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About chef-repo

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The chef-repo is a directory on your workstation that stores everything you need to define your infrastructure with Chef Infra:

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

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.

You’ll use the chef and knife commands to upload data to the Chef Infra Server from the chef-repo directory. Once uploaded, Chef Infra Client uses that data to manage the nodes registered with the Chef Infra Server and to ensure that it applies the right cookbooks, policyfiles, and settings to the right nodes in the right order.

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:

.chef/A hidden directory that is used to store validation key files and optionally a config.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) format.
policyfiles/Stores Policyfiles in Ruby (.rb) format.


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


The cookbooks/ directory is used to store the cookbooks that Chef Infra Client uses 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 Infra 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 Infra Server.


The policyfiles/ directory is used to store Policyfiles that define the set of cookbooks and attributes to apply to specific systems managed by the Chef Infra 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 Infra 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/, 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 Infra 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 using Subversion 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 Chef Infra 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 Infra 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 config.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 config.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 config.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 config.rb:

current_dir = File.dirname(__FILE__)
  user = ENV['CHEF_USER'] || ENV['USER']
  node_name                user
  client_key               "#{ENV['HOME']}/chef-repo/.chef/#{user}.pem"
  chef_server_url          "{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         "Apache-2.0"
  cookbook_email           ""

  # 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

Use the chef generate repo command to create your chef-repo directory along with the base folder structure. This command uses the chef command-line tool that is packaged as part of Chef Workstation to create a chef-repo.

chef generate repo REPO_NAME


By default the chef generate repo command generates a base chef-repo configured for Policyfiles. To create a repository setup for Roles and Environments instead use the --roles flag when running the command.

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