Execution Modules

Salt execution modules are the functions called by the salt command.


Salt execution modules are different from state modules and cannot be called directly within state files. You must use the module state module to call execution modules within state runs.

Salt ships with many modules that cover a wide variety of tasks.

Modules Are Easy to Write!

Writing Salt execution modules is straightforward.

A Salt execution modules is a Python or Cython module placed in a directory called _modules/ within the file_roots as specified by the master config file. By default this is /srv/salt/_modules on Linux systems.

Modules placed in _modules/ will be synced to the minions when any of the following Salt functions are called:

Note that a module's default name is its filename (i.e. foo.py becomes module foo), but that its name can be overridden by using a __virtual__ function.

If a Salt module has errors and cannot be imported, the Salt minion will continue to load without issue and the module with errors will simply be omitted.

If adding a Cython module the file must be named <modulename>.pyx so that the loader knows that the module needs to be imported as a Cython module. The compilation of the Cython module is automatic and happens when the minion starts, so only the *.pyx file is required.

Cross-Calling Modules

All of the Salt execution modules are available to each other and modules can call functions available in other execution modules.

The variable __salt__ is packed into the modules after they are loaded into the Salt minion.

The __salt__ variable is a Python dictionary containing all of the Salt functions. Dictionary keys are strings representing the names of the modules and the values are the functions themselves.

Salt modules can be cross-called by accessing the value in the __salt__ dict:

def foo(bar):
    return __salt__['cmd.run'](bar)

This code will call the run function in the cmd and pass the argument bar to it.

Preloaded Execution Module Data

When interacting with execution modules often it is nice to be able to read information dynamically about the minion or to load in configuration parameters for a module.

Salt allows for different types of data to be loaded into the modules by the minion.

Grains Data

The values detected by the Salt Grains on the minion are available in a dict named __grains__ and can be accessed from within callable objects in the Python modules.

To see the contents of the grains dictionary for a given system in your deployment run the grains.items() function:

salt 'hostname' grains.items --output=pprint

Any value in a grains dictionary can be accessed as any other Python dictionary. For example, the grain representing the minion ID is stored in the id key and from an execution module, the value would be stored in __grains__['id'].

Module Configuration

Since parameters for configuring a module may be desired, Salt allows for configuration information from the minion configuration file to be passed to execution modules.

Since the minion configuration file is a YAML document, arbitrary configuration data can be passed in the minion config that is read by the modules. It is therefore strongly recommended that the values passed in the configuration file match the module name. A value intended for the test execution module should be named test.<value>.

The test execution module contains usage of the module configuration and the default configuration file for the minion contains the information and format used to pass data to the modules. salt.modules.test, conf/minion.

Printout Configuration

Since execution module functions can return different data, and the way the data is printed can greatly change the presentation, Salt has a printout configuration.

When writing a module the __outputter__ dictionary can be declared in the module. The __outputter__ dictionary contains a mapping of function name to Salt Outputter.

__outputter__ = {
                'run': 'txt'

This will ensure that the text outputter is used.

Virtual Modules

Sometimes an execution module should be presented in a generic way. A good example of this can be found in the package manager modules. The package manager changes from one operating system to another, but the Salt execution module that interfaces with the package manager can be presented in a generic way.

The Salt modules for package managers all contain a __virtual__ function which is called to define what systems the module should be loaded on.

The __virtual__ function is used to return either a string or False. If False is returned then the module is not loaded, if a string is returned then the module is loaded with the name of the string.


Optionally, modules may additionally return a list of reasons that a module could not be loaded. For example, if a dependency for 'my_mod' was not met, a __virtual__ function could do as follows:

return False, ['My Module must be installed before this module can be used.']

This means that the package manager modules can be presented as the pkg module regardless of what the actual module is named.

Since __virtual__ is called before the module is loaded, __salt__ will be unavailable as it will not have been packed into the module at this point in time.

The package manager modules are among the best example of using the __virtual__ function. Some examples:


Modules which return a string from __virtual__ that is already used by a module that ships with Salt will _override_ the stock module.


Salt execution modules are documented. The sys.doc() function will return the documentation for all available modules:

salt '*' sys.doc

The sys.doc function simply prints out the docstrings found in the modules; when writing Salt execution modules, please follow the formatting conventions for docstrings as they appear in the other modules.

Adding Documentation to Salt Modules

It is strongly suggested that all Salt modules have documentation added.

To add documentation add a Python docstring to the function.

def spam(eggs):
    A function to make some spam with eggs!

    CLI Example::

        salt '*' test.spam eggs
    return eggs

Now when the sys.doc call is executed the docstring will be cleanly returned to the calling terminal.

Documentation added to execution modules in docstrings will automatically be added to the online web-based documentation.

Add Execution Module Metadata

When writing a Python docstring for an execution module, add information about the module using the following field lists:

:maintainer:    Thomas Hatch <thatch@saltstack.com, Seth House <shouse@saltstack.com>
:maturity:      new
:depends:       python-mysqldb
:platform:      all

The maintainer field is a comma-delimited list of developers who help maintain this module.

The maturity field indicates the level of quality and testing for this module. Standard labels will be determined.

The depends field is a comma-delimited list of modules that this module depends on.

The platform field is a comma-delimited list of platforms that this module is known to run on.

Private Functions

In Salt, Python callable objects contained within an execution module are made available to the Salt minion for use. The only exception to this rule is a callable object with a name starting with an underscore _.

Objects Loaded Into the Salt Minion

def foo(bar):
    return bar

class baz:
    def __init__(self, quo):

Objects NOT Loaded into the Salt Minion

def _foobar(baz): # Preceded with an _
    return baz

cheese = {} # Not a callable Python object


Some callable names also end with an underscore _, to avoid keyword clashes with Python keywords. When using execution modules, or state modules, with these in them the trailing underscore should be omitted.

Useful Decorators for Modules

Depends Decorator

When writing execution modules there are many times where some of the module will work on all hosts but some functions have an external dependency, such as a service that needs to be installed or a binary that needs to be present on the system.

Instead of trying to wrap much of the code in large try/except blocks, a decorator can be used.

If the dependencies passed to the decorator don't exist, then the salt minion will remove those functions from the module on that host.

If a "fallback_function" is defined, it will replace the function instead of removing it

import logging

from salt.utils.decorators import depends

log = logging.getLogger(__name__)

    import dependency_that_sometimes_exists
except ImportError as e:
    log.trace('Failed to import dependency_that_sometimes_exists: {0}'.format(e))

def foo():
    Function with a dependency on the "dependency_that_sometimes_exists" module,
    if the "dependency_that_sometimes_exists" is missing this function will not exist
    return True

def _fallback():
    Fallback function for the depends decorator to replace a function with
    return '"dependency_that_sometimes_exists" needs to be installed for this function to exist'

@depends('dependency_that_sometimes_exists', fallback_function=_fallback)
def foo():
    Function with a dependency on the "dependency_that_sometimes_exists" module.
    If the "dependency_that_sometimes_exists" is missing this function will be
    replaced with "_fallback"
    return True

In addition to global dependancies the depends decorator also supports raw booleans.

from salt.utils.decorators import depends

HAS_DEP = False
    import dependency_that_sometimes_exists
    HAS_DEP = True
except ImportError:

def foo():
    return True