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Upgrade Lab: Chef Infra Client 12 to 16

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Chef Software’s Upgrade Lab provides an isolated cookbook development environment and in-line support to help you upgrade your system, so you can stop using legacy Chef Infra and start using modern Chef Infra.

The Upgrade Lab provides a report of your existing nodes and cookbooks, so you will know the scope of the work and you can identify a good place to start. Upgrade Lab works by capturing any node from the production environment and recreating it locally by generating a repository for that node, which provides you with a sandbox to work through upgrading and testing your cookbooks at a safe distance from your production environment.

About This Guide

This guide covers the straightforward pattern of upgrading from Chef Infra Client 12 to Chef Infra Client 16, including upgrading Chef Infra Server as you go. While we think this guide is the smoothest path forward, it is not meant to exclude other approaches.

Unless otherwise indicated, you will run all commands in your local development environment.


This guide illustrates the basic case of upgrading a single node in isolation, including migrating the node from one Chef Infra Server to a new Chef Infra Server. More complex situations, such as those involving pooled nodes using Chef Infra Server search for peer discovery, are not covered here. Please contact Chef Software customer support for more complex cases.

Chef Upgrade Lab Requirements

System Architecture Requirements

The Chef Upgrade Lab makes some basic assumptions about your existing system:

  • Two Chef Infra Servers
    • A Chef Infra Server running some older version
    • A newly installed Chef Infra Server running the latest software, set up and configured for knife, but otherwise empty
  • One or more nodes
    • Running Chef Infra Client 12-15
    • Minimum 512 MB RAM
    • Recommended 5GB space
    • Bootstrapped to the older Chef Infra Server
    • sudo permissions on the node
    • SSH connectivity between the nodes and the administrator/developer workstation
  • An administrator/developer workstation
    • 64-bit architecture
    • Minimum 4 GB RAM
    • Recommended 10 GB of available disk space for installing Chef Workstation and running the Chef Upgrade Lab

Software Requirements

Chef does not prescribe any specific editor. However, the Chef Infra extension for Visual Studio Code features several code generators and helpful features, such as running Cookstyle each time you save a recipe.

Server Backup

We recommend performing a backup before starting any server upgrade process. Follow the Chef Infra Server Backup documentation before starting your Upgrade Lab.

Infrastructure Requirements


Your credentials are set up using knife profiles. This method allows you to keep your keys in a credentials file, and makes switching between credentials easier.

For example, in .chef/credentials:

client_name = "user_name"
chef_server_url = ""
client_key = """
client_name = "user_name"
chef_server_url = ""
client_key = """


You must have a user key for both of the Chef Infra Servers and you must be able to connect to both Chef Infra Servers from your development workstation.

Verify connectivity by running a knife command and receiving a reasonable response from each server:

chef exec knife user list --profile old-server
chef exec knife user list --profile new-server


Your nodes are in a good working order. They converge cleanly under the older version of Chef Infra Client.

Verify that the nodes are healthy by running:

chef exec knife status --profile old-server

The output should look similar to:

42 minutes ago, node-01, ubuntu 18.04.

This command outputs the time of the last successful Chef Infra Client run of each node. Nodes that return radically different times for the last successful Chef Infra Client run are not in good working order.

Cookbook CI/CD

While we do not prescribe a particular choice of technology or the details of processes, the Chef Upgrade Lab expects a continuous integration pipeline and continuous delivery system (CI/CD) for cookbook deployments.

The Upgrade Lab assumes but does not require that you have a continuous integration pipeline (CI) setup for your cookbooks with:

  • A version control system (for example, git)
  • Some degree of automated testing for proposed changes
  • A continuous delivery system (CD) that controls cookbook releases; the CD is the mechanism for updating cookbook versions and uploading them to the Chef Infra Server(s)

If you do not have a version control system and CI/CD pipeline in place, then please contact your account team for help or find us at

You can also ask questions in the Chef community channels:

Upgrade Lab

Inventory Your System with Chef Reports

We recommend starting the upgrade process on a node with a simple setup, such as one with fewer and simpler cookbooks. The chef report command surveys your nodes and cookbooks. Use the reports to identify a good starting place.

chef report nodes

The chef report nodes -p PROFILE command will:

  • create a report of the nodes in your system from Ohai data
  • print a report summary to the screen
  • save the report to the .chef-workstation/reports/ directory

Create a node report from your development workstation by running:

chef report nodes -p old-server

Which outputs a node report:

Analyzing nodes...


            Node Name             Chef Version    Operating System     Number Cookbooks
  node-01                         12.22.5        windows v10.0.14393                 18
  node-02                         12.22.5        windows v10.0.14393                 18
  node-03                         12.22.5        windows v10.0.14393                  5
  node-04                         12.18.31       windows v6.3.9600                    5
Nodes report saved to /Users/user_name/.chef-workstation/reports/nodes-20200324135111.txt

chef report cookbooks

The chef report cookbooks -p PROFILE command will:

  • create a report of the cookbooks in your system from Ohai data
  • print a report summary to the screen
  • save the report to the .chef-workstation/reports/ directory

This report shows that there are two cookbooks on the server. It analyzes the cookbooks, looking for cookbook issues that will be problematic in later versions of the Chef Infra Client by running the cookstyle program. Here, we see that the cron cookbook has a single violation, and which can be auto-corrected by cookstyle.

Create a cookbook report from your development workstation by running:

chef report cookbooks -V -p old-server

Which outputs a cookbook report:

        Cookbook         Version   Violations   Auto-correctable   Nodes Affected
  cron                   1.7.5              1                  1                1
  upgrade_labs_problems  0.1.0              2                  2                1

Cookbooks report saved to /Users/user_name/.chef-workstation/reports/cookbooks-20200504155204.txt

Create an Upgrade Environment with chef capture

The chef capture NODE command will:

  • Create a repository for that node in the current directory
  • Help you obtain and organize the cookbooks you need to converge the node
  • Create a kitchen.yml, which allows you to use Test Kitchen to perform local development

Run the command:

chef capture NODE

The screen output describes the capture process:

 - Setting up local repository
 - Capturing node object ''
 - Capturing cookbooks...
 - Capturing environment...
 - Capturing roles...
 - Writing kitchen configuration...

Repository has been created in './node-NODE-repo'.

Add Cookbook Source Locations

After creating the repo, chef capture NODE prompts you to fetch the cookbooks from their original locations.

Upgrading a node means upgrading its cookbooks so that it can run the latest version of Chef Infra Client. Ideally, you can get the cookbooks from their canonical source (that is, git clone or another similar version control operation). If you are working with a version control system, you can make and test your changes locally and then push the changes back to the cookbook’s source. This fully leverages the benefits of your cookbook CI/CD pipeline by allowing your changes to go through proper version control, peer review, automated testing, and automated deployment.

If you can’t locate a cookbook, do not download it from an external source, such as the public Chef Supermarket. The cookbook version in your development environment must match the version on your node. As a last resort, the Upgrade Lab can get copies of your cookbooks from the Chef Infra Server during the capture phase.

Likely cookbook locations:

Cookbook Directory Layout

If you have access to cookbook sources, storing cookbooks in one parent directory is easier, similar to this:

--- cron
    -- .git/   # Or other version control bookkeeping
    -- recipes/
    -- ...
    -- metadata.rb
--- chef-client
    -- .cvs/   # Or other version control bookkeeping
    -- recipes/
    -- ...
    -- metadata.rb
--- my_custom_cookbook
    -- .git/   # Or other version control bookkeeping
    -- recipes/
    -- ...
    -- metadata.rb

The Upgrade Lab works if you have cookbooks in different locations, but it involves more prompting from the command line.

Main Cookbook Development Location

The chef capture command prompts you first for your main cookbook source location:

Next, locate version-controlled copies of the cookbooks. This is
important so that you can track changes to the cookbooks as you
edit them. You may have one or more existing paths where you have
checked out cookbooks. If not, now is a good time to open a
separate terminal and clone or check out the cookbooks.

If all cookbooks are not available in the same base location,
you will have a chance to provide additional locations.

Press Enter to Continue:

Please clone or check out the following cookbooks locally
from their original sources, and provide the base path
for the checkout:

  - cron (v1.6.1)
  - chef-client (v4.3.0)
  - logrotate (v1.9.2)
  - windows (v1.44.1)
  - chef_handler (v1.4.0)

If sources are not available for these cookbooks, leave this blank.

Checkout Location [none]:

At this point, enter the path to your cookbook development directory, for example, /Users/user_name/my_cookbooks at the prompt.

chef capture scans that path and locates the cookbooks that it needs. The command finishes once it accounts for all cookbook sources; but if any are missing, it will prompt for them in the next step.

Checkout Location [none]: /src/my_cookbooks
  Using your checked-out cookbook: cron
  using your checked-out cookbook: chef-client

Alternate Cookbook Source Locations

Suppose that your node requires 5 cookbooks:

  • cron (v1.6.1)
  • chef-client (v4.3.0)
  • logrotate (v1.9.2)
  • windows (v1.44.1)
  • chef_handler (v1.4.0)

If the directory you provided in the initial prompt contains only cron and chef-client, then chef capture prompts you to add the locations for sources for the remaining three:

Please provide the base checkout path for the following
cookbooks, or leave blank if no more cookbooks are checked out:

  - logrotate (v1.9.2)
  - windows (v1.44.1)
  - chef_handler (v1.4.0)

Checkout Location [none]:

chef capture scans the path that you provide and locates the cookbooks that it needs. The command finishes once it accounts for all cookbook sources; it prompts you for another path if it needs more cookbook sources.

Download Cookbooks from Chef Infra Server

If you do not have access to the original version-controlled source of a cookbook, press return at the prompt for chef capture to use a copy of the cookbook downloaded from the Chef Infra Server.

Upgrading cookbooks from the Chef Infra Server is not an ideal practice. You will make changes to your cookbooks during the course of the upgrade. Making changes to your cookbooks without the ability to track your changes in version control almost inevitably leads to conflicts between cookbook sources. Reconciling cookbooks with untracked changes is a difficult and time-consuming process. If you find yourself using many cookbooks–or complex cookbooks–downloaded from the Chef Infra Server, it will be worth the effort in the long run to try to track down their version-controlled sources.

Tracking and testing changes in a CI/CD pipeline is an important part of managing your Chef infrastructure, but are beyond the scope of this guide. See Learn Chef Rally for tutorials and contact Chef Software customer support when you are ready to modernize your system.

------------------------ WARNING ---------------------------
Changes made to the following cookbooks in ./node-MY_NODE-repo/cookbooks
cannot be saved to the cookbook's source, though they can still be uploaded
to a Chef Server:

  - logrotate (v1.9.2)
  - windows (v1.44.1)
  - chef_handler (v1.4.0)

You're ready to begin!

Start with 'kitchen converge'.  As you identify issues, you
can modify cookbooks in their original checkout locations or
in the repository's cookbooks directory and they will be picked
up on subsequent runs of 'kitchen converge'.

Detect and Correct Cookbook Errors


Be cautious when running your cookbooks locally. It is possible to accidentally impact production infrastructure based on settings in your cookbooks and attributes. Read over your cookbooks and attributes, especially attributes set in roles and environments. If needed, override attributes so they can be tested locally in your kitchen.yml.

Increment the Chef Infra Client Version

In the kitchen.yml file, change the product_version line to 16:

  name: chef_zero
  product_name: chef
  product_version: 16  # Change this line

If needed, you can “step forward” versions by first going from 12 to 13, correcting any issues, and then incrementing from 13 to 14, etc. until you reach Chef Infra Client 16.

Attempt a Converge and Check for Errors

Save the file and test it in the node-MY_NODE-repo directory by running:

chef exec kitchen converge

Watch for Chef Infra errors. If any occur, fix them.

Test and Correct with Cookstyle

To check for version upgrade issues, run:

chef exec cookstyle cookbooks/my_cookbook

Repeat this process for each cookbook for that node.

Using Cookstyle Auto-correct

Use Cookstyle’s auto-correct feature to fix style errors by adding the -a (for auto-correct) flag:

chef exec cookstyle -a cookbooks/my_cookbook

Other issues may require manual intervention and editing. Repeat this process for each cookbook that the node consumes.

Copy Data Bags

If your Chef Infra Server uses data bags, you will need to download the data_bags directory into your chef repo with the chef exec knife download data_bags command. This command does not support embedded keys in credentials files. If you use embedded keys, move the key to a key file.

cd node-node-01-repo
chef exec knife download data_bags --chef-repo-path . --profile old-server --key my-old-key.pem

Deploy Your Chef Lab Upgrades


This guide suggests migrating upgraded cookbooks and nodes to a new Chef Infra Server. This pattern is not possible for all customers, specifically those who rely on chef search for inventory and coordination. Migrating to a new server works for customers who do not rely on search because it creates a fresh start to build on for future migration to Effortless.

If you rely on knife search, or setting up a new Chef Infra Server is not possible, upload the upgraded cookbooks to your existing Chef Infra Server. If you do this, be sure to pin your cookbook versions on existing nodes, so that the upgraded cookbook can be manually promoted to desired nodes.

Commit Your Cookbook Upgrades

As you make changes to the cookbooks, follow your organization’s existing software development practices. Commit your changes to your cookbooks and submit your changes to your cookbook pipeline to be tested by your automated testing system. Once the changes have passed testing, the cookbooks should receive new version numbers and be published to the new Chef Infra Server by the continuous deployment system.

Optionally Upload Your Cookbook Upgrades to the New Server

If your organization does not have a cookbook pipeline in place, or if you are setting up a proof of concept, you can directly upload the cookbooks to the new server. We do not recommend this because it makes it difficult to manage changes to cookbook code. This command does not support embedded keys in credentials files, so you must place the key in a key file.

cd node-node-01-repo
chef exec knife upload cookbooks --chef-repo-path . --profile new-server --key ../keys/my-new-key.pem

Upload Supplemental Data to the New Server

Next, upload the remaining data to the new server. Note that knife upload command does not support embedded keys in credentials files, so you must place the key in a key file.

Node Data

If you use node search, upload the node data to the new server:

chef exec knife upload nodes --chef-repo-path . --profile new-server --key ../keys/my-new-key.pem


If you use roles, upload them to the new server:

chef exec knife upload roles --chef-repo-path . --profile new-server --key ../keys/my-new-key.pem


If you use environments, upload them to the new server:

chef exec knife upload environments --chef-repo-path . --profile new-server --key ../keys/my-new-key.pem

Data Bags

If you used data bags, upload them to the new server:

chef exec knife upload data_bags --chef-repo-path . --profile new-server --key ../keys/my-new-key.pem

Attach the Upgraded Node to the New Server

Issue a new Bootstrap Command

Migrate your node to the new server by running a bootstrap command similar to:

chef exec knife bootstrap \
    --profile new-server --chef-license accept \
    -r cookbook::recipe,another_cookbook::recipe \
    -N node-01 -y --sudo \
    --bootstrap-version 16 \

Bootstrapping nodes in this way upgrades the installed Chef Infra Client to version 16. Congratulations!

Optionally, delete your node record from the old server using:

chef exec knife node delete node-01 --profile old-server

Repeat as Needed

Happy Converging!