External Pillars

Salt provides a mechanism for generating pillar data by calling external pillar interfaces. This document will describe an outline of an ext_pillar module.


Salt expects to find your ext_pillar module in the same location where it looks for other python modules. If the extension_modules option in your Salt master configuration is set, Salt will look for a pillar directory under there and load all the modules it finds. Otherwise, it will look in your Python site-packages salt/pillar directory.


The external pillars that are called when a minion refreshes its pillars is controlled by the ext_pillar option in the Salt master configuration. You can pass a single argument, a list of arguments or a dictionary of arguments to your pillar:

  - example_a: some argument
  - example_b:
    - argumentA
    - argumentB
  - example_c:
      keyA: valueA
      keyB: valueB

The Module

Imports and Logging

Import modules your external pillar module needs. You should first include generic modules that come with stock Python:

import logging

And then start logging. This is an idiomatic way of setting up logging in Salt:

log = logging.getLogger(__name__)

Finally, load modules that are specific to what you are doing. You should catch import errors and set a flag that the __virtual__ function can use later.

    import weird_thing

except ImportError:


If you define an __opts__ dictionary, it will be merged into the __opts__ dictionary handed to the ext_pillar function later. This is a good place to put default configuration items. The convention is to name things modulename.option.

__opts__ = {"example_a.someconfig": 137}


If you define an __init__ function, it will be called with the following signature:

def __init__(__opts__):
    # Do init work here

Note: The __init__ function is ran every time a particular minion causes the external pillar to be called, so don't put heavy initialization code here. The __init__ functionality is a side-effect of the Salt loader, so it may not be as useful in pillars as it is in other Salt items.


If you define a __virtual__ function, you can control whether or not this module is visible. If it returns False then Salt ignores this module. If it returns a string, then that string will be how Salt identifies this external pillar in its ext_pillar configuration. If you're not renaming the module, simply return True in the __virtual__ function, which is the same as if this function did not exist, then, the name Salt's ext_pillar will use to identify this module is its conventional name in Python.

This is useful to write modules that can be installed on all Salt masters, but will only be visible if a particular piece of software your module requires is installed.

# This external pillar will be known as `example_a`
def __virtual__():
        return True
    return False
# This external pillar will be known as `something_else`
__virtualname__ = "something_else"

def __virtual__():
        return __virtualname__
    return False


This is where the real work of an external pillar is done. If this module is active and has a function called ext_pillar, whenever a minion updates its pillar this function is called.

How it is called depends on how it is configured in the Salt master configuration. The first argument is always the current pillar dictionary, this contains pillar items that have already been added, starting with the data from pillar_roots, and then from any already-ran external pillars.

Using our example above:

ext_pillar(id, pillar, "some argument")  # example_a
ext_pillar(id, pillar, "argumentA", "argumentB")  # example_b
ext_pillar(id, pillar, keyA="valueA", keyB="valueB")  # example_c

In the example_a case, pillar will contain the items from the pillar_roots, in example_b pillar will contain that plus the items added by example_a, and in example_c pillar will contain that plus the items added by example_b. In all three cases, id will contain the ID of the minion making the pillar request.

This function should return a dictionary, the contents of which are merged in with all of the other pillars and returned to the minion. Note: this function is called once for each minion that fetches its pillar data.

def ext_pillar(minion_id, pillar, *args, **kwargs):

    my_pillar = {"external_pillar": {}}

    my_pillar["external_pillar"] = get_external_pillar_dictionary()

    return my_pillar

You can call pillar with the dictionary's top name to retrieve its data. From above example, 'external_pillar' is the top dictionary name. Therefore:

salt '*' pillar.get external_pillar

You shouldn't just add items to pillar and return that, since that will cause Salt to merge data that already exists. Rather, just return the items you are adding or changing. You could, however, use pillar in your module to make some decision based on pillar data that already exists.

This function has access to some useful globals:


A dictionary of mostly Salt configuration options. If you had an __opts__ dictionary defined in your module, those values will be included.


A dictionary of Salt module functions, useful so you don't have to duplicate functions that already exist. E.g. __salt__['cmd.run']( 'ls -l' ) Note, runs on the master


A dictionary of the grains of the minion making this pillar call.

Example configuration

As an example, if you wanted to add external pillar via the cmd_json external pillar, add something like this to your master config:

  - cmd_json: 'echo {\"arg\":\"value\"}'


Just as with traditional pillars, external pillars must be refreshed in order for minions to see any fresh data:

salt '*' saltutil.refresh_pillar