Storing Static Data in the Pillar

Pillar is an interface for Salt designed to offer global values that can be distributed to minions. Pillar data is managed in a similar way as the Salt State Tree.

Pillar was added to Salt in version 0.9.8


Storing sensitive data

Pillar data is compiled on the master. Additionally, pillar data for a given minion is only accessible by the minion for which it is targeted in the pillar configuration. This makes pillar useful for storing sensitive data specific to a particular minion.

Declaring the Master Pillar

The Salt Master server maintains a pillar_roots setup that matches the structure of the file_roots used in the Salt file server. Like file_roots, the pillar_roots option mapps environments to directories. The pillar data is then mapped to minions based on matchers in a top file which is laid out in the same way as the state top file. Salt pillars can use the same matcher types as the standard top file.

conf_master:pillar_roots is configured just like file_roots. For example:

    - /srv/pillar

This example configuration declares that the base environment will be located in the /srv/pillar directory. It must not be in a subdirectory of the state tree.

The top file used matches the name of the top file used for States, and has the same structure:


    - packages

In the above top file, it is declared that in the base environment, the glob matching all minions will have the pillar data found in the packages pillar available to it. Assuming the pillar_roots value of /srv/pillar taken from above, the packages pillar would be located at /srv/pillar/packages.sls.

Any number of matchers can be added to the base environment. For example, here is an expanded version of the Pillar top file stated above:


    - packages
    - vim

In this expanded top file, minions that match web* will have access to the /srv/pillar/packages.sls file, as well as the /srv/pillar/vim.sls file.

Another example shows how to use other standard top matching types to deliver specific salt pillar data to minions with different properties.

Here is an example using the grains matcher to target pillars to minions by their os grain:

    - match: grain
    - servers


{% if grains['os'] == 'RedHat' %}
apache: httpd
git: git
{% elif grains['os'] == 'Debian' %}
apache: apache2
git: git-core
{% endif %}

company: Foo Industries


See Is Targeting using Grain Data Secure? for important security information.

The above pillar sets two key/value pairs. If a minion is running RedHat, then the apache key is set to httpd and the git key is set to the value of git. If the minion is running Debian, those values are changed to apache2 and git-core respectively. All minions that have this pillar targeting to them via a top file will have the key of company with a value of Foo Industries.

Consequently this data can be used from within modules, renderers, State SLS files, and more via the shared pillar dict:

    - name: {{ pillar['apache'] }}
    - name: {{ pillar['git'] }}

Finally, the above states can utilize the values provided to them via Pillar. All pillar values targeted to a minion are available via the 'pillar' dictionary. As seen in the above example, Jinja substitution can then be utilized to access the keys and values in the Pillar dictionary.

Note that you cannot just list key/value-information in top.sls. Instead, target a minion to a pillar file and then list the keys and values in the pillar. Here is an example top file that illustrates this point:

     - common_pillar

And the actual pillar file at '/srv/pillar/common_pillar.sls':

foo: bar
boo: baz

Pillar Namespace Flattening

The separate pillar SLS files all merge down into a single dictionary of key-value pairs. When the same key is defined in multiple SLS files, this can result in unexpected behavior if care is not taken to how the pillar SLS files are laid out.

For example, given a top.sls containing the following:

    - packages
    - services

with packages.sls containing:

bind: bind9

and services.sls containing:

bind: named

Then a request for the bind pillar key will only return named. The bind9 value will be lost, because services.sls was evaluated later.


Pillar files are applied in the order they are listed in the top file. Therefore conflicting keys will be overwritten in a 'last one wins' manner! For example, in the above scenario conflicting key values in services will overwrite those in packages because it's at the bottom of the list.

It can be better to structure your pillar files with more hierarchy. For example the package.sls file could be configured like so:

  bind: bind9

This would make the packages pillar key a nested dictionary containing a bind key.

Pillar Dictionary Merging

If the same pillar key is defined in multiple pillar SLS files, and the keys in both files refer to nested dictionaries, then the content from these dictionaries will be recursively merged.

For example, keeping the top.sls the same, assume the following modifications to the pillar SLS files:


  package-name: bind9
  version: 9.9.5


  port: 53
  listen-on: any

The resulting pillar dictionary will be:

$ salt-call pillar.get bind

Since both pillar SLS files contained a bind key which contained a nested dictionary, the pillar dictionary's bind key contains the combined contents of both SLS files' bind keys.

Including Other Pillars

New in version 0.16.0.

Pillar SLS files may include other pillar files, similar to State files. Two syntaxes are available for this purpose. The simple form simply includes the additional pillar as if it were part of the same file:

  - users

The full include form allows two additional options -- passing default values to the templating engine for the included pillar file as well as an optional key under which to nest the results of the included pillar:

  - users:
          sudo: ['bob', 'paul']
      key: users

With this form, the included file (users.sls) will be nested within the 'users' key of the compiled pillar. Additionally, the 'sudo' value will be available as a template variable to users.sls.

In-Memory Pillar Data vs. On-Demand Pillar Data

Since compiling pillar data is computationally expensive, the minion will maintain a copy of the pillar data in memory to avoid needing to ask the master to recompile and send it a copy of the pillar data each time pillar data is requested. This in-memory pillar data is what is returned by the pillar.item, pillar.get, and pillar.raw functions.

Also, for those writing custom execution modules, or contributing to Salt's existing execution modules, the in-memory pillar data is available as the __pillar__ dunder dictionary.

The in-memory pillar data is generated on minion start, and can be refreshed using the saltutil.refresh_pillar function:

salt '*' saltutil.refresh_pillar

This function triggers the minion to asynchronously refresh the in-memory pillar data and will always return None.

In contrast to in-memory pillar data, certain actions trigger pillar data to be compiled to ensure that the most up-to-date pillar data is available. These actions include:

Performing these actions will not refresh the in-memory pillar data. So, if pillar data is modified, and then states are run, the states will see the updated pillar data, but pillar.item, pillar.get, and pillar.raw will not see this data unless refreshed using saltutil.refresh_pillar.

How Pillar Environments Are Handled

When multiple pillar environments are used, the default behavior is for the pillar data from all environments to be merged together. The pillar dictionary will therefore contain keys from all configured environments.

The pillarenv minion config option can be used to force the minion to only consider pillar configuration from a single environment. This can be useful in cases where one needs to run states with alternate pillar data, either in a testing/QA environment or to test changes to the pillar data before pushing them live.

For example, assume that the following is set in the minion config file:

pillarenv: base

This would cause that minion to ignore all other pillar environments besides base when compiling the in-memory pillar data. Then, when running states, the pillarenv CLI argument can be used to override the minion's pillarenv config value:

salt '*' state.apply mystates pillarenv=testing

The above command will run the states with pillar data sourced exclusively from the testing environment, without modifying the in-memory pillar data.


When running states, the pillarenv CLI option does not require a pillarenv option to be set in the minion config file. When pillarenv is left unset, as mentioned above all configured environments will be combined. Running states with pillarenv=testing in this case would still restrict the states' pillar data to just that of the testing pillar environment.

Viewing Pillar Data

To view pillar data, use the pillar execution module. This module includes several functions, each of them with their own use. These functions include:

The pillar.get Function

New in version 0.14.0.

The pillar.get function works much in the same way as the get method in a python dict, but with an enhancement: nested dictonaries can be traversed using a colon as a delimiter.

If a structure like this is in pillar:

    baz: qux

Extracting it from the raw pillar in an sls formula or file template is done this way:

{{ pillar['foo']['bar']['baz'] }}

Now, with the new pillar.get function the data can be safely gathered and a default can be set, allowing the template to fall back if the value is not available:

{{ salt['pillar.get']('foo:bar:baz', 'qux') }}

This makes handling nested structures much easier.


pillar.get() vs salt['pillar.get']()

It should be noted that within templating, the pillar variable is just a dictionary. This means that calling pillar.get() inside of a template will just use the default dictionary .get() function which does not include the extra : delimiter functionality. It must be called using the above syntax (salt['pillar.get']('foo:bar:baz', 'qux')) to get the salt function, instead of the default dictionary behavior.

Setting Pillar Data at the Command Line

Pillar data can be set at the command line like the following example:

salt '*' state.apply pillar='{"cheese": "spam"}'

This will add a pillar key of cheese with its value set to spam.


Be aware that when sending sensitive data via pillar on the command-line that the publication containing that data will be received by all minions and will not be restricted to the targeted minions. This may represent a security concern in some cases.

Master Config in Pillar

For convenience the data stored in the master configuration file can be made available in all minion's pillars. This makes global configuration of services and systems very easy but may not be desired if sensitive data is stored in the master configuration. This option is disabled by default.

To enable the master config from being added to the pillar set pillar_opts to True in the minion config file:

pillar_opts: True

Minion Config in Pillar

Minion configuration options can be set on pillars. Any option that you want to modify, should be in the first level of the pillars, in the same way you set the options in the config file. For example, to configure the MySQL root password to be used by MySQL Salt execution module, set the following pillar variable:

mysql.pass: hardtoguesspassword

Master Provided Pillar Error

By default if there is an error rendering a pillar, the detailed error is hidden and replaced with:

Rendering SLS 'my.sls' failed. Please see master log for details.

The error is protected because it's possible to contain templating data which would give that minion information it shouldn't know, like a password!

To have the master provide the detailed error that could potentially carry protected data set pillar_safe_render_error to False:

pillar_safe_render_error: False