The Future of the Chef Web UI 2014-08-21

While not a secret, it hasn’t been widely known throughout the Chef community that the current web interface is deprecated. This was announced originally back at the release of Chef Server 11, but little has been said since then.


Several years ago Chef Software (then Opscode) started work on a full rewrite of the Chef web interface. Full disclosure: I led the team on this rewrite, so I’m far from unbiased in all of this. The decision back then was to make sure Enterprise Chef organizations were a first-class element of the new interface as this was a common complaint about the old one for Hosted Chef. The downside of that was that a single codebase could no longer be shared between Enterprise Chef and Open Source Chef. This led to the new web interface being budgeted and planned as an Enterprise Chef value-add feature.

What Does Deprecation Mean?

Chef Software has committed to maintaining security fixes on the current web interface through the life cycle of Chef Server 12. No feature development is planned, and bugs are only being fixed in a “best effort” fashion. To the best of my knowledge, Chef Software will not provide official support for the Open Source web interface any longer. At some future point, likely Chef Server 12, the Open Source web interface will be removed from Chef Server omnibus packages.

What Should I Do About It?

My standing recommendation is to disable the Open Source web interface. While Chef Software is releasing security fixes, the storm of serious Rails issues earlier this year left many people at risk for several days at a time while releases were prepared. Given the pending removal, it would be wise to ensure your workflow adapts to life without the web interface.

You can disable the Open Source web interface by creating an /etc/chef-server/chef-server.rb configuration file and adding chef_server_webui['enable'] = false to it and then running a reconfigure:

cd /etc/chef-server
echo "chef_server_webui['enable'] = false" >> chef-server.rb
chef-server-ctl reconfigure

If you visit the Chef Server in a web browser you should now see an Nginx error page.

How Do I Get Started?

On your Chef Server machine, look in /etc/chef-server. You will see both a validation.pem and an admin.pem. The validation key should be copied to your workstation to use with knife bootstrap in the future. The admin key can be used to setup your initial user account. The easiest option is to copy it to your workstation and run:

knife client create -a -u admin -k /path/to/admin.pem yourusername

This will create a new admin-level client key for you. Once you have your own client key, I recommend deleting the admin.pem key for security reasons.

The Future

Chef Software has announced that at some future point, the Enterprise Chef web interface will be available for free(-as-in-beer) to people with fewer than a certain number of nodes. To the best of my knowledge that threshold has not been announced, but it is notable that Hosted Chef’s free tier is five nodes or fewer. The Enterprise Chef web interface will still be managed as a proprietary software project internal to Chef Software. For those that know my open source leanings, the previous statement is not a judgment, merely a statement of fact.

Additionally Chef Software has said it would be happy to discuss turning the existing Open Source Chef web interface over to community maintainers if any are interested in managing the project.

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