Facter 1.7+ and External facts

While Puppet may get all the glory, Facter, the hard working information gathering library that can, seldom gets much exciting new functionality. However with the release of Facter 1.7 Puppetlabs have standardised and included a couple of useful facter enhancements that make it easier than ever to add custom facts to your puppet runs.

These two improvements come under the banner of ‘External Facts’. The first allows you to surface your own facts from a static file, either plain text key value pairs or a specific YAML / JSON format. These static files should be placed under /etc/facter/facts.d

$ sudo mkdir -p /etc/facter/facts.d

# note - the .txt file extension
$ echo 'external_fact=yes' | sudo tee /etc/facter/facts.d/external_test.txt

$ facter external_fact

At its simplest this is a way to surface basic, static, details from system provisioning and other similar large events but it’s also an easy way to include details from other daemon and cronjobs. One of my first use cases for this was to create ‘last_backup_time’ and ‘last_backup_status’ facts that are written at the conclusion of my backup cronjob. Having the values inserted from out of band is a much nicer prospect that writing a custom fact that parses the cron logs.

If that’s a little too static for you then the second usage might be what you’re looking for. Any executable scripts dropped in the same directory that produce the same output formats as allowed above will be executed by facter when it’s invoked.

# scripts must be executable!
$ sudo chmod a+rx /etc/facter/facts.d/process_count

$ cat /etc/facter/facts.d/process_count

count=$(ps -efwww | wc -l | tr -s ' ')
echo "process_count=$count"

$ facter process_count

The ability to run scripts that provide facts and values makes customisation easier in situations where ruby isn’t the best language for the job. It’s also a nice way to reuse existing tools or for including information from further afield - such as the current binary log in use by MySQL or Postgres or the hosts current state in the load balancer.

While there have been third party extensions that provided this functionality for a while it’s great to see these enhancements get included in core facter.