Getting started with Salt

I’ve finally started to use the salt stack in anger now and I thought I’d make some quick notes on what I thought I was slow to pick up on.

Specifying that a box needs to have x services installed is all done in the configuration. I understood that there are two aspects to salt, one is running things via the command line, the second is configuration management. I thought I’d be able to do something like ‘salt provision box-a service-b’. Instead you generally put the machine names and what they should have in top.sls in the /srv/salt directory along with all the other config.

Pillars appears to be intended to provide the site specific data generally. In general the salt .sls files are the config that can be used everywhere, sometimes templated, and the pillar data can be used in those templates to insert data specific to a site/machine. This means you should be able to use the same basic salt setup on multiple salt-masters, and simply change the data on them to generate machines with different users and setups.

Salt appears to be very opaque to start with. It took me too long to realise that like most things, it logs. In fact it logs very well so you can really turn the log level up to a very high level if you are troubleshooting. It can be interesting to turn it up if you want to see what it’s doing in real time, otherwise you just see problems logged.

It’s well worth taking a look at the state documentation as you’re looking at the tutorials. I found the examples in the tutorial relatively hard to pick apart until I was able to see the references for the various states.

http://docs.saltstack.com/ref/states/all

The file state is particularly worth taking a look at. A lot of deployment is pushing files about and modifying them.

http://docs.saltstack.com/ref/states/all/salt.states.file.html#module-salt.states.file

Make sure you run the latest versions from salt’s official repositories if possible. The ones packaged with your OS are likely to be old. And don’t run inconsistent versions between your masters and minions. That way leads to fail.

If something obvious doesn’t appear to work, try it with a different package. I found my simple couchdb installation didn’t work quite right out of the box. I tried exactly the same thing with memcached and it did. This turned out to be a bug.

I’m still early on my journey into salt, but so far it appears to be very useful.

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