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Ansible recipes for deployment of secure communications systems
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Caisleán - the Irish word for "castle". Pronounced "cash-lawn"

Caislean is a set of Ansible recipes (also called cookbook or playbook) that you can use to set up and manage in few simple steps one or more servers offering free and open-source tools for communication and security such as e-mail, a VPN and an instant messaging service to communities and organizations.

All of the services included in these recipes have been carefully and meticulously configured to ensure confidentiality, integrity and authenticity to users whenever they are interacting with the server

What does Caislean do?

Caislean helps system administrators to set up one or more secure servers in few simple steps.

The recipes install a set of free and open-source tools for communication, file-sharing, secure Internet access and webhosting. Since Caislean is modular, you can decide either to roll out all services or to just choose the ones you need.

Furthermore, Caislean is designed to provide by default a good level of basic server security, thanks to proper specific tweakings regarding TLS cipher lists, web server security options, files and directories permissions and ownership, etc.

What services will the server offer?

If you point Caislean at a server, you will be able to offer several secure services to your users. The cookbook has a modular structure, so you can choose to provide all the services listed below or just some of them (see "How does Caislean work?" below for more details).

Each service will run in a secure system that grants confidentiality, integrity and authenticity whenever users interact with the server.

Who is Caislean for?

Caislean requires basic system administration skills and can therefore be used by anyone who has some familiarity with managing a server.

This makes it easy for single individuals, as well as for small groups and organizations who cannot afford to hire a tech team (or prefer to rely solely on volunteers) to have their own secure server and to offer to a number of users a set of tools for communication, file-sharing, secure Internet access and webhosting.

What do I need to use Caislean?

Basic skills

Setting up and managing a server with Caislean requires familiarity with GNU/Linux system administration, ease with the command line and some knowledge of server security best practices.

It is also important to understand how Ansible cookbooks work, and basic experience and understanding of the components that are going to be installed is also recommended. For instance, if you choose to use Caislean to install a mail server, you should know the basics of Postfix and Dovecot, if you intend to host a website or a blog, knowing the basics of Nginx is recommended, and so on.

Technical requirements

  • One or more dedicated servers (the target system) with typical Debian requirements (see for instance the minimum hardware requirements for Debian Wheezy and Jessie). In general, requirements will vary depending on the services you offer and on the number of your users.

    • To better take care of the users whose data you will be hosting, it is recommended to enable full disk encryption (FDE) on your target system. This can only be done when you install the system and requires full control over the Debian installation process (see the server setup guide for more information).
    • Only Debian 7 (Wheezy) and 8 (Jessie) are supported at the moment.
    • SSH access and access to root privileges are necessary.
    • The packages python and python-apt are required.
    • Read the server setup guide for more details on how to set up the target system.
  • A local machine to run Caislean.

    • The machine where the recipes run must have Ansible installed in version 1.8 or more recent. It is packaged in most GNU/Linux distributions.

    • Some components require the manual use of additional software such as OpenSSL and GnuPG.

    • Indeed, you also need a copy of the Caislean git repository, that you can get through this command:

      git clone

How does Caislean work?

Once you have installed and set up your target system and have everything you need in your local machine, have a look at the Caislean directory you have just downloaded.

The repository follows the usual Ansible structure: each component sits in an Ansible role, in the roles directory.

Caislean has a modular structure, which means that while certain roles are necessary to run all or most of the services, other roles correspond to the single services you may want to offer. So if, for example, you just want to offer your users a Jabber/XMPP service and a VPN, your configuration files won't have to include the roles that are needed for email and Wordpress.

In each role's detailed documentation (in the role-doc directory) you will also find a list of the necessary roles that you need to launch for that module to work. But to be sure, in the doc directory you will also find an overview of the roles where roles that are fundamental for the server to run correctly are separated from the roles for each single service.

How to launch Caislean

After reading the documentation for each module you need to install, you can start configuring your cookbook:

  • write your inventory file (see ansible_hosts.example for a simple example);
  • specify the components you want on each target system by writing a playbook (an example is given in site.yml.example) that matches one or several hosts from your inventory file;
  • configure the necessary variables required by the roles you selected by writing host variable files in the host_vars directory (see the example file in that directory): each role requires a number of variables to be set -- read the documentation for each role (in the role-doc directory) to learn how to configure the variables according to your needs;
  • please, note that the roles you select may require a few manual steps: read the documentation to make sure you perform them all.

Once these steps are completed, run your cookbook from the root of the repository tree:

    ansible-playbook -i ansible_hosts site.yml

You may need to use some of these additional options on the command line, depending on your case:

  • -u <user> to specify the remote user to connect as;
  • -l <hostname or group> to apply the cookbook just to one hostname or group defined in your inventory;
  • -K to make Ansible prompt for a su or sudo password so that it obtains the right privileges on the target system.
  • -vvvv to obtain a verbose output and check for errors.


To report a bug, ask questions or provide feedback of any kind, open an issue in Caislean's Github project or write to:

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