Recently I have been looking for ways to allow external tools and services to perform corrective actions across my infrastructure automatically. As an example, I want to allow a monitoring tool to monitor my nginx availability and if for whatever reason nginx is down I want that monitoring tool/service to do something to fix it.

While I was looking at how to implement this, I remembered that SaltStack has an API and that API can provide exactly the functionality I wanted. The below article will walk you through setting up salt-api and configuring it to allow third party services to initiate SaltStack executions.

Install salt-api

The first step to getting started with salt-api is to install it. In this article we will be installing salt-api on a single master server, it is possible to run salt-api on a multi-master setup however you will need to ensure the configuration is consistent across master servers.

Installation of the salt-api package is pretty easy and can be performed with apt-get on Debian/Ubuntu or yum on Red Hat variants.

# apt-get install salt-api

Generate a self signed certificate

By default salt-api utilizes HTTPS and while it is possible to disable this, it is generally not a good idea. In this article we will be utilizing HTTPS with a self signed certificate.

Depending on your intended usage of salt-api you may want to Generate a certificate that is signed by a certificate authority, if you are using salt-api internally only a self signed certificate should be acceptable.

Generate the key

The first step in creating any SSL certificate is to generate a key, the below command will generate a 4096 bit key.

# openssl genrsa -out /etc/ssl/private/key.pem 4096

Sign the key and generate a certificate

After we have generated the key we can generate the certificate with the following command.

# openssl req -new -x509 -key /etc/ssl/private/key.pem -out /etc/ssl/private/cert.pem -days 1826

The -days option allows you to specify how many days this certificate is valid, the above command should generate a certificate that is valid for 5 years.

Create the rest_cherrypy configuration

Now that we have installed salt-api and generated an SSL certificate we can start configuring the salt-api service. In this article we will be placing the salt-api configuration into /etc/salt/master.d/salt-api.conf you can also put this configuration directly in the /etc/salt/master configuration file; however, I prefer putting the configuration in master.d as I believe it allows for easier upkeep and better organization.

# vi /etc/salt/master.d/salt-api.conf

Basic salt-api configuration


  port: 8080
  ssl_crt: /etc/ssl/private/cert.pem
  ssl_key: /etc/ssl/private/key.pem

The above configuration enables a very basic salt-api instance, which utilizes SaltStack's external authentication system. This system requires requests to authenticate with user names and passwords or tokens; in reality not every system can or should utilize those methods of authentication.

Webhook salt-api configuration

Most systems and tools however do support utilizing a pre-shared API key for authentication. In this article we are going to use a pre-shared API key to authenticate our systems with salt-api. To do this we will add the webhook_url and webhook_disable_auth parameters.


  port: 8080
  host: <your hosts ip>
  ssl_crt: /etc/ssl/private/cert.pem
  ssl_key: /etc/ssl/private/key.pem
  webhook_disable_auth: True
  webhook_url: /hook

The webhook_url configuration parameter tells salt-api to listen for requests to the specified URI. The webhook_disable_auth configuration allows you to disable the external authentication requirement for the webhook URI. At this point in our configuration there is no authentication on that webhook URI, and any request sent to that webhook URI will be posted to SaltStack's event bus.

Actioning webhook requests with Salt's Reactor system

SaltStack's event system is a internal notification system for SaltStack, it allows external processes to listen for SaltStack events and potentially action them. A few examples of events that are published to this event system are Jobs, Authentication requests by minions, as well as salt-cloud related events. A common consumer of these events is the SaltStack Reactor system, the Reactor system allows you to listen for events and perform specified actions when those events are seen.

Reactor configuration

We will be utilizing the Reactor system to listen for webhook events and execute specific commands when we see them. Reactor definitions need to be included in the master configuration, for this article we will define our configuration within the master.d directory.

# vi /etc/salt/master.d/reactor.conf


  - 'salt/netapi/hook/restart':
    - /salt/reactor/restart.sls

The above command will listen for events that are tagged with salt/netapi/hook/restart which would mean any API requests targeting When those events occur it will execute the items within /salt/reactor/restart.sls.

Defining what happens

Within the restart.sls file, we will need to define what we want to happen when the /hook/restart URI is requested.

# vi /salt/reactor/services/restart.sls

Simply restarting a service

To perform our simplest use case of restarting nginx when we get a request to /hook/restart you could add the following.


    - tgt: 'somehost'
    - arg:
      - nginx

This configuration is extremely specific and doesn't leave much chance for someone to exploit it for malicious purposes. This configuration is also extremely limited.

Restarting the specified services on the specified servers

When a salt-api's webhook URL is called the POST data being sent with that request is included in the event message. In the below configuration we will be using that POST data to allow request to the webhook URL to specify both the target servers and the service to be restarted.


{% set postdata = data.get('post', {}) %}

    - tgt: '{{ postdata.tgt }}'
    - arg:
      - {{ postdata.service }}

In the above configuration we are taking the POST data sent to the URL and assigning it to the postdata object. We can then use that object to provide the tgt and arg values. This allows the same URL and webhook call to be used to restart any service on any or all minion nodes.

Since we disabled external authentication on the webhook URL there is currently no authentication with the above configuration. This means that anyone who knows our URL could send a well formatted request and restart any service on any minion they want.

Using a secret key to authenticate

To secure our webhook URL a little better we can add a few lines to our reactor configuration that requires that requests to this reactor include a valid secret key before executing.


{% set postdata = data.get('post', {}) %}

{% if postdata.secretkey == "replacethiswithsomethingbetter" %}
    - tgt: '{{ postdata.tgt }}'
    - arg:
      - {{ postdata.service }}
{% endif %}

The above configuration requires that the requesting service include a POST key of secretkey and the value of that key must be replacethiswithsomethingbetter. If the requester does not, the Reactor will simply perform no steps. The secret key in this configuration should be treated like any other API key, it should be validated before performing any action and if you have more than one system/user making requests you should ensure that only the correct users have the ability to execute the commands specified in the reactor SLS file.

Restarting salt-master and Starting salt-api

Before testing our new salt-api actions we will need to restart the salt-master service and start the salt-api service.

# service salt-master restart
# service salt-api start

Testing our configuration with curl

Once the two above services have finished restarting we can test our configuration with the following curl command.

# curl -H "Accept: application/json" -d tgt='*' -d service="nginx" -d secretkey="replacethiswithsomethingbetter" -k https://salt-api-hostname:8080/hook/services/restart

If the configuration is correct you should expect to see a message stating success.


# curl -H "Accept: application/json" -d tgt='*' -d service="nginx" -d secretkey="replacethiswithsomethingbetter" -k
{"success": true}

At this point you can now integrate any third party tool or service that can send webhook requests with your SaltStack implementation. You can also use salt-api to have home grown tools initiate SaltStack executions.

Additional Considerations

Other netapi modules

In this article we implemented salt-api with the cherrypy netapi module, this is one of three options that SaltStack gives you. If you are more familiar with other application servers such as wsgi than I would suggest looking through the documentation to find the appropriate module for your environment.

Restricting salt-api

While in this article we added a secret key for authentication and SSL certificates for encrypted HTTPS traffic; there are additional options that can be used to restrict the salt-api service further. If you are implementing the salt-api service into a non-trusted network, it is a good idea to use tools such as iptables to restrict which hosts / IP's are able to utilize the salt-api service.

In addition when implementing salt-api it is a good idea to think carefully as to what you allow systems to request. A simple example of this would be the module within SaltStack. If you allowed a server to perform dynamic requests via `salt-api, if a malicious user was able to bypass the implemented restrictions that user would then be able to theoretically run any arbitrary command on your systems.

It is always best to only allow specific commands through the API system and avoid allowing potentially dangerous commands such as