Opscode Chef 101

Chef is an outstanding Ruby based configuration management system. It’s main reason for existance is to automate your infrastructure. It will help you bring your application to life, including all the dependencies like web and app servers, load balancers, dns, ntp, just to name a few. You’ll find hundreds of pre-built cookbooks on the Community web site. If you want to learn Chef the best starting point is the LearnChef web site. Today, we will show you how to quickly setup a Chef infrastructure easily step by step.

Before starting to deploy all the Chef components and if you have no ideas about what it(s all about, it’s a good idea to review the main concepts behind this configuration management solution. You’ll find a short overview in the official docs.

Quickly put you’ll need:

  • A chef server - API server which stores cookbooks, node policies and metadata
  • A workstation - to develop your cookbooks and run knife commands (CLI to interact with the Chef Server).
  • A chef-repo - a git Repository - to keep track of your cookbooks, roles, Data bags and environments.

Chef Server

Chef Server is developed in Erlang. It uses an Nginx frontend to serve API request, RabbitMQ to send message to the Apache Solr indexer and a PostgreSQL repository.

Instead of using your own instance, if you are in a hurry, you can use the Enterprise Chef hosted solution from Opscode. it’s free up to 5 nodes and can easily scale.

Chef Server installation

But If you prefer you can install your own Chef Server on a brand new Ubuntu 12.04 system.

Note: In the remaining of the lab, we’ll use user as the Ubuntu user account, make sure you replace it with your own user account everywhere necessary. And If a command isn’t prefixed with chef-server> make sure you run it from the workstation node otherwise run it from the chef-server node.

To start the installation first update the hostname of this system:

chef-server> sudo hostname ''
chef-server> echo "" | sudo tee /etc/hostname

Make sure then your VM is registered with your DNS server or update your /etc/hosts with a fully qualified domain name (FQDN) by adding such a line in it: chef-server

You can automate it like this:

chef-server> echo -e " `hostname` `hostname -s`" | sudo tee -a /etc/hosts

Install Chef-Server by following this process:

  1. go to
  2. click on the Chef Server tab
  3. select the correct Ubuntu release.
  4. select the latest version
  5. download and transfer the deb package to your node using scp chef-server_11.0.8-1.ubuntu.12.04_amd64.deb <user>
  6. Install the package: sudo dpkg -i /tmp/chef-server_11.0.8-1.ubuntu.12.04_amd64.deb
  7. Reconfigure your Chef-Server environment with: sudo chef-server-ctl reconfigure

Opscode engineers uses their own solution to install and manage a Chef-Server (Erchef) including all the dependencies (RabbitMQ, PostgreSQL, ..) that’s pretty damn smart. That’s one of the reason I like Chef so much, they make everything so simple for us simple humans. So that’s all you need, you can verify the installation of your Chef Server with sudo chef-server-ctl test

If you get any error message, check again the ability of the chef-server to resolve its hostname.

Before going to the next section, you can play around with Chef Server Web UI: (put in your server FQDN)


To interact with your Chef Server, you now need to configure a Chef Workstation.

Omnibus installation

Let’s assume you’ll be using a Linux workstation as your favorite option, Chef also support Mac OS X and Windows but Linux makes everything easier at least for me. This article also assume a Debian based distribution. Let’s install the pre-requisites on this host with the following commands:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install build-essential wget git

It’s now time to configure git

git config --global "user"
git config --global ""

You have two options to install Chef on your workstation, if you already have Ruby installed on your system, use:

gem install chef

If not, don’t panic, you can use the Omnibus installer from Opscode which install Ruby and Chef in one simple step with:

curl -L | sudo bash

This script retrieve your Platform details (distrib/version) from

/etc/lsb-release (Linux)
/etc/redhat-release (RedHat)
/etc/system-release (Fedora)
/etc/SuSE-release (SUSE)
/etc/release (Solaris)
/usr/bin/sw_vers (Mac OSX)

Note: If you have a distro based on Debian but with a customized name you’ll have to tweak your /etc/lsb-release first.

And then download and install the correct packages in our Debian case with

wget -O "/tmp/tmp.XXXXXXXX/chef_${version}_amd64.deb"${version}&prerelease=false&p=debian&pv=6&m=x86_64
sudo dpkg -i <PKGNAME>

If you don’t like to run arbitrary code as root you can also do that on your own by manually downloading the Omnibus Installer.

After a while, the installation should finish with the following output

Downloading Chef  for ubuntu...
Installing Chef 
Selecting previously unselected package chef.
(Reading database ... 195723 files and directories currently installed.)
Unpacking chef (from .../tmp.yIoE7Dqv/chef__amd64.deb) ...
Setting up chef (11.6.2-1.ubuntu.12.04) ...
Thank you for installing Chef!

You can check it was correctly installed with

apt-cache show chef

This Omnibus installation lives below /opt/chef, you’ll find all software versions installed in the following file:


If you are curious you can also dump package content with

dpkg -L chef

You can now add Chef to your PATH

echo 'export PATH="/opt/chef/embedded/bin:$PATH"' >> ~/.bash_profile && source ~/.bash_profile

Before going to the next step, test your installation by running:

chef-client -v


You now have to get an empty Chef repository from Opscode to get you started, to do that run the following commands on your workstation.

tar xvf master
mv opscode-chef-repo-f9d4b0c/ chef-repo
cd chef-repo/

Initialize it as a Git Repository

git init .

If you have an upstream repository on github you can connect it with (optional step)

git remote add origin<YOURACCOUNTHERE>/chef-repo.git

Add & Commit your repository

git add .
git commit -m "initial commit"

Push it upstream (optional step)

git push -u origin master

Note: If you prefer a shorter workflow, you can also directly clone Opscode github repository using

git clone git://

Workstation configuration

We are almost ready to use our Chef infrastructure, we just need to connect our Workstation to our Chef Server. Create the following directory which will contain our configuration:

mkdir -p ~/chef-repo/.chef

Make sure git will ignore this directory, it contains sensitive informations

echo ".chef" >> .gitignore

Every requests comming to the server is authenticated using PKI so you need to copy the following files from your chef-server to your workstation

chef-server> scp /etc/chef-server/admin.pem <user>@workstation:/home/<user>/chef-repo/.chef/
chef-server> scp /etc/chef-server/chef-validator.pem <user>@workstation:/home/<user>/chef-repo/.chef/

When a chef-client connect for the first time, its /etc/chef/client.pem doesn’t exist, so it will use instead /etc/chef/validation.pem which is installed at the same time as chef-client itself (manually or via bootstrapping). This insure that each node can make an authenticated client request during its first chef-client run.

To create the initial .chef/knife.rb configuration, you first need to add the following line to your /etc/hosts of your workstation


You can now run

knife configure -i \
  -u <user> \
  -s \
  -r /home/<user>/chef-repo \
  --admin-client-name admin \
  --admin-client-key /home/<user>/chef-repo/.chef/admin.pem \
  --validation-key /home/<user>/chef-repo/.chef/chef-validator.pem \
  --validation-client-name chef-validator

It will create a new user and generate the following configuration file /home/<user>/.chef/knife.rb:

log_level                :info
log_location             STDOUT
node_name                'user'
client_key               '/home/user/chef-repo/.chef/user.pem'
validation_client_name   'chef-validator'
validation_key           '/home/user/chef-repo/chef-validator.pem'
chef_server_url          ''
syntax_check_cache_path  '/home/user/chef-repo/.chef/syntax_check_cache'
cookbook_path            [ '/home/user/chef-repo/cookbooks' ]

You can now confirm it works:

workstation> knife client list

You should get back the following


chef-validator will be used by new born nodes which will then borrow the identity of chef-validator from the /etc/chef/validation.pem private key installed at bootstrap time to register to the server and then get their own key.


We are now ready to install the first cookbooks from Opscode community site:

knife cookbook site install apt
knife cookbook site install apache2
knife cookbook site install magic_shell

If you are curious you can explore cookbooks content, for example have a look inside metadata.rb, and recipes/default.rb.

Your repository is automatically commited after each cookbook site installation, see:

git log

You can easily create a new cookbook

knife cookbook create aliases

To use the Light Weight Resource Provider (LWRP) of the magic_shell cookbook inside the newly created one, add the following line to the new cookbook metadata.rb which reside in cookbooks/aliases directory

depends 'magic_shell'

You can now use the corresponding LWRP in the aliases/recipes/default.rb default recipe like this

# Alias `h` to go home
magic_shell_alias 'h' do
  command 'cd ~'

# Alias `sites` to cd into apache
magic_shell_alias 'sites' do
  command "cd #{node['apache']['dir']}/sites-enabled"

# Set Nano as the default editor
magic_shell_environment 'EDITOR' do
      value 'nano'

Commit the newly created cookbook to your Git repository

git add cookbooks/aliases/
git commit -m "aliases cookbook created"

Upload the cookbooks to your Chef Server

knife cookbook upload --all

Bootstrap a node

To proceed to this section you first need another Ubuntu base OS available. You should normally be able to bootstrap the node using Knife:

knife bootstrap <NODE_IP_ADDRESS> \
  --ssh-user <userid> \
  --run-list "recipe[apt],recipe[aliases],recipe[apache2]" \

By default the boostrapping process will leverage the Omnibus Installer on your node using the following script.

But let’s customize it, you can find the default bootstrapping script below

gem contents chef | grep chef-full

For our lab we’ll use an offline based bootstrapping instead of downloading the Omnibus package from Opscode, just copy the default one first

cp <location from previous command>/chef-full.erb ~/chef-repo/.chef/bootstrap/ubuntu12.04-offline.erb

Now you can edit it to update the following part like that

cat >> /etc/hosts <<'EOP'
<CHEF_SERVER_IPADDRESS>     chef-server


if ! exists /usr/bin/chef-client; then
  if exists wget; then
    wget ${install_deb} -O chef_11.6.2-1.deb
    dpkg -i chef_11.6.2-1.deb
  elif exists curl; then
    curl -L ${install_deb} chef_11.6.2-1.deb
    dpkg -i chef_11.6.2-1.deb

The first section where we add a line to /etc/hosts is necessary if you don’t have any DNS resolver that can resolve in this lab.

Before bootstrapping your node, serve the deb file from your Chef Server with Ruby:

/opt/chef-server/embedded/bin/ruby -run \
  -e httpd -- \
  -p 3333 \

Now you can bootstrap it using knife bootstrap command using --distro argument

knife bootstrap <NODE_IP_ADDRESS> \
  --node-name node-01
  --ssh-user <user> \
  --run-list "recipe[apt],recipe[aliases],recipe[apache2]" \
  --distro ubuntu12.04-offline \

Check that your node is now registered with your Chef Server

knife client list
knife node show node-01

SSH to your newly bootstraped node and check if everything looks good by running the following commands.

echo $EDITOR
ps aux | grep apache

If you try to reach the hosted web site it displays a Not Found error, let’s go back to our apache2 cookbook to see how we can improve that. If you look into the cookbook/apache2/attributes/default.rb you’ll find multiple line saying, one for each supported platform:

default['apache']['default_site_enabled'] = false

Apache2 is an Opscode community cookbook, forking it is the last thing you want to do. So let’s create instead a Role to tweak how it gets applied to our node.


To create a webserver role, we have to first describe it in the chef-repo/roles/webserver.rb file like this

name "webserver"
description "Systems that serve HTTP and HTTPS"
  "apache" => {
    "default_site_enabled" => true

Upload this new role to your Chef Server

knife role from file webserver.rb

Edit your node to use this Role instead of the previous recipes

knife node edit <nodename>

update the run_list section like below

"run_list": [

remotly re-run chef-client

knife ssh -P <sshpassword> -a ipaddress 'name:node-01' "sudo chef-client"

It Works should now have replaced the previous Not Found error message.

Just for fun you can try to run the above command again to prove Chef is really idempotent meaning commands won’t be executed if it’s not necessary. You’ll see instead 0 resources updated .


Ohai is a tool which will gather all the information of your node. To see all the information it’s gathering about a node, just run it

ohai | more

Chef Shell

While writing cookbook the Chef Shell can really save your life when it comes to troubleshooting. You can enter the shell from a root account with

node> chef-shell --client

You can then investigate around like this

node> help
node> nodes.list
node> webserver ='NODENAME')
node> webserver.ipaddress
node> webserver.fqdn
node> search(:node, 'recipes:aliases')
node> exit

You can play around a bit if you want.

Knife OpenStack plugin

In our previous lab exercices we had to provision a VM on our own, but Chef can do better then that. Knife offers lots of plugin, like the OpenStack one that can be leveraged to easily provision VMs on OpenStack.

Install it with

sudo /opt/chef/embedded/bin/gem install knife-openstack unf --no-ri --no-rdoc

You now have to configure it by adding the following to your knife.rb

knife[:openstack_username] = "Your OpenStack Dashboard username"
knife[:openstack_password] = "Your OpenStack Dashboard password"
knife[:openstack_auth_url] = ""
knife[:openstack_tenant] = "Your OpenStack tenant name"

You can get the Identity API endpoint URL details from the API access tab within the OpenStack Horizon Dashboard.

You can now check if the connection is operational

knife openstack flavor list

To choose an image to bootstrap, select one from the following list

knife openstack image list

You can now bootstrap a node using, replace the Image ID by the one you got from the previous command.

knife openstack server create \
  --run-list 'role[webserver]' \
  --flavor 0 \
  --image 932cd617-26d3-4d0e-bb5b-f4ef28d9c085 \
  --ssh-user <user> \
  --node-name \
  --distro ubuntu12.04-offline 

Check it was successfully created

knife openstack server list

If you want to clean up behind you

knife openstack server delete -N -P <INSTANCE_ID>

Use -P to also delete Chef client and node.


You now have a fully operational Chef infrastructure. It’s a good starting point to learn Chef by using Chef. Have fun.