingguy.java : Include OS-specific variables.] ***********************
ok: []

TASK [geerlingguy.java : Include OS-specific variables for Fedora.] ************
skipping: []

TASK [geerlingguy.java : Include version-specific variables for Ubuntu.] *******
skipping: []

TASK [geerlingguy.java : Define java_packages.] ********************************
ok: []

TASK [geerlingguy.java : include] **********************************************
included: /usr/local/etc/ansible/roles/geerlingguy.java/tasks/setup-RedHat.yml for

TASK [geerlingguy.java : Ensure Java is installed.] ****************************
ok: [] => (item=[u'java-1.7.0-openjdk'])

TASK [geerlingguy.java : include] **********************************************
skipping: []

TASK [geerlingguy.java : include] **********************************************
skipping: []

TASK [geerlingguy.java : Set JAVA_HOME if configured.] *************************
skipping: []

TASK [supervisord : Supervisor init script] ************************************
ok: []

TASK [supervisord : Supervisor conf] *******************************************
ok: []

TASK [supervisord : Supervisor conf dir] ***************************************
ok: []

TASK [supervisord : Install supervisord] ***************************************
ok: []

TASK [apps/jvm_app_base : Creating stubbornjava Group] *************************
ok: []

TASK [apps/jvm_app_base : Creating stubbornjava User] **************************
ok: []

TASK [apps/jvm_app_base : Creating /apps/stubbornjava Directory] ***************
ok: []

TASK [apps/jvm_app_base : Copying supervisor stubbornjava.conf] ****************
changed: []

TASK [apps/jvm_app_base : Copying stubbornjava secure.conf] ********************
ok: []

RUNNING HANDLER [supervisord : restart supervisord] ****************************
changed: []

PLAY RECAP *********************************************************************               : ok=17   changed=2    unreachable=0    failed=0