_  __     _
__   ____| |/ _| __| | _____   __
\ \ / / _` | |_ / _` |/ _ \ \ / /
 \ V / (_| |  _| (_| |  __/\ V /
  \_/ \__,_|_|(_)__,_|\___| \_/

Lessons learned writing a custom Salt renderer.

I had to write a custom SaltStack renderer, and while the concept sounded simple, it took longer than I expected. I ran into several “gotchas” as a beginner, so I list them here for you to learn from my mistakes.

For consistency purposes, I changed all references to the custom renderer to be called “foo”, as if I were adding salt://_renderes/foo.py.

Gotcha 1: Renderer is not available

The first issue I faced was with this error on the pillar trying to use the new renderer:

The renderer "yaml | foo" is not available

This error was happening even though I had followed the instructions to use the commands below:

salt '*' saltutil.sync_renderers
salt '*' saltutil.sync_all
salt '*' state.apply

These commands would even print out the foo.py being sent to the minions.

The gotcha here is that salt '*' actually executes commands on the minions, while the pillar rendering happens on the master. So, instead, use salt-run:

salt-run saltutil.sync_renderers

The salt-run should copy the new renderer to /var/cache/salt/master/extmods, and you can check this folder on the master to make sure the content matches salt://_renderes/foo.py.

Gotcha 2: Pillar needs to be refreshed

While in the beginning I tried to check that the pillar was being rendered correctly by creating a new state that consumed it, a better approach is to check directly the Pillar values sent from the master to the minions.

To that end, salt '*' pillar.get <<PILLAR KEY>> has a gotcha: it will come empty until you do salt '*' saltutil.refresh_pillar. Same for salt '*' pillar.raw. On the other hand, salt '*' pillar.data does not require refreshing it beforehand. However, I felt that the usability of pillar.data to be poor given that it outputs all pillars, requiring you to do extra processing to filter only the desired pillar key.

Gotcha 3: Salt swallowing some errors

Most of the exceptions thrown during the execution of the renderer could be seen at /var/logs/salt/master, which made them easy to debug. However, when using the same renderer in another machine, the pillar would just not generate any values and also show no errors. It took me a long time to figure out that Salt was swallowing an error on the renderer, given the incosistent behavior. The issue was with a import statement because of a missing dependency.

The gotcha here to avoid salt swallowing the error is to use the -ldebug flag and specifically ask salt to only render the pillar data:

salt-call --local --ldebug slsutil.renderer /path/to/pillar.sls


Salt seems to be a very interesting technology, and I hope this helps you avoid some of these issues :).

Written on January 20, 2022