Linux OS Patching with Puppet Tasks

One of the biggest gaps in most IT security policies is a very basic feature, patching. Specific numbers vary, but most surveys show a majority of hacks are due to unpatched vulnerabilities. Sadly, in 2018, automatic patching on servers is still out of the grasp of many, especially those running older OSes.

While there are a number of solutions out there from OS vendors (WSUS for Microsoft, Satellite for RHEL, etc.), I manage a number of OSes and the one commonality is that they are all managed by Puppet. A single solution with central reporting of success and failure sounds like a plan. I took a look at Puppet solutions and found a module called os_patching by Tony Green. I really like this module and what it has to offer, even though it doesn’t address all my concerns at this time. It shows a lot of promise and I suspect I will be working with Tony on some features I’d like to see in the future.

Currently, os_patching only supports Red Hat/Debian-based Linux distributions. Support is planned for Windows, and I know someone is looking at contributing to provide SuSE support. The module will collect information on patching that can be used for reporting, and patching is performed through a Task, either at the CLI or using the PE console’s Task pane.


Configuring your system to use the module is pretty easy. Add the module to your Puppetfile / .fixtures.yml, add a feature flag to your profile, and include os_patching behind the feature flag. Implement your tests and you’re good to go. Your only real decision is whether you default the feature flag to enabled or disabled. In my home network, I will enable it, but a production environment may want to disable it by default and enable it as an override through hiera. Because the fact collects data from the node, it will add a few seconds to each agent’s runtime, so be sure to include that in your calculation.

Adding the module is pretty simple, Here are theĀ Puppetfile / .fixtures.yml diffs:

# Puppetfile
mod 'albatrossflavour/os_patching', '0.3.5'

# .fixtures.yml
      repo: "albatrossflavour/os_patching"
      ref: "0.3.5"

Next, we need an update to our tests. I will be adding this to my profile::base, so I modify that spec file. Add a test for the default feature flag setting, and one for the non-default setting. Flip the to and not_to if you default the feature flag to disabled. If you run the tests now, you’ll get a failure, which is expected since there is no supporting code in the class yet.(there is more to the test, I have only included the framework plus the next tests):

require 'spec_helper'
describe 'profile::base', :type => :class do
  on_supported_os.each do |os, facts|
    let (:facts) {

    context 'with defaults for all parameters' do
      it { contain_class('os_patching') }

    context 'with manage_os_patching enabled' do
      let (:params) do {
        manage_os_patching: false,

      # Disabled feature flags
      it { is_expected.not_to contain_class('os_patching') }

Finally, add the feature flag and feature to profile::base (the additions are in italics):

class profile::base (
  Hash    $sudo_confs = {},
  Boolean $manage_puppet_agent = true,
  Boolean $manage_firewall = true,
  Boolean $manage_syslog = true,
  Boolean $manage_os_patching = true,
) {
  if $manage_firewall {
    include profile::linuxfw

  if $manage_puppet_agent {
    include puppet_agent
  if $manage_syslog {
    include rsyslog::client
  if $manage_os_patching {
    include os_patching

Your tests will pass now. That’s all it takes! For any nodes where it is enabled, you will see a new fact and some scripts pushed down on the next run:

[rnelson0@build03 controlrepo:production]$ sudo puppet agent -t
Info: Using configured environment 'production'
Info: Retrieving pluginfacts
Info: Retrieving plugin
Notice: /File[/opt/puppetlabs/puppet/cache/lib/facter/os_patching.rb]/ensure: defined content as '{md5}af52580c4d1fb188061e0c51593cf80f'
Info: Retrieving locales
Info: Loading facts
Info: Caching catalog for
Info: Applying configuration version '1535052836'
Notice: /Stage[main]/Os_patching/File[/etc/os_patching]/ensure: created
Info: /Stage[main]/Os_patching/File[/etc/os_patching]: Scheduling refresh of Exec[/usr/local/bin/]
Notice: /Stage[main]/Os_patching/File[/usr/local/bin/]/ensure: defined content as '{md5}af4ff2dd24111a4ff532504c806c0dde'
Info: /Stage[main]/Os_patching/File[/usr/local/bin/]: Scheduling refresh of Exec[/usr/local/bin/]
Notice: /Stage[main]/Os_patching/Exec[/usr/local/bin/]: Triggered 'refresh' from 2 events
Notice: /Stage[main]/Os_patching/Cron[Cache patching data]/ensure: created
Notice: /Stage[main]/Os_patching/Cron[Cache patching data at reboot]/ensure: created
Notice: Applied catalog in 54.18 seconds

You can now examine a new fact, os_patching, which will shows tons of information including the pending package updates, the number of packages, which ones are security patches, whether the node is blocked (explained in a bit), and whether a reboot is required:

[rnelson0@build03 controlrepo:production]$ sudo facter -p os_patching
  package_updates => [
  package_update_count => 300,
  security_package_updates => [
  security_package_update_count => 3,
  blocked => false,
  blocked_reasons => [],
  blackouts => {},
  pinned_packages => [],
  last_run => {},
  patch_window => "",
  reboots => {
    reboot_required => "unknown"

Additional Configuration

There are a number of other settings you can configure if you’d like.

  • patch_window: a string descriptor used to “tag” a group of machines, i.e. Week3 or Group2
  • blackout_windows: a hash of datetime start/end dates during which updates are blocked
  • security_only: boolean, when enabled only the security_package_updates packages and dependencies are updated
  • reboot_override: boolean, overrides the task’s reboot flag (default: false)
  • dpkg_options/yum_options: a string of additional flags/options to dpkg or yum, respectively

You can set these in hiera. For instance, my global config has some blackout windows for the next few years:

  'End of year 2018 change freeze':
    'start': '2018-12-15T00:00:00+1000'
    'end':   '2019-01-05T23:59:59+1000'
  'End of year 2019 change freeze':
    'start': '2019-12-15T00:00:00+1000'
    'end':   '2020-01-05T23:59:59+1000'
  'End of year 2020 change freeze':
    'start': '2020-12-15T00:00:00+1000'
    'end':   '2021-01-05T23:59:59+1000'
  'End of year 2021 change freeze':
    'start': '2021-12-15T00:00:00+1000'
    'end':   '2022-01-05T23:59:59+1000'

Patching Tasks

Once the module is installed and all of your agents have picked up the new config, they will start reporting their patch status. You can query nodes with outstanding patches using PQL. A search like inventory[certname] {facts.os_patching.package_update_count > 0 and facts.clientcert !~ 'puppet'} can find all your agents that have outstanding patches (except puppet – kernel patches require reboots and puppet will have a hard time talking to itself across a reboot). You can also select against a patch_window selection with and facts.os_patching.patch_window = "Week3" or similar. You can then provide that query to the command line task:

puppet task run os_patching::patch_server --query="inventory[certname] {facts.os_patching.package_update_count > 0 and facts.clientcert !~ 'puppet'}"

Or use the Console’s Task view to run the task against the PQL selection:

Add any other parameters you want in the dialog/CLI args, like setting rebootto true, then run the task. An individual job will be created for each node, all run in parallel. If you are selecting too many nodes for simultaneous runs, use additional filters, like the aforementioned patch_window or other facts (EL6 vs EL7, Debian vs Red Hat), etc. to narrow the node selection [I blew up my home lab, which couldn’t handle the CPU/IO lab, when I ran it against all systems the first time, whooops!]. When the job is complete, you will get your status back for each node as a hash of status elements and the corresponding values, including return (success or failure), reboot, packages_updated, etc. You can extract the logs from the Console or pipe CLI logs directly to jq (json query) to analyze as necessary.


Patching for many of us requires additional automation and reporting. The relatively new puppet module os_patching provides helpful auditing and compliance information alongside orchestration tasks for patching. Applying a little Puppet Query Language allows you to update the appropriate agents on your schedule, or to pull the compliance information for any reporting needs, always in the same format regardless of the (supported) OS. Currently, this is restricted to Red Hat/Debian-based Linux distributions, but there are plans to expand support to other OSes soon. Many thanks to Tony Green for his efforts in creating this module!