Automation is the new buzzword in networking today. By automation many people understand a configuration management system, i.e. keeping the devices’ configuration consistent across the network. Which is perfectly fine if that’s all you want, it is already a big step forward. But there are many use cases when you need much more than that! Therefore, in order to avoid any ambiguity, we have to use the right term: orchestration - which is… what SREs have been doing for years on servers. Of course configuration management is one of the required features, but not limited to: retrieving essential information about your devices, reacting to events and coordination are equally important.


To achieve these goals, for sure you need presence of mind and firstly draw your requirements. Doing what your neighbour/friend does, is not enough reason to repeat the same mistakes and find out after several months that your tools cannot do the job you actually need.

For network orchestration, I recommend two ingredients: Salt and NAPALM.


NAPALM stands for Network Automation and Programmability Abstraction Layer with Multivendor support is a Python library build by a community of passionate network engineers. It is a wrapper of different libraries that communicate directly with the network device. It has grown very fast and currently provides support for quite a few operating systems, most used being: JunOS, IOS-XR, EOS, IOS, NX-OS etc. - complete list at:


Without diving into extensive details and comparisons, Salt offers the greatest list of features you can get for free. On the other hand, keep in mind that the perfect software was not invented yet (and never will, in my opinion) - in order to make the right choice, you definitely need to know your goals and determine what product can accomplish them (or at least most of them). Right now, the major drawback of Salt is the setup (but will be simplified very soon). I provided some easier instruction notes in the dedicated repo under NAPALM having as target users the network engineers interested in this software; but after you have it up and running, everything is natural and the documentation is just great. This is also because the syntax is quite natural, e.g. it is close to obvious that executing snmp.config would provide the configuration of SNMP, ntp.peers the list of NTP peers configured on the device etc.

At Cloudflare we had certain requirements solved thanks to the following features:

  • Find reliably and fast relevant details (e.g. MAC addresses, IP addresses, interfaces given a circuit ID, VLAN IDs etc., looking into the ARP tables, MAC address tables, LLDP neighbors and other sources of information, from all network devices)
  • Schedule jobs to make sure the config is consistent (without running manually a command; yes, the system will do that for you!)
  • Parallel execution: it does not matter if you manage a single device or 1000, the response time will be the same!
  • Abstracted & vendor-agnostic configurations
  • Native cache, without requiring us to deploy and maintain complex database systems (e.g. LLDP neighbors details, which don’t change very often, you can cache the data and you can access it instantly whenever needed)
  • High availability
  • GPG encryption
  • Pull from Git or SVN

We have mixed them together and NAPALM will be fully integrated in the core of Salt beginning with release 2016.11: available documentation can be explored starting from the proxy module. This is very good news as the setup process will be highly simplified - you will only need to install (usually one command, e.g. for Debian: sudo apt-get install salt-master) & use.


The general picture is hub and spoke with a master controlling several minions. On the server side, on each minion server is installed a software package called salt-minion. This is currently impossible on all network devices, vendors still prefer to keep their platforms closed, not allowing to install custom software directly.

For these reasons, Salt introduced the proxy minion. The proxy is not a different platform, it is just another process forked per each minion representing the network device, emulating the behavior of a salt-minion. Basically it is still a hub and spoke pattern, but with virtual minions.

It is also worth looking at the speed: the connection is established just once and kept open; anytime you need to execute a command, the session is ready to deliver the data requested almost instantly.

How to use?

Assuming the environment is setup and ready to be used (see for example these notes), you are now ready to define the first device.

Proxy minion config

Under the directory specified as file_roots (default is /etc/salt/states) in the master config file create the SLS descriptor as specified in the napalm proxy documentation, say edge01_bjm01.sls corresponding to hostname edge01.bjm01. Example:

    proxytype: napalm
    driver: junos
    host: edge01.bjm01
    username: my_username
    passwd: my_password
        port: 12201
        config_format: set

In the top.sls file under the same directory must include the file defined above and map the name of the file with the minion ID you want:

    - edge01_bjm01

Which tells Salt that the minion edge01.bjm01 has associated the file descriptor edge01_bjm01 (without the .sls extension!). The minion ID does not need to correspond with the hostname or the filename, but it’s a good practice to have a consistent rule to avoid mistakes!

After each update of the top file, the salt-master process needs to be restarted. To do so, the process can be easier controlled using systemctl:

$ sudo systemctl restart salt-master

Similarly for the proxy minion process, using the minion ID, as specified in the top file:

$ sudo systemctl start [email protected]

For security reasons, the master will not accept every minion trying to connect and the command below is needed when the process is started for the very first time:

$ sudo salt-key -a edge01.bjm01

Logs can be found usually under /var/log/salt/master and /var/log/salt/proxy. The level can be set in the master config file specifying the desired level as log_level_logfile (default is warning). To store the logs in a different location, set the custom value for log_file - see more.

After the proxy minion process is started and the key accepted (see above), you are now able to execute:

$ sudo salt edge01.bjm01 net.connected

If everything is fine and the connection succeeded, will return True. Observe the command syntax begins with the keyword salt followed by the minion ID and then the name of the function.

Basic commands

Similarly, we can be execute the commands from the NET execution module, for example net.arp which returns the ARP table:

$ sudo salt edge01.bjm01 net.arp
              irb.10 [ae0.10]
              irb.10 [ae0.10]

Displaying the result in the default Salt specific format and color scheme (nested). A different format (e.g. YAML) can be specified using the --out option:

$ sudo salt --out=yaml edge01.bjm01 net.arp
  comment: ''
  - age: 1152.0
    interface: irb.10 [ae0.10]
    mac: 00:0F:53:2E:E1:A1
  - age: 995.0
    interface: irb.10 [ae0.10]
    mac: 00:0F:53:2E:C8:81
  result: true


$ sudo salt --out=json edge01.bjm01 net.arp
    "edge01.bjm01": {
        "comment": "",
        "result": true,
        "out": [
                "interface": "irb.10 [ae0.10]",
                "ip": "",
                "mac": "00:0F:53:2E:E1:A1",
                "age": 1152.0
                "interface": "irb.10 [ae0.10]",
                "ip": "",
                "mac": "00:0F:53:2E:C8:81",
                "age": 995.0

The complete list of available output formats can be found here.

We can use this exactly in the same manner for the other available modules (examples in the documentation): BGP, NTP, SNMP, Users, Route etc.

Targeting devices

In the examples above we have been working with one single minion for simplicity. It is very flexible to select the minions needed, using:

$ sudo salt 'edge*' net.traceroute

Select core routers from two locations (e.g.: core01.bjm01, core02.bjm01, core03.bjm01, core01.bjm02, core01.pos01, core07.pos02 etc.):

$ sudo salt -E 'core(.*)\.(bjm|pos)(.*)' net.lldp
  • list of IDs. E.g. retrieve the LLDP neighbors from two devices:
$ sudo salt -L 'edge01.bjm01, core01.pos01' net.lldp
  • data from the pillar, e.g. determine where username example is used for authentication using the proxy module NAPALM:
$ sudo salt -I 'proxy:username:example'
$ sudo salt 'edge*' -b 25% net.traceroute
  • compound: mixing all above plus grains – see next section). E.g. select edge routers which are Juniper MX480 running JunOS 14.2 (any release), using example as username for authentication:
$ sudo salt -C 'edge* and G@model:MX480 and G@version:14.2* and I@proxy:username:example'
  • nodegroups are static replacements for complex compound matchers as in the example above. To avoid typing the same structure repeatedly, can define in the master config file the structure:
  winners: 'edge* and G@model:MX480 and G@version:14.2* and I@proxy:username:example'
  juniper-cores: 'core* and G@os:junos'

And call using:

$ sudo salt -N winners
$ sudo salt -N juniper-cores net.mac


Moving forward, let’s introduce the grains selector – they help you select devices based on their characteristics. This information is collected immediately after the connection is established. Few examples:

  • Execute the raw CLI command show version on all devices running JunOS:
$ sudo salt -G 'os:junos' net.cli "show version"
  • Retrieve the ARP table from all Cisco routers running IOS-XR 6.0.2:
$ sudo salt -G 'os:iosxr and version:6.0.2' net.arp
  • Retrieve the RPM probes results from all Juniper MX480 routers:
$ sudo salt -G 'model:MX480' probes.results
  • Display the serial number from all devices whose serial number begins with FOX:
$ sudo salt -G 'serial:FOX*' grains.get serial


We have been introduced to the very basic setup details and a brief introduction to the command syntax and available execution modules. Salt is a swiss knife, very complex, with tons of features ready to help; there are about 20 more types of modules and they cannot be covered in a single post. Many features means also a lot of documentation to read. Stay tunned: in the next blog posts, I will explain and exemplify some of the key features in order to ease the learning process for network engineers!