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Tip of the Week 16 - Hiera 5

With the release of Puppet 4.9, version 5 of Hiera has landed on our Puppet servers, introducing some very interesting evolutions.

Hiera is Puppet’s builtin key/value data lookup system, which has some peculiar characteristics:

  • It’s hierarchical: We can configure different hierarchies of data sources and these are traversed in order to find the value of the desired key, from the layer at the top, to the one at the bottom

  • It has a modular backend system: data can be stored on different places, according to the used plugins, from simple Yaml or Json files, to MongoDb, Mysql, PostgreSQL, Redis and others

Hiera is important because it allows to assign values to the parameters of Puppet classes: a parameter called server of a class called ntp, for example, can be evaluated via a lookup of the Hiera key ntp::server, this is useful to cleanly separate our Puppet code, where we define the resources we want to apply to our nodes, from the data which defines how these resources should be.

The new version of Hiera is backwards compatible with earlier version: if you don’t use custom plugins you should be able to seamlessly use your existing data sources, it’s also compatible with Puppet lookup function and face and actually you can upgrade Puppet with Hiera 5 without problems, you will just have some deprecation warnings about things that have changed (some issues were actually introduced in Puppet 4.9.0, the very first version with Hiera 5, but were promptly solved in later releases).

So, what’s new and exciting about Hiera 5?

A new hiera.yaml format

Hiera’s configuration file (hiera.yaml) has changed format, here’s the default, which uses the core Yaml backend and has only a layer called common:

version: 5
  - name: Common              # A level of the hierarchy. They can be more using different data sources
    path: common.yaml         # The path of the file, under the datadir, where data is stored
  data_hash: yaml_data        # Use the YAML backend
  datadir: data               # Yaml files are stored in the data dir of your Puppet environment

Here’s a bit more complex example, where the popular Hiera-eyaml backend is used (a backend that uses Yaml files and allows the encryption of single keys) and multiple paths are defined (they are equivalent of having multiple hierarchy levels):

version: 5

  - name: "Eyaml hierarchy"
    lookup_key: eyaml_lookup_key         # Use eyaml backend. Note this can be specified for each level
    paths:                               # Instead of multiple hierarchy levels we can define just one with
      - "nodes/%{trusted.certname}.yaml" # multiple paths, when the same backend is used. It's exactly the same.
      - "role/%{::role}-%{::env}.yaml"
      - "role/%{::role}.yaml"
      - "common.yaml"
    options:                             # Hiera-eyaml specific options (the paths of the keypair used for encryption)
      pkcs7_private_key: /etc/puppetlabs/puppet/keys/private_key.pkcs7.pem
      pkcs7_public_key:  /etc/puppetlabs/puppet/keys/public_key.pkcs7.pem

  datadir: data

For full reference on the format of Hiera 5 configuration file, check the Official Documentation

Environment and module data

Hiera 4, used from Puppet versions 4.3 to 4.8, introduced the possibility of defining, inside a module, the default values of each class parameter using Hiera.

The actual user data, outside modules, was configured by a global /etc/puppetlabs/puppet/hiera.yaml file, which defines Hiera configurations for every Puppet environment.

Now is possible to have environment specific configurations, so we can have a hiera.yaml inside a environment directory which may be different for each environment (/etc/puppetlabs/code/environments/$environment_name/hiera.yaml). This is useful to test hierarchies or backend changes before committing them to the production environment.

We can have also per module configurations, so in a NTP module, for example, we can have a $module_path/users/hiera.yaml with the, now familiar, version 5 syntax:

version: 5

  datadir: data
  data_hash: yaml_data

  - name: "In module hierarchy"
      - "%{facts.virtual}.yaml"
      - "%{}-%{facts.os.release.major}.yaml"
      - "%{}.yaml"
      - "%{}-%{facts.os.release.major}.yaml"
      - "%{}.yaml"
      - "common.yaml"

this refers yaml files under the data directory of the module.

The interesting thing in this is that we have a uniform and common way to lookup for data, across the three layers: global, environment and module: each hierarchy of each layer is used to compose a “super hierarchy” which is traversed seamlessly.

In the module data is also possible to define the kind of lookup to perform for each class parameter.

Previously the lookup was always a “normal” one: the value returned is the one of the key found the first time while traversing the hierarchy.

Now (actually since Hiera 4) it’s possible to specify for some parameters alternative lookup methods (for example merging all the values found across the hierarchy for the requested key). This is done in the same data files where we specify our key values, so, for example, in our $module_path/users/data/common.yaml we can have:

  users::local:                     # This lookup option applies to parameter 'local' of class 'users'
    merge:                          # Merge the values found across hierarchies, instead of getting the first one
      strategy: deep                # Do a deep merge, useful when dealing with Hashes (to override single subkeys)
      merge_hash_arrays: true
  users::admins:                    # This lookup option applies to parameter 'admins' of class 'users'
      strategy: unique              # In this case we expect an array and will merge all the values found in a single one
      knockout_prefix: "--"         # It's even possible to define a prefix (here --) to force the removal of entries
                                    # even if they are present in other layers

Note that you can use regular expressions when defining specific lookup options for some keys:

      strategy: deep
      knockout_prefix: "--"
      strategy: unique
      knockout_prefix: "--"

The lookup command

It’s possible to use the puppet lookup command to query Hiera for a given key.

If you run this on your Puppet Master you can easily find out the value of a given key for the specified node:

puppet lookup profiles --node git.lab # Looks for the profiles key on the node git.lab

If you add the --debug option you will see a lot of useful information about where and how data is looked for.

You can also use the lookup() function inside your Puppet code, it replaces (and deprecates), the old hiera(), hiera_array(), hiera_hash() and hiera_include().

The general syntax is:



lookup( [<NAME>], <OPTIONS HASH> )

Some examples:

lookup('ntp::user') # Normal lookup. Same of hiera('ntp::user')
lookup('ntp::user','root') # Normal lookup with default. Same of hiera('ntp::user','root')
lookup('ntp_servers', Array, 'unique') # Array lookup, same of hiera_array('ntp_servers')
lookup('users', Hash, 'deep') # Deep merge lookup, same of hiera_hash('users') with deep_merge set to true
lookup('classes', Array[String], 'unique').include # Same of hiera_include('classes')

  'name'  => 'ntp_servers',
  'merge' => {
    'strategy'        => 'deep',
    'knockout_prefix' => '--',

Check the official reference for all the options available for the lookup function.


Hiera 5 seems to finally put together years of Hiera evolution: it has a uniform approach to global, environment and module data, it has an easy to use command to query keys and gives users and modules authors much more flexibility on how data should be looked up. It also makes users like easier (if they use the Yaml backend, they can see directly in modules’ data the format of the keys to configure) and, it seems, has some performance benefits.

Finally, and yet not mentioned here, it allows easier creation of custom backends.

You can start to use it with your existing Puppet code base (if already Puppet 4 ready) and it allows gradual migration or your data.

Embrace changes, Hiera 5 is here and now, for better Puppet data management.

Alessandro Franceschi