Some Ansible variables contain sensitive data such as passwords. Trellis keeps these variable definitions in separate files named vault.yml. We strongly recommend that you encrypt these vault.yml files using Ansible Vault to avoid exposing sensitive data in your project repo. Your Trellis commands will be exactly the same as before enabling vault, not requiring any extra flags.

To briefly demonstrate what vault does, consider this example vault.yml file.

# example vault.yml file -- unencrypted plain text
my_password: example_password

You should replace the example_password then encrypt the file with Ansible Vault before committing it to your repo. The data would be safe in your repo because the encrypted file would look like this:

# example vault.yml file -- encrypted
6237663637353638653266616562616535623465636265316231613331 etc.

Steps to enable Ansible Vault

1. Set vault password

Generate a long random password and save it as a string on a single line in a new file. Name the file .vault_pass and save it at the root of this project (e.g., next to ansible.cfg). You will probably want to run chmod 600 .vault_pass to restrict access to this file. This .vault_pass file will remain in plain text and should not be committed to your repo, so be sure that it is included in your .gitignore file.

If you prefer not to create a file with your vault password, you can add the --ask-vault-pass flag to your ansible-playbook commands, which will prompt you to enter your password via the command line.

2. Inform Ansible of vault password

The easiest way to inform Ansible of your vault password is to list your .vault_pass file as a default in ansible.cfg:

  # ansible.cfg
  roles_path = vendor/roles
  force_handlers = True
  inventory = hosts
+ vault_password_file = .vault_pass

If you prefer not to set this default in your ansible.cfg file, you can add the --vault-password-file .vault_pass flag to your ansible-playbook commands. Alternatively, you could add the --ask-vault-pass flag, causing the ansible-playbook command to prompt you to enter your password via the command line.

3. Encrypt files

Caution: If you have unencrypted vault.yml files in your project's git history (e.g., passwords in plain text), you will most likely want to change the variable values in your vault.yml files before encrypting them and committing them to your repo.

Encrypt your vault.yml files with the command ansible-vault encrypt <file>. The example below uses the command to encrypt the full list of vault.yml files (fileglobs are not supported, see

ansible-vault encrypt group_vars/all/vault.yml group_vars/development/vault.yml group_vars/staging/vault.yml group_vars/production/vault.yml

Other vault commands

Here are a few notable commands from the official Ansible Vault docs.

Working with vault variables

Here are a few conceptual tips for working with variables and vault in Trellis.

  • Variables with sensitive data such as passwords are defined in files named vault.yml.
  • Each environment has its own vault.yml file: group_vars/<environment>/vault.yml.
  • There is also one vault.yml file applicable to all environments: group_vars/all/vault.yml.
  • Variables named with the vault_ prefix are defined in the vault.yml files.
  • To view or edit an encrypted vault.yml file, use either ansible-vault view <file> or ansible-vault edit <file>. Avoid using the decrypt command. Any time you decrypt a file, you risk forgetting to re-encrypt the file before committing changes to your repo. You may want to employ a pre-commit hook (example) for added prevention.

Sharing a project with vault-encrypted files

Your repo with vault-encrypted files is secure from anyone being able to see or use the sensitive data in the vault.yml files. To grant a colleague access to the data, you will need to give your colleague your vault password to use in repeating the two password steps in the Steps to Enable Ansible Vault above. It is still recommended to always keep your project in a private repo.

Disabling Ansible Vault

It is not recommended to disable Ansible Vault but you can disable it at any time. Simply run ansible-vault decrypt <file1> <file2> <etc>. If you then commit the unencrypted files to your repo, the sensitive data will be in your repo in plain text and will be difficult to remove from the git history. If you re-enable vault in the future, you may want to change all the sensitive data, encrypt with vault, then commit the revised and encrypted vault.yml files to your repo.

Additional resources

ansible-toolkit provides a atk-git-diff command that allows you to do a git diff on encrypted files.