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When things go wrong: Rollback

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Yea... things go wrong. But, but, but! Ansistrano is cool because if something fails, the symlink will never change and the site will continue using the old code. If you're following our "Safe Migrations" philosophy, then deploying is even safer: if your migrations run, but the deploy never finishes, your non-destructive migrations won't hurt the current code.

But sometimes... a deploy will finish... only for you to have the sudden, horrible realization, that something is now massively wrong with the site. Like, there are zombies all over it or something.

At this moment, fate presents you with 3 options:

  1. Run for your life!
  2. Quickly make a new commit to fix things and re-deploy.
  3. Rollback to the previous deploy.

Other than running out of the building screaming, rolling back is the fastest way to escape the problem. And fortunately, Ansistrano has a second role all about... rolling back: ansistrano.rollback.

To install it, open the requirements.yml file and add an entry. For the version... let's see. The latest version right now is 2.0.1. Let's use that:

9 lines | ansible/requirements.yml
// ... lines 1 - 6
- src: ansistrano.rollback
version: 2.0.1


Due to the changes in Ansible Galaxy, Ansistrano is installed now via ansistrano.rollback instead of the old carlosbuenosvinos.ansistrano-rollback.

To install the role, on your local terminal, run:

ansible-galaxy install -r ansible/requirements.yml

Creating the Rollback Playbook

The rollback process will be its own, simple playbook. Create it: rollback.yml. I'll open deploy.yml so we can steal things... starting with the host. Then, of course, we need to include the new role: ansistrano.rollback:

- hosts: aws
- ansistrano.rollback

Rolling back is way simpler than deploying, but it works in the same way: there are a few stages and we override variables to control things. The only variable we need to override is ansistrano_deploy_to. In deploy.yml, we imported a vars_files called vars.yml, and used it to help set this.

Let's do basically the same thing here. Copy part of the vars_files section, paste it, and just import vars.yml: we don't need the vault:

13 lines | ansible/rollback.yml
- hosts: aws
- ./vars/vars.yml
// ... lines 6 - 13

Back in deploy.yml, also steal ansistrano_deploy_to and add that to rollback.yml:

13 lines | ansible/rollback.yml
- hosts: aws
- ./vars/vars.yml
# Ansistrano vars
ansistrano_deploy_to: "{{ project_deploy_dir }}" # Base path to deploy to.
// ... lines 10 - 13


And... yea... that's basically it! So... let's try it! On the server, I'm already in /var/www/project. My current symlink is set, and releases has 3 directories inside.

Back on your local terminal... rollback!

ansible-playbook ansible/rollback.yml -i ansible/hosts.ini

That's it. It should only take a few seconds. It does delete the old release directory, but this - like most things - can be controlled with a variable.

Done! Back on the server... yes! The symlink changed. And one of our releases is gone!

Running Down Database Migrations

So rolling back is pretty easy. The most common issue involves migrations. Again, if you follow our "safe migrations" philosophy, you have nothing to worry about. But, if you're a bit more reckless - hey, no judgment - then you may need to manually run the down direction on some of your migrations after a rollback.


The variable is now called ansistrano_rollback_before_symlink_tasks_file instead of ansistrano_before_symlink_tasks_file.

Let's add a little "opportunity" for us to do that. Let me show you: copy the ansistrano_before_symlink_tasks_file variable. In rollback.yml, paste this and set it to a new rollback/before-symlink.yml:

16 lines | ansible/rollback.yml
- hosts: aws
// ... lines 3 - 6
// ... lines 8 - 10
# Hooks: custom tasks if you need them
ansistrano_before_symlink_tasks_file: '{{ playbook_dir }}/rollback/before-symlink.yml'
// ... lines 13 - 16

Now, create a new rollback/ directory with that file inside. Here, we'll add just one task: "Pause to run migrations manually down". Use the pause module to freeze the playbook and put up a message:

- name: Pause to run migrations manually down
prompt: "Please, run 'bin/console doctrine:migrations:execute YYYYMMDDHHMMSS --down' manually in '{{ ansistrano_release_path.stdout }}' if needed and press enter to continue"

This is our opportunity to manually execute any down migrations we want.

Hey, I know: it's not automated and it's not awesome. But, things have gone wrong, so it's time for us to take over.

Let's rollback one more time:

ansible-playbook ansible/rollback.yml -i ansible/hosts.ini

Here's the pause: it shows us the directory we should go into. Hit enter and it keeps going. Oh, and cool! It failed on one of the servers! That was unplanned... but awesome! That's the new server, and apparently we've only deployed there two times. So, there was no old version to rollback to. Ansistrano smartly prevented the rollback... instead of rolling back to nothing.

Ok guys... we're done! Woh! This tutorial was a crazy ride - I loved it! And I hope you did too. You can now deploy a killer Symfony site - or any site with Ansistrano. If this was all interesting but felt like a lot of work, don't forget about the platform-as-a-service options like Heroku or You don't have quite as much flexibility, and they're sometimes a bit more expensive, but a lot of what we learned is handled for you and you can get started really quickly.

Whatever you choose, go forth and build something awesome! Ok guys, I'll seeya next time!