Variables and Parameters

Quest objectives

  • Learn how to assign and evaluate variables in a manifest.
  • Use the string interpolation syntax to mix variables into strings.
  • Set variable values with class parameters.

Getting started

If you completed the NTP and MySQL quests, you've already seen how class parameters let you adjust classes from a module to suit your specific needs. In this quest, we'll show you how to integrate variables into your classes and make those variables accessible to be set through parameters.

To explore these concepts, you'll write a module to manage a static HTML website. First, you'll create a simple web class with file resource declarations to manage your website's HTML documents. By assigning repeated values like filepaths to variables, you will make your class more concise and easier to refactor later. Once this basic class structure is complete, you'll add parameters. This will let you set the value of your class's variables as you declare it.

When you're ready to get started, enter the following command:

quest begin variables_and_parameters


Beauty is variable, ugliness is constant.

-Douglas Horton

In Puppet, variable names are prefixed with a $ (dollar sign), and a value is assigned with the = operator.

Assigning a short string to a variable, for example, would look like this:

$myvariable = 'look, a string!'

Once you have defined a variable you can use it anywhere in your manifest you would have used the assigned value.

The basics of variables will seem familiar if you know another scripting or programming language. However, there are a few caveats you should be aware of when using variables in Puppet:

  1. Unlike resource declarations, variable assignments are parse-order dependent. This means that you must assign a variable in your manifest before you can use it.

  2. If you try to use a variable that has not been defined, the Puppet parser won't complain. Instead, Puppet will treat the variable as having the special undef value. Though this may cause an error later in the compilation process, in some cases it will pass through and cause unexpected results.

  3. You can only assign a variable once within a single scope. Once it's assigned, the value cannot be changed. The value of a Puppet variable may vary across different systems in your infrastructure, but not within them.

Variable interpolation

Variable interpolation lets you insert the value of a variable into a string. For instance, if you wanted Puppet to manage several files in the /var/www/quest directory, you could assign this directory path to a variable:

$doc_root = '/var/www/quest/'

Once the variable is set, you can avoid repeating the same directory path by inserting the $doc_root variable into the beginning of any string.

For example, you might use it in the title of a few file resource declarations:

file { "${doc_root}index.html":
file { "${doc_root}about.html":

Notice the different variable syntax here. The variable name is wrapped in curly braces, and the whole thing is preceded by the $ (${var_name}).

Also note that a string that includes an interpolated variable must be wrapped in double quotation marks ("..."), rather than the single quotation marks that surround an ordinary string. These double quotation marks tell Puppet to find and parse special syntax within the string, rather than interpreting it literally.

Manage web content with variables

To better understand how variables work in context, we'll walk you through creating a simple web module that will put them to use.

Task 1:

First, you'll need to create the directory structure for your module.

Make sure you're in the modules directory for Puppet's modulepath.

cd /etc/puppetlabs/code/environments/production/modules/

Now create an web directory and your manifests and examples directories:

mkdir -p web/{manifests,examples}

Task 2:

With this structure in place, you're ready to create your main manifest where you'll define the web class. Create the file with vim:

vim web/manifests/init.pp

And then add the following contents (remember to use :set paste in vim):

class web {

  $doc_root = '/var/www/quest/'

  $english = 'Hello world!'
  $french = 'Bonjour le monde!'

  file { "${doc_root}hello.html":
    ensure => present,
    content => "<em>${english}</em>",

  file { "${doc_root}bonjour.html":
    ensure => present,
    content => "<em>${french}</em>",


Note that if you wanted to make a change to the $doc_root directory, you'd only have to do this in one place. While there are more advanced forms of data separation in Puppet, the basic principle is the same: The more distinct your code is from the underlying data, the more reusable it is, and the less difficult it will be to refactor when you have to make changes later.

Task 3:

Once you've validated your manifest with the puppet parser tool, create a test for your manifest with an include statement for the web class you created (you covered testing in the "Modules" quest).

Task 4:

Create a web/examples/init.pp manifest and insert include web. Save and exit the file, then apply it, using the --noop flag (puppet apply --noop web/examples/init.pp). If your dry run looks good, run puppet apply again without the flag:

puppet apply --noop web/examples/init.pp

Take a look at <VM'S IP>/hello.html and <VM'S IP>/bonjour.html to see your new pages.

Class parameters

Freedom is not the absence of obligation or restraint, but the freedom of movement within healthy, chosen parameters.

-Kristin Armstrong

Now that you have a basic web class done, we'll move on to class parameters. Class parameters give you a way to set the variables within a class as it's declared rather than hard-coding them into a class definition.

When defining a class, include a list of parameters and optional default values between the class name and the opening curly brace:

class classname ( $parameter = 'default' ) {

Once defined, a parameterized class can be declared with a syntax similar to that of resource declarations, including key value pairs for each parameter you want to set.

class {'classname': 
  parameter => 'value',

Say you want to deploy your webpage to servers around the world, and want changes in content depending on the language in each region. Instead of rewriting the whole class or module for each region, you can use class parameters to customize these values as the class is declared.

Task 5:

To get started re-writing your web class with parameters, reopen the web/manifests/init.pp manifest. To create a new regionalized page, you need to be able to set the message and page name as class parameters.

class web ( $page_name, $message ) {

Now create a third file resource declaration to use the variables set by your parameters:

file { "${doc_root}${page_name}.html":
  ensure => present,
  content => "<em>${message}</em>",

Task 6:

As before, use the test manifest to declare the class. You'll open web/examples/init.pp and replace the simple include statement with the parameterized class declaration syntax to set each of the class parameters:

class {'web': 
  page_name => 'hola',
  message   => 'Hola mundo!',

Task 7:

Now give it a try. Go ahead and do a --noop run, then apply the test.

Your new page should now be available at <VM'S IP>/hola.html!


In this quest you've learned how to take your Puppet manifests to the next level by using variables. You learned how to assign a value to a variable and then reference the variable by name whenever you need its content. You also learned how to interpolate variables and add parameters to a class.

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