Dependency confusion in the Ansible Galaxy CLI

I hope you enjoyed my last post about Ansible Galaxy Namespaces. In there I noted that I originally looked for something completely different and the namespace takeover was rather accidental.

Well, originally I was looking at how the different Ansible content hosting services and their client (ansible-galaxy) behave in regard to clashes in naming of the hosted content.

"Ansible content hosting services"?! There are currently three main ways for users to obtain Ansible content:

  • Ansible Galaxy - the original, community oriented, free hosting platform
  • Automation Hub - the place for Red Hat certified and supported content, available only with a Red Hat subscription, hosted by Red Hat
  • Ansible Automation Platform - the on-premise version of Automation Hub, syncs content from there and allows customers to upload own content

Now the question I was curious about was: how would the tooling behave if different sources would offer identically named content?

This was inspired by Alex Birsan: Dependency Confusion: How I Hacked Into Apple, Microsoft and Dozens of Other Companies and zofrex: Bundler is Still Vulnerable to Dependency Confusion Attacks (CVE⁠-⁠2020⁠-⁠36327), who showed that the tooling for Python, Node.js and Ruby can be tricked into fetching content from "the wrong source", thus allowing an attacker to inject malicious code into a deployment.

For the rest of this article, it's not important that there are different implementations of the hosting services, only that users can configure and use multiple sources at the same time.

The problem is that, if the user configures their server_list to contain multiple Galaxy-compatible servers, like Ansible Galaxy and Automation Hub, and then asks to install a collection, the Ansible Galaxy CLI will ask every server in the list, until one returns a successful result. The exact order seems to differ between versions, but this doesn't really matter for the issue at hand.

Imagine someone wants to install the redhat.satellite collection from Automation Hub (using ansible-galaxy collection install redhat.satellite). Now if their configuration defines Galaxy as the first, and Automation Hub as the second server, Galaxy is always asked whether it has redhat.satellite and only if the answer is negative, Automation Hub is asked. Today there is no redhat namespace on Galaxy, but there is a redhat user on GitHub, so…

The canonical answer to this issue is to use a requirements.yml file and setting the source parameter. This parameter allows you to express "regardless which sources are configured, please fetch this collection from here". That's is nice, but I think this not being the default syntax (contrary to what e.g. Bundler does) is a bad approach. Users might overlook the security implications, as the shorter syntax without the source just "magically" works.

However, I think this is not even the main problem here. The documentation says: Once a collection is found, any of its requirements are only searched within the same Galaxy instance as the parent collection. The install process will not search for a collection requirement in a different Galaxy instance. But as it turns out, the source behavior was changed and now only applies to the exact collection it is set for, not for any dependencies this collection might have.

For the sake of the example, imagine two collections: evgeni.test1 and evgeni.test2, where test2 declares a dependency on test1 in its galaxy.yml. Actually, no need to imagine, both collections are available in version 1.0.0 from and test1 version 2.0.0 is available from

Now, given our recent reading of the docs, we craft the following requirements.yml:

- name: evgeni.test2
  version: '*'

In a perfect world, following the documentation, this would mean that both collections are fetched from, right? However, this is not what ansible-galaxy does. It will fetch evgeni.test2 from the specified source, determine it has a dependency on evgeni.test1 and fetch that from the "first" available source from the configuration.

Take for example the following ansible.cfg:

server_list = test_galaxy, release_galaxy, test_galaxy



And try to install collections, using the above requirements.yml:

% ansible-galaxy collection install -r requirements.yml -vvv                 
ansible-galaxy 2.9.27
  config file = /home/evgeni/Devel/ansible-wtf/collections/ansible.cfg
  configured module search path = ['/home/evgeni/.ansible/plugins/modules', '/usr/share/ansible/plugins/modules']
  ansible python module location = /usr/lib/python3.10/site-packages/ansible
  executable location = /usr/bin/ansible-galaxy
  python version = 3.10.0 (default, Oct  4 2021, 00:00:00) [GCC 11.2.1 20210728 (Red Hat 11.2.1-1)]
Using /home/evgeni/Devel/ansible-wtf/collections/ansible.cfg as config file
Reading requirement file at '/home/evgeni/Devel/ansible-wtf/collections/requirements.yml'
Found installed collection theforeman.foreman:3.0.0 at '/home/evgeni/.ansible/collections/ansible_collections/theforeman/foreman'
Process install dependency map
Processing requirement collection 'evgeni.test2'
Collection 'evgeni.test2' obtained from server explicit_requirement_evgeni.test2
Opened /home/evgeni/.ansible/galaxy_token
Processing requirement collection 'evgeni.test1' - as dependency of evgeni.test2
Collection 'evgeni.test1' obtained from server test_galaxy
Starting collection install process
Installing 'evgeni.test2:1.0.0' to '/home/evgeni/.ansible/collections/ansible_collections/evgeni/test2'
Downloading to /home/evgeni/.ansible/tmp/ansible-local-133/tmp9uqyjgki
Installing 'evgeni.test1:2.0.0' to '/home/evgeni/.ansible/collections/ansible_collections/evgeni/test1'
Downloading to /home/evgeni/.ansible/tmp/ansible-local-133/tmp9uqyjgki

As you can see, evgeni.test1 is fetched from, instead of Now, if those servers instead would be Galaxy and Automation Hub, and somebody managed to snag the redhat namespace on Galaxy, I would be now getting the wrong stuff… Another problematic setup would be with Galaxy and on-prem Ansible Automation Platform, as you can have any namespace on the later and these most certainly can clash with namespaces on public Galaxy.

I have reported this behavior to Ansible Security on 2021-08-26, giving a 90 days disclosure deadline, which expired on 2021-11-24.

So far, the response was that this is working as designed, to allow cross-source dependencies (e.g. a private collection referring to one on Galaxy) and there is an issue to update the docs to match the code. If users want to explicitly pin sources, they are supposed to name all dependencies and their sources in requirements.yml. Alternatively they obviously can configure only one source in the configuration and always mirror all dependencies.

I am not happy with this and I think this is terrible UX, explicitly inviting people to make mistakes.


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