About the chef-repo

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The chef-repo is a directory on your workstation that stores:

  • Cookbooks (including recipes, attributes, custom resources, libraries, and templates)
  • Roles
  • Data bags
  • Environments

The chef-repo directory should be synchronized with a version control system, such as git. All of the data in the chef-repo should be treated like source code.

knife is used to upload data to the Chef server from the chef-repo directory. Once uploaded, that data is used by the chef-client to manage all of the nodes that are registered with the Chef server and to ensure that the correct cookbooks, environments, roles, and other settings are applied to nodes correctly.

Directory Structure

The chef-repo contains several directories, each with a README file that describes what it is for and how to use that directory when managing systems.

The sub-directories in the chef-repo are:

Directory Description
.chef/ A hidden directory that is used to store validation key files and optionally a knife.rb file.
cookbooks/ Contains cookbooks that have been downloaded from the Chef Supermarket or created locally.
data_bags/ Stores data bags (and data bag items) in JSON (.json).
environments/ Stores environment in Ruby (.rb) or JSON (.json).
roles/ Stores roles in Ruby (.rb) or JSON (.json).


The .chef directory is a hidden directory that is used to store validation key files and optionally a knife.rb file.


The cookbooks/ directory is used to store the cookbooks that are used by the chef-client when configuring the various systems in the organization. This directory contains the cookbooks that are used to configure systems in the infrastructure. Each cookbook can be configured to contain cookbook-specific copyright, email, and license data.


The data_bags/ directory is used to store all of the data bags that exist for an organization. Each sub-directory corresponds to a single data bag on the Chef server and contains a JSON file for each data bag item. If a sub-directory does not exist, then create it using SSL commands. After a data bag item is created, it can then be uploaded to the Chef server.


The environments/ directory is used to store the files that define the environments that are available to the Chef server. The environments files can be Ruby DSL files (.rb) or they can be JSON files (.json). Use knife to install environment files to the Chef server.


The roles/ directory is used to store the files that define the roles that are available to the Chef server. The roles files can be Ruby DSL files (.rb) or they can be JSON files (.json). Use knife to install role files to the Chef server.

chefignore Files

The chefignore file is used to tell knife which cookbook files in the chef-repo should be ignored when uploading data to the Chef server. The type of data that should be ignored includes swap files, version control data, build output data, and so on. The chefignore file uses the File.fnmatch Ruby syntax to define the ignore patterns using *, **, and ? wildcards.

  • A pattern is relative to the cookbook root
  • A pattern may contain relative directory names
  • A pattern may match all files in a directory

The chefignore file can be located in any subdirectory of a chef-repo: /, /cookbooks, /cookbooks/COOKBOOK_NAME/, roles, etc. It should contain sections similar to the following:

# section

# section

# section

# section

# section

# section


The following examples show how to add entries to the chefignore file.

Ignore editor swap files

Many text editors leave files behind. To prevent these files from being uploaded to the Chef server, add an entry to the chefignore file. For Emacs, do something like:


and for vim, do something like:


Ignore top-level Subversion data

If Subversion is being used as the version source control application, it is important not to upload certain files that Subversion uses to maintain the version history of each file. This is because the chef-client will never use it while configuring nodes, plus the amount of data in an upload that includes top-level Subversion data could be significant.

To prevent the upload of top-level Subversion data, add something like the following to the chefignore file:


To verify that the top-level Subversion data is not being uploaded to the Chef server, use knife and run a command similar to:

$ knife cookbook show name_of_cookbook cookbook_version | grep .svn

Ignore all files in a directory

The chefignore file can be used to ignore all of the files in a directory. For example:




Many Users, Same Repo

The knife.rb configuration can include arbitrary Ruby code to extend configuration beyond static values. This can be used to load environmental variables from the workstation. This makes it possible to write a single knife.rb file that can be used by all users within your organization. This single file can also be checked into your chef-repo, allowing users to load different knife.rb files based on which chef-repo they execute the commands from. This can be especially useful when each chef-repo points to a different chef server or organization.

Example knife.rb:

current_dir = File.dirname(__FILE__)
  user = ENV['OPSCODE_USER'] || ENV['USER']
  node_name                user
  client_key               "#{ENV['HOME']}/chef-repo/.chef/#{user}.pem"
  validation_client_name   "#{ENV['ORGNAME']}-validator"
  validation_key           "#{ENV['HOME']}/chef-repo/.chef/#{ENV['ORGNAME']}-validator.pem"
  chef_server_url          "https://api.opscode.com/organizations/#{ENV['ORGNAME']}"
  syntax_check_cache_path  "#{ENV['HOME']}/chef-repo/.chef/syntax_check_cache"
  cookbook_path            ["#{current_dir}/../cookbooks"]
  cookbook_copyright       "Your Company, Inc."
  cookbook_license         "apachev2"
  cookbook_email           "cookbooks@yourcompany.com"

  # Amazon AWS
  knife[:aws_access_key_id] = ENV['AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID']
  knife[:aws_secret_access_key] = ENV['AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY']

Create the chef-repo

There are two ways to create a chef-repo when using the Chef boilerplate repository as a base:

  • Clone the chef-repo from GitHub
  • Download the chef-repo as a tar.gz file and place it into local version source control.


Chef strongly recommends using some type of version control tool to manage the source code in the chef-repo. Chef uses git for everything, including for cookbooks. git and/or GitHub is not required to use Chef. If another version source control system is preferred over git (such as Subversion, Mercurial, or Bazaar) that is just fine.


To create a chef-repo, run the following command:

$ chef generate repo REPO_NAME

This command uses the chef command-line tool that is packaged as part of the Chef development kit to create a chef-repo.