Skip to content

Service Selection Overview

Service selection is a very important topic for use in understanding how to design and build automation workflows. Each of the service types available to the system performs a specific action and has strengths and weaknesses that should be known.

Structured Data

In network automation, devices or device components may have interfaces that do not return structured data. Structured data refers to data obtained from the device that is easily index-able to its individual elements. In other words, structured data is data that does not need to be parsed, whereas unstructured data must be parsed to isolate an individual data element. There also exists semi-structured data which is structured but still needs some amount of parsing to isolate data elements.

Note that eNMS uses structured data dictionaries internally to pass data along the workflow from service to service. So, using eNMS, the user will spend a lot of time considering how to either retrieve structured data directly from the device or most-easily convert unstructured or semi-structured data from the device to structured data. This section will discuss and rate the available built-in service types according to how work-intensive they are for obtaining structured data. The user can refer to these rating when considering which service to use for a particular action in the workflow.

Structured Data - Options

The following image highlights some of the options for getting structured data from services that interact with devices. In many cases, there is a conversion from the device command output (text) into something that a service or workflow can use to make decisions, generate a report, or send additional device commands.

The Structured Data Pyramid

This pyramid attempts to assess how much effort is spent to use (or re-use) an approach to obtain structured data from a device interaction.

Note

Manual parsing remains the most popular technique - it is often simple and easy to develop. With Shared services, you can still re-use the development effort in multiple workflows.

Understanding the available options will help you choose the right one for your workflow and service design.

Considerations when looking beyond manual parsing:

This is often a very personal choice. Here are some questions to keep in mind that could affect your decisions:

  • Does your device command support JSON/XML output directly?
  • Is there a Napalm driver for your device, and what data can it obtain via its Getters?
  • Is there already an existing OpenSource or Vendor template (TextFSM, TTP) that will parse the command output?
  • Are you spending more time parsing command output than building other logic?
  • Is there a lot of detail in the command output and you think you might like to be able to put all of that into a structured form?
  • Are you comfortable working with a command parser like TextFSM to develop your own template(s)?

Direct JSON or XML Command Output

In the case where the device is capable of giving a fully-structured data response, there is no additional parsing needed. This is often the best solution possible - and is available when the target device command supports JSON or XML output.

This is most often possible with the Netmiko Validation Service - and the availability of this option depends on the device operating system and the specific command(s) used.

For example, Juniper devices can support a pipe operator to convert output to JSON or XML:

  • show interfaces | display json.
  • show interfaces | display xml.

Note

With commands like this, you should configure the Conversion Method in Step 4 of the Service Editor to either XML dictionary or JSON dictionary.

For JSON, this is a direct JSON conversion - which is most likely a dictionary. However, it will still support other JSON types like an array (list).

Step 4, Conversion Method

Napalm Services

NAPALM provides a unified API to send commands to different device vendors - primarily to get or manipulate configuration and retrieve data (Getters).

NAPALM drivers must be available - see the NAPALM information for links to the available Core and Community drivers. The supported devices/platforms are typically fewer than Netmiko.

The Getter operations include commands like get_config, get_facts, get_interfaces, get_interfaces_ip,get_bgp_config, etc.

Note

Before selecting a specific Getter operation, you should check your platform to see what is supported.

Note

In the NAPALM Getters Service, you can select more than one Getter command to request.

NAPALM Getters Service

Custom Services

If a Custom Service already exists for a specific device that provides structured data, this is also easy to re-use.

Writing a Custom Service that runs several commands and operates on their results for a device type:

  • can reduce the number of duplicated service and/or custom parsing/filtering logic for complex device interactions.
  • can also be a great deal of work to get started.

This option is listed for completeness - and internally, it may use things like TextFSM (or TTP).

Using TextFSM

Using TextFSM with a Netmiko Validation Service

This should use the TextFSM templates installed from the Network-to-Code repository listed below with the following environment variable set:

export NET_TEXTFSM=/path/to/ntc-templates/templates/

In this case, one only has to check the Use TextFSM option with the Netmiko Validation Service:

Netmiko Validation Service - Use TextFSM

Note

The Netmiko Validation command is matched against the contents of the Network-to-Code 'index' file basd on the platform (netmiko driver) and the command.

For example, this line in the index will use that textfsm file for cisco_ios devices and match the full (show ip route) or abbreviated (sh ip r) command text.

cisco_ios_show_ip_route.textfsm, .*, cisco_ios, sh[[ow]] ip r[[oute]]

NETCONF

There are two different options if the target device supports the NETCONF protocol - using the NETCONF Service (ncclient) or the Scrapli NETCONF Service.

NETCONF Service (ncclient)

Since NETCONF is XML based, retrieving configuration data using NETCONF can easily be converted to structured data by converting the response to an XML dictionary:

Netconf Get Full Config

Scrapli NETCONF Service

This is another option for using NETCONF.

Multiple commands - Scrapli

A relatively new addition to eNMS, the Scrapli Command Service provides the ability to send multiple commands (and to received multiple responses).

While the eNMS Scrapli Command Service does not support it today, the lower-level Scrapli API supports using TextFSM templates.

Using TextFSM with a Data Extraction Service

If you write your own TextFSM templates (i.e., without installing them per above), the Data Extraction Service is another option to consider. You can use TextFSM to parse previous command results and extract desired information.

In this example is a simple TextFSM template (from the Network-to-Code repository) that shows how the Data Extraction Service works:

Data Extraction with TextFSM

That produces the following Service result:

Data Extraction with TextFSM Result

Python Snippet (or Postprocessing) with a Parser (TextFSM, TTP, or Other)

Either Postprocessing code or a separate Python Snippet can take a result and parse the text with the aid of a parser like TextFSM or TTP.

This is still less work than manual parsing - if you already have the TextFSM or TTP template.

TTP Example - using programmatically

There is not yet an automatic approach for using TTP with eNMS. So, if you want to use TTP templates, this is the approach to take.

from ttp import ttp
device_output = get_result("Your Device Command Service", device=device.name)["result"]

from ttp import ttp
ttp_template = "" # this should be the text of the TTP template  
parser = ttp(data=device_output, template=ttp_template)
parser.parse()

parsed_data = parser.result()[0]

results["success"] = True
results["result"] = parsed_data

TextFSM Example - using programmatically

This is an alternative to automatically using TextFSM with the Netmiko Validation Service or to using a Data Extraction Service.

The other approaches are likely better; this is included for completeness.

import textfsm
from io import StringIO

device_output = get_result("Put Device Command Service Here", device=device.name)["result"]
text_fsm_template = ... # put your text FSM template here (string) 

parser = textfsm.TextFSM(StringIO(text_fsm_template))
parsed_data = parser.ParseText(device_output)

results["success"] = True
results["result"] = parsed_data 
results["headers"] = parser.header  # just for documentation  

Manual Parsing

Any manual decoding/parsing of the text results of a previous command (e.g., from a Netmiko Validation Service) falls into this category.

This can use any parsing technique - including functions like str.split() or regex functions.

# This is an example for a Cisco 'show int br' command on a single device. 
#             Intf       Intf        LineP              Encap  MTU        BW
#              Name       State       State               Type (byte)    (Kbps)
#--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
#    interface_name       down        down               ARPA  1500      10000000
results["initial"] = results["result"]
headers = ["name", "intf state", "linep state"]
results["result"] = {
    line.split()[0]: {
        headers[idx]: value
        for idx, value in enumerate(line.strip().split(maxsplit=4)[0:3])
    }
    for line in results["initial"].strip().splitlines()
    if "down" in line  # filter to look for 'down' or 'admin-down' lines
}

More information: TextFSM

Example TextFSM template

Refer to the TextFSM documentation and the Network-to-Code examples for information on how to build a command.

When a template does not exist for your device/operating system/command, you can write one. This is an example TextFSM template for the Junos show system process summary

Example TextFSM template

Debugging Your Own TextFSM templates

You can test your TextFSM template(s) by running the textfsm/parser.py file with your template definition and the device output you want to parse:

parser.py your_textfsm_template.txt command_output_to_parse.txt

More information: NAPALM

More information: TTP

The Template Text Parser (TTP) is another Python package that allows you to develop templates to parse command output to produce structured data.

Example TTP

Refer to the TTP documentation and the Network-to-Code examples for information on how to build a command parser.

When a template does not exist for your device/operating system/command, you can write one. This is an example TTP template for the Junos show system process summary Junos - show system process summary

Example TTP template

Debugging Your Own TTP templates

This is a command line that you can use to test your TTP templates.

ttp --data ./show_system_processes_summary.txt --template ttp_test.txt --logging DEBUG --outputter json

More information: NETCONF

Links

More information: Scrapli

Links

More information: Netmiko

Links