Jacob Tomlinson
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ChatOps - Automation via chat

8 minute read #worksops, #chatops, #opsdroid, #python Archive

This is an archived post that was originally published on the Informatics Lab Blog

Originally published on the Met Office Informatics Lab blog on December 19th, 2017.

ChatOps - Automation via chat

This article is a companion to a workshop on using chat to automate ops workflows. This is a static version of a Jupyter Notebook which you can download here.

This has been tested on the Informatics Lab Jade platform but should work in any Jupyter Notebook server running Python 3.5.

Why would you want to use a chatbot for ops workflows?

ChatOps is a collaboration model that helps to connect people, process, tools, and automation into a transparent workflow (conversation-driven development). So it allows to automate tasks and collaborate, encourages teams to be transparent, working better, cheaper and faster.


Often when working in an infrastructure engineering role you spend a lot of time working on your own, in your own terminal. Unless you are pairing with someone else or very good at documenting things (and let’s face it none of us are) then that knowledge gained from solving that problem gets trapped in your head and isn’t easy to share.

Working in a ChatOps paradigm moves this work into a communal chat room where others can see what is going on and learn from your work.

It also encourages you to write scripts which can be used in plain english, rather than expecting others to read a man page or help text which explains exactly what characters to type. There are downsides to this of course, often you want commands to be explicit and you don’t want your bot to do unexpected things if it misunderstands you. This puts more pressure on the script writer to include logical checking, perhaps even getting the bot to ask the user to confirm the action before performing.

What technologies are available for creating simple chatbots?

Popular options to create a ChatOps bot are Hubot, Lita and Errbot which allow you to write scripts in JavaScript, Ruby and Python respectively.

For a while in the Informatics Lab we used Hubot with good success, however there were limitations and missing features that I wanted to use. So in my spare time I decided to create opsdroid which is a Python bot which tries to address the limitations I found in the other technologies. Therefore I am totally biased and will be focusing on opsdroid for the rest of this workshop, however the other technologies are also good and I would recommend them.

Creating a simple opsdroid chatbot in Python

This guide assumes you are running through this in a notebook on a system which has never run opsdroid. If you’re following the blog post please amend the scripts accordingly to your environment.

First we need to install opsdroid. You will need to have Python 3.5 and pip already installed on your system.

pip install opsdroid

Create a workspace

Next we should create an opsdroid directory for us to work in. We’ll clone a “Hello World” skill here to get us started and also use it as a place to put logs.

# Make the directory
mkdir -p $HOME/opsdroid

# Clone the "Hello world skill"
git clone https://github.com/opsdroid/skill-hello.git $HOME/opsdroid/skill-myskill

# Create the log file
touch $HOME/opsdroid/opsdroid.log

Add some configuration

When you run opsdroid for the first time a yaml config file will be created for you called ~/.opsdroid/configuration.yaml with some sensible defaults. However for this workshop let’s create our own config file which loads the example skill we cloned a second ago.

# Create the opsdroid config directory
mkdir -p $HOME/.opsdroid

# Cat a config file into it using a heredoc
cat <<EOF > $HOME/.opsdroid/configuration.yaml

## Our opsdroid configuration file

## Set the logging level and location
  level: debug
  path: $HOME/opsdroid/opsdroid.log
  console: false

## Connector modules
  - name: shell

## Skill modules

  ## Our custom skill
  # This is the example skill we cloned from GitHub before that we will customise later. We are setting it
  # not to cache so that when we edit the code later opsdroid will reload it correctly.
  - name: myskill
    path: $HOME/opsdroid/skill-myskill
    no-cache: true

  ## Developer Tools - a skill which reloads all skills when you say `reload` to the bot.
  # NOTE: You don't need to specify a path for official skills, opsdroid will assume they are on GitHub
  # and try to download them automatically.
  - name: devtools


Open a terminal

To test our bot we are going to use the shell connector. There are a whole range of connectors you can configure in opsdroid, for example Twitter, Facebook Messenger and Slack. The shell connector is the most basic and provides a simple command line interface to chat with your bot, this is useful for testing and development.

To run our bot and get the opsdroid shell we’ll need to open a terminal. Switch back to the directory view tab and click New > Terminal.

The terminal will open in a new tab, you may want to place it side-by-side with this one so you can continue following the instructions.

Run opsdroid and say hello

In the terminal simply run opsdroid. This should immediately drop you into the opsdroid shell. You can test it out by typing hello, the bot should say hello back.

If you are using the official Jupyter docker image you will have a default username of jovyan which is the name given to a user of Jupyter Notebooks, so that’s why it will call you jovyan.

Hello opsdroid

Customise our skill

Now that we have tested our skill let’s change it to do some more things. If you switch back to the directory view tab and refresh the page you should see our opsdroid directory. If you click into it and then into the skill-myskill directory you should see the basic files which make up an opsdroid skill.

If you have experience with Python development you may notice that a skill is just a Python module.

Example skill layout

Click the __init__.py file to open up the skill code.

Example skill code

The layout of a skill

An opsdroid skill is a Python function which takes three arguments:

Technically it is a Python coroutine rather than a function, hence the async at the begining.

These functions must be decorated with an opsdroid matcher, this is how opsdroid decides which function to call when a message is received. In this workshop we are going to focus on the regex matcher which simple matches the message against a regular expression, however there are more complex matchers which use third party Natural Language Understanding services like LUIS or Lex.

When a message comes into opsdroid it is tested against each matcher to see if the function applies to that message, if multiple functions match they are ranked based on match quality and complexity and then the one with the highest score is called.

There is also a setup function which is called when your skill is loaded just in case you need to do some prep.

Hello world

Let’s focus on the hello world function.

from opsdroid.matchers import match_regex
import random


async def hello(opsdroid, config, message):
    text = random.choice(["Hi {}", "Hello {}", "Hey {}"]).format(message.user)
    await message.respond(text)

This function makes a random choice between three strings Hi, Hello, and Hey. Each is followed by a placeholder for the user’s name which is inderted by the format(message.user) call.

Then when it has chosen a string and formatted it responds to the message with this string.

This function matches against any message which contains the words hi, hello, hey or hallo. This is a very basic regular expression which doesn’t do much checking. For example those words could exist within other words and would make no sense to respond to.

Bad match

In the chat above I said do not say hello to this message which not only matches hello in that sentence but also the word hi within the word this. Causing the bot to respond.

Let’s make this regex more strict by limiting the match to only be when the message is only one of those words, not containing one of them.

Switch back to the tab where you opened __init__.py and update the regex to look like this:

# Old

# New

The ^ and $ operators ensure that there is no other text between the beginning and end of the line and the brackets make the group of words explicit.

Now if you tell the bot to reload and then try that message again it will not match because there are other characters either side of the words hello and hi.


Automating interesting things with your bot

To do anything truly useful with your bot yo’re going to need to be able to access and control other things. The best way to do this is via an API. Below is a simple demo of requesting some information from and API and returning it to the user.

Fun fact this API is totally not safe for work, and I didn’t know that before doing a live version of this workshop.

import aiohttp

@match_regex(r'tell me about Chuck')
async def chuck_facts(opsdroid, config, message):

    # Get a new http client session
    session = aiohttp.ClientSession()

    # Request a new Chuck Norris fact
    response = await session.get('https://api.chucknorris.io/jokes/random')

    # Parse the json response
    body = await response.json()

    # Respond with the fact that was returned
    await message.respond(body["value"])

Chuck fact

Have thoughts?

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