Adding Custom External Tools to netlab

Some user might want to use netlab with external management tools (example: Graphite, SuzieQ, Prometheus…). netlab distribution includes a small selection of tools; this document describes how you can define additional tools.

External tools are defined in dictionary. Tool names are dictionary keys; dictionary values are tool definitions.

You can set parameter in a lab topology to use a custom tool with your lab, or set parameter in user defaults file to use a tool across multiple labs.

Each tool definition must contain the following parameters:

  • runtime: default runtime environment (example: docker)

  • config: a list of actions needed to create configuration files

  • For every runtime environment, commands used to start and stop the tool.

A tool definition could contain any number of extra parameters used in the tool configuration templates or tool management commands.

Configuration files

Tool configuration files are created in tool-specific subdirectory of the current lab directory. For example, the suzieq configuration files are created in the suzieq directory.


netlab does not map configuration files to container mount points; you have to use the -v parameter of ‌docker run command (or equivalent if you’re using a different container orchestration tool) to map them into the tool container.

Tool-specific configuration files are created during the netlab create process using tools output module (which becomes another default output module to use with netlab create or netlab up).

The tools output module iterates over the list of tools used by the current topology and executes actions specified in tool-specific config list. Every entry in that list must contain the dest parameter (destination file name) and one of the following parameters:

  • template – filename of the source Jinja2 template.

  • render – the name of the custom format recognized by the tool-specific Python module (example in netsim/tools/


  • The template file for a tool included with netlab must be in the netsim/tools/_toolname_ directory. Template files for user-defined tools can be in tools/_toolname_ directory within the lab directory or user’s home directory

  • The value of the render parameter is passed to the tool-specific module and can be used to create different configuration files.

The following definition[1] creates SuzieQ inventory file suzieq/suzieq-inventory.yml using netsim/tools/suzieq/suzieq.inventory.j2 template from the networklab Python package:

runtime: docker     # Default: start SuzieQ in a Docker container
- dest: suzieq-inventory.yml
  template: suzieq.inventory.j2

Similarly, the following definition[2] creates Graphite configuration file using module:

runtime: docker     # Default: start in a Docker container
- dest: graphite-default.json
  render: graphite

Using Topology Values in Configuration File Templates

  • The Jinja2 configuration file templates can use any lab topology parameter (example: use {{ name }} to get lab topology name); use netlab create -o yaml to display the transformed topology data structure.

  • Device group variables (example: ansible_connection or ansible_ssh_user) are copied into the node data for easier access. You can use these variables to generate access credentials, for example:

- name: netlab_ssh
{% for nn,nd in nodes.items() if nd.ansible_connection == 'network_cli' %}
  - url: ssh://{{ nd.ansible_user }}:{{ nd.ansible_ssh_pass }}@{{ 
            nd.ansible_host }}:{{ nd.ansible_ssh_port or '22' }}/
{% endfor %}
  • Tool parameters are available as toolname.parametername. For example, to access SuzieQ parameter X, use {{ suzieq.X }}.

  • Jinja2 templates are executed within netlab environment where all variables are Python Boxes. default filter does not work; the default value of every undefined variable is an empty dictionary. Use or (example: nd.ansible_ssh_port or '22') instead of default filter.

Tool Management Commands

The commands that have to be executed to start, stop, or connect to the tool are defined in runtime-specific dictionary that can have the following keys:

  • up – command(s) executed as the last step of netlab up process to start the tool

  • message – text message to display after the up commands have been executed, or if netlab connect is used on a tool that has no connect command.

  • down – command(s) executed as the first step of netlab down process to stop the tool

  • connect – command(s) executed by netlab connect command to connect to the tool.

  • cleanup – command(s) executed during netlab down –cleanup to cleanup tool-specific data (example: delete Docker volumes).

Each one of these parameters can be a string (execute a single command) or a list of one or more commands.

Using Topology Variables in Tool Commands

Each command is evaluated as a Python f-string using transformed topology data as the variables used in the f-string, allowing you to use (for example) {name}_tool as the name of lab-specific Docker container. netlab does no further processing of the commands; they have to include all the necessary parameters to map configuration files to containers or expose container ports.

For example, the following dictionary[1] defines commands needed to start or stop SuzieQ:

runtime: docker     # Default: start in a Docker container
    docker run --rm -itd --name '{name}_suzieq'
      -v '{name}_suzieq':/parquet
      -v './suzieq':/suzieq
      netenglabs/suzieq-demo -c 'sq-poller -I /suzieq/suzieq-inventory.yml'
    docker exec -it '{name}_suzieq' /usr/local/bin/suzieq-cli
    docker kill '{name}_suzieq'
    docker volume rm '{name}_suzieq'


  • The up command uses docker run to start the container and maps SuzieQ configuration directory and a lab-specific volume into container mount points. The sys.docker_net parameter is explained in the next section.

  • SuzieQ container executes bash as the default command. Parameters of docker run command are therefore Bash parameters.

  • connect command uses docker exec to execute another command in the same container (start SuzieQ CLI).

  • docker exec command specifies the full path to the suzieq-cli command because the default path in the SuzieQ container does not include /usr/local/bin.

  • cleanup command deletes the volume created with the docker run command.

Running External Tools with Lab Containers

External tools have to be connected to the same Docker network as the management interface of the lab containers. The default name of that network is netlab_mgmt but it can change if you use multilab plugin.

netlab prepares the --network=_name_ parameter that you have to include with the docker run in the sys.docker_net topology variable. Include {sys.docker_net} parameter in any docker run command if you want your containers to communicate with the lab devices over the management network.

Removing Tool Configuration Directory

netlab down –cleanup removes the tool configuration directories, but fails to do so if the container creates additional files in that directory – containers are often run as user root, and a regular user cannot remove files created by another user.

If your tool creates additional files in the tool configuration directory, add sudo rm -fr toolname as one of the cleanup commands.