How I Write Cookbooks 2016-01-20


This workflow works for me. I do not warrant its fitness for anyone else at this point, at least not as a whole. My use case of working almost exclusively on highly reusable community cookbooks is not something most people share, nor should they. By the nature of this workflow, I talk about some intermediate-to-advanced Ruby concepts, though you can probably just keep going if you run into things you don’t know.

Caveat emptor.

The Broad Strokes (tl;dr)

I write my projects as Ruby gems, using Halite to convert to cookbooks for testing and release. My gem code is mostly divided into resources (and their providers), mixins, and inversion providers. I test locally using ChefSpec with a lot of custom helpers to allow for things like testing in-line blocks of recipe code, and with Test Kitchen on top of Docker and Serverspec. My tests run remotely using Travis CI and a Docker server donated by Rackspace. I release cookbooks to RubyGems using Bundler’s rake release and to Supermarket using Stove.

Writing the Code

My editing environment is relatively simple. Sublime Text with maybe a half-dozen snippets for Ruby aphorisms but overall just a stock text editor. Right now I start off most new cookbooks by copying the skeleton from an existing one. This is slow and error-prone, and I’m working on a code generator in Yeoman to help streamline this, but in general the skeleton looks like this:


Starting from the top, everything goes in a folder. For branding and namespacing on Supermarket I put all my cookbooks under poise- prefix. As an aside, I would highly recommend others to stake out a similar prefix as the discussion around namespaces in Chef has reached a likely-permanent standstill.

Inside that I have three top-level directories: chef/, lib/, and test/. As one might expect, chef/ holds Chef-specific files that Halite can’t generate automatically from the gem code, mostly attributes and recipe files. The lib/ folder holds the gem’s source code, and the test/ folder holds unit and integration tests. After that we have a smattering of root-level configuration files. Let’s dive into each section.

chef/ Files

Any files under here are recursively copied in to the final cookbooks. For me this means, at most, one attributes file and one recipe. I try to keep both to a minimum, but some things do still call for being exposed that way.

lib/ Files

lib/ forms the base of the gem’s code. Everything that will be require‘d goes in here. For aesthetic reasons I can no longer really remember, I tend to name my projects with a poise- prefix but I prefer poise_ in the require path.

The first file in any gem is lib/poise_thing.rb. This defines the root namespace of the gem’s code. As a policy, I try to make sure that this file can be require‘d safely even outside of a Chef context. Generally this means it will just be a single Ruby module with some autoload calls to pull in second-level files as needed.

module PoiseThing
  autoload :Resources, 'poise_thing/resources'
  autoload :VERSION, 'poise_thing/version'

The simplest second-level file is version.rb, which just contains the gem version. During development this is set to something like '1.0.0.pre'. This file is managed automatically by my release:bump Rake tasks which we’ll get to later.

module PoiseThing
  VERSION = '1.0.0.pre'

After that we have cheftie.rb. Currently this is part of how Halite loads code from inside the Chef run, but the plan is to replace it with a more Bundler-style mechanism after Chef RFC060 is implemented. As it stands, cheftie.rb acts as an “entry point” which is require‘d by Chef during cookbook loading, so from here I can decide what code should loaded eagerly and what can be lazy loaded as needed. For a simple cookbook all I need is to eagerly load all the custom resources.

require 'poise_thing/resources'

The resources.rb loads everything under the resources/ folder. Remember that YARD requires two blank lines between the license header and the first module line, which I traditionally put after the requires.

require 'poise_thing/resources/thing'

module PoiseThing
  # Chef resources and providers for poise-thing.
  # @since 1.0.0
  module Resources

Inside resources/ we have the normal resources and providers for the cookbook. In some of my cookbooks you’ll see some providers elsewhere (service_providers/, python_providers/, etc), but those are for cases where a single resource has a large number of providers. For most resources, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the resource and provider, so they live together.

Even a relatively small resource is fairly complex so let’s look at it in pieces. The start of the file is the requires to pull in the needed libraries, and then declaring the module namespace for the resource and provider classes. I use YARD’s (see ...) helper to avoid duplicating documentation between the container module and the resource class.

require 'chef/resource'
require 'chef/provider'
require 'poise'

module PoiseThing
  module Resources
    # (see Thing::Resource)
    # @since 1.0.0
    module Thing
      # Resource class
      # Provider class

The resource class subclasses Chef::Resource to get all the core behaviors, and then pulls in my Poise helpers, gives itself a name, and declares which actions it supports. The first action automatically becomes the default unless overridden. After that we define a bunch of resource properties. For a variety of not-very-good reasons I still declare them using attribute() instead of property(), but that is something I should fix. As before, everything is documented using YARD.

# A `thing` resource to manage a thing.
# @provides thing
# @action create
# @action remove
# @example
#   thing '/opt/thing' do
#     name 'My Thing'
#   end
class Resource < Chef::Resource
  include Poise
  actions(:create, :remove)

  # @!attribute path
  #   Path to the thing. Defaults to the name of the resource.
  #   @return [String]
  attribute(:path, kind_of: String, name_attribute: true)
  # @!attribute name
  #   Name of the thing.
  #   @return [String]
  attribute(:name, kind_of: String, required: true)

The provider is overall pretty similar to the resource in structure at the top. Each action is defined as a method, which uses notifying_block internally, which calls a bunch of methods to implement the behavior as resources. Breaking things in to so many methods introduces some mental overhead, but allows for a lot more flexibility when extending the provider in a subclass.

# Provider for `thing`.
# @see Resource
# @provides thing
class Provider < Chef::Provider
  include Poise

  # `create` action for `thing`. Create the thing.
  # @return [void]
  def action_create
    notifying_block do

  # `remove` action for `thing`. Remove the thing.
  # @return [void]
  def action_remove
    notifying_block do


  # Create a thing.
  def create_thing
    file new_resource.path do

  # Remove a thing.
  def remove_thing
    file new_resource.path do
      action :delete

As I add new resources, I repeat this same rough pattern. Each gets added to the resources.rb file so they get loaded by default inside Chef. If the gem is going to declare any mixins, I’ll usually put them at the lib/poise_thing/ level but my standard template doesn’t include any.

test/ Files

The test/ directory holds my fixture cookbook, Docker authentication keys, Gemfiles for Travis, and both unit and integration tests. Some people prefer putting unit tests under a top-level spec/ folder but that makes me cranky.

The fixture cookbook is used by the integration tests to run anything that isn’t exposed via a default recipe on the cookbook (which is usually most of it). Again, for reasons forgotten even to me, I put this under test/cookbooks/poise-thing_test. Given that I really really rarely have more than one, I should probably collapse that down but for now this is what we have. Inside that is a cookbook with a minimal metadata.rb.

name 'poise-thing_test'
depends 'poise-thing'

The recipes/default.rb contains whatever recipe code I want to test the behavior of, usually a bunch of different invocations of the cookbook’s resources.

thing '/opt/thing1' do
  name 'Thing One'

thing '/opt/thing2' do
  name 'Thing Two'

Moving along down the folder list we have test/docker/. In this folder you’ll find and docker.pem. The first is a the public CA certificate for my Docker server, and the second is both the certificate and encrypted private key for Docker TLS authentication. These are used by Travis CI to run my integration tests. I currently generate these with a gross knife plugin I wrote, but the Docker documentation covers the basics. I’ll expand on my CI setup later on.

Next up we have test/gemfiles/. This contains Gemfiles for the Travis CI build matrix. For most cookbooks I have two builds, one on the latest Chef release and one on Chef’s git master branch (or the latest nightly for integration tests). The chef-12.gemfile pulls in the project-level Gemfile and pins the Chef version.

eval_gemfile File.expand_path('../../../Gemfile', __FILE__)

gem 'chef', '~> 12.0'

The master.gemfile is a bit more complex, pulling in Chef as well many other dependencies from git.

eval_gemfile File.expand_path('../../../Gemfile', __FILE__)

gem 'chef', github: 'chef/chef'
gem 'halite', github: 'poise/halite'
gem 'poise', github: 'poise/poise'
gem 'poise-boiler', github: 'poise/poise-boiler'

Having the master builds combined with nightly builds helps catch breaking changes in upstream code before release.

After that we have test/integration/, the normal home for Test Kitchen integration tests. We’ll get to my .kitchen.yml configuration in a moment, but for these purposes I only ever have one suite named default and one spec so the only file in there for most cases is test/integration/default/serverspec/default_spec.rb. InSpec is a newer replacement for Serverspec, but due to some changes in the runtime structure I’ve not yet been able to move my integration tests over. It is something I’m looking in to for the future though, as InSpec and Train add additional resource types. The specs themselves are generally fairly simple.

require 'serverspec'
set :backend, :exec

describe file('/opt/thing1') do
  its(:content) { eq 'Thing One' }

describe file('/opt/thing2') do
  its(:content) { eq 'Thing Two' }

As always, take care to test your code, not Chef itself. In this reduced example it is hard to demonstrate this, but take a look over the integration suites in some of my other cookbooks.

Finally we come to unit tests, which are usually the bulk of my work by both SLOC and time. My unit tests live under test/spec/, but are otherwise fairly normal specs. The first piece in any spec tests is the spec_helper.rb. Here we see the first mention of poise-boiler, my boiler-plate reduction library. I standardized all my cookbooks so they can use the same code in some places without having to repeat it all, so most of the complex logic for setting up the spec helpers lives off in that other gem.

require 'poise_boiler/spec_helper'
require 'poise_thing'
require 'poise_thing/cheftie'

Then we have the specs for the thing resource in test/spec/resources/thing_spec.rb. Other than ending in _spec.rb there is not specific name requirements, but I try to roughly match the structure of the gem code. This makes heavy use of the Halite spec helpers for things like defining step_into() at the example group level and recipes defined in blocks.

require 'spec_helper'

describe PoiseThing::Resources::Thing do

  context 'action :create' do
    recipe do
      thing '/opt/thing' do
        name 'My Name'

    it { render_file('/opt/thing').with_content('My Name') }
  end # /context action :create

  context 'action :remove' do
    recipe do
      thing '/opt/thing' do
        action :remove

    it { delete_file('/opt/thing') }
  end # /context action :remove

Root Files

In the root of the gem’s repository we have some general configuration and documentation files. The first is a basic .gitignore. Notably I ignore the lockfiles for Berkshelf and Bundler, because reusable cookbooks are libraries. Everything under test/docker/ is ignored for safely, but this does mean the two keys in there that should be under Git have to be added with git add -f. This helps make sure I don’t accidentally commit the unencrypted private key.


Then I have my .kitchen.yml config. Like with the spec helper, it mostly lives in poise-boiler. The only data still managed directly in the file is the suite configuration and even that is probably not long for this world. The driver, provisioner, transport, and platform configurations are all handled automatically by the helper.

#<% require 'poise_boiler' %>
<%= 'linux') %>

- name: default
  - recipe[poise-thing_test]

I’ll cover the overall structure of my CI setup later on, but the Travis configuration for all cookbooks looks almost identical. The only thing that changes is the secure key (which is trimmed for brevity), which contains the passphrase to decrypt the Docker private key. The bulk of the logic for testing lives inside the rake travis task, which comes from poise-boiler.

sudo: false
cache: bundler
language: ruby
- '2.2'
    - libgecode-dev
  - secure: l7GLeLWfqrrkxpc1R9gLasQ...7tyJ8nBix9WKnFZbowmHB3Q=
bundler_args: "--binstubs=$PWD/bin --jobs 3 --retry 3"
- "./bin/rake travis"
- test/gemfiles/chef-12.gemfile
- test/gemfiles/master.gemfile

And as a final dotfile, my .yardopts for YARD documentation builds. I’ve not really kept up with the documentation side of things, but this is at least passable for most purposes.

--plugin classmethods
--embed-mixin ClassMethods
--hide-api private
--markup markdown
--tag provides:Provides
--tag action:Actions

Next we have some other documentation files.,, LICENSE, and The first two are what you would expect. The license is Apache 2.0, and the code of conduct is Contributor Covenant. For the README in particular, I have a fairly standardized format. The badge section at the top can be generated via rake badges.

# Poise-Thing Cookbook

[![Build Status](](
[![Gem Version](](
[![Cookbook Version](](

A [Chef]( cookbook to manage [a thing](

## Quick Start

To create a thing:

thing '/opt/thing' do
  name 'Thing Name'

## Resources

### `thing`

The `thing` resource manages a thing.

thing '/opt/thing' do
  name 'Thing Name'

#### Actions

* `:create` – Create the thing. *(default)*
* `:remove` – Remove the thing.

#### Properties

* `path` – Path to the thing. *(name property)*
* `name` – Name of the thing. *(required)*

## License

Copyright 2016, Your Name

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.
You may obtain a copy of the License at

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS,
See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
limitations under the License.

There are a few more sections that I add as needed, but that’s the overall structure. As a warning for those trying to copy-pasta, I trimmed the code fence markers in that block to make them not terminate the outer block.

After documentation we get to the *files. The Berksfile is used to integrate the Halite conversion process in to Test Kitchen. In the future this might be replaced with a dedicated provisioning hook, but for now it gets the job done. The Berksfile sets the normal default source, enables the Halite extension, configures gem conversion for the cookbook and every cookbook it depends on so they are rebuilt on every test run in case a local dependency is changed, and then a test group with the fixture cookbook and the apt cookbook, which is used by default on Ubuntu platforms.

source ''
extension 'halite'

# Force the rebuild every time for development.
cookbook 'poise', gem: 'poise'
cookbook 'poise-thing', gem: 'poise-thing'

group :test do
  cookbook 'poise-thing_test', path: 'test/cookbooks/poise-thing_test'
  cookbook 'apt'

The Rakefile pulls in tasks from poise-boiler.

require 'poise_boiler/rakefile'

And then the Gemfile handles dispatching to local development copies of the dependent gems. The dev_gem helper method checks for a local version of the code, then optionally a version from GitHub.

source ''

gemspec path: File.expand_path('..', __FILE__)

def dev_gem(name, path: File.join('..', name), github: nil)
  path = File.expand_path(File.join('..', path), __FILE__)
  if File.exist?(path)
    gem name, path: path
  elsif github
    gem name, github: github

dev_gem 'halite'
dev_gem 'poise'
dev_gem 'poise-boiler'

And finally we have the gemspec, poise-thing.gemspec. This fills in all the normal gemspec metadata fields which Halite uses to generate the cookbook metadata. It has runtime dependencies on poise and halite, and a development dependency on poise-boiler. Any runtime dependency other than halite gets converted into a cookbook dependency.

lib = File.expand_path('../lib', __FILE__)
$LOAD_PATH.unshift(lib) unless $LOAD_PATH.include?(lib)
require 'poise_thing/version' do |spec| = 'poise-thing'
  spec.version = PoiseThing::VERSION
  spec.authors = ['Noah Kantrowitz'] = %w{}
  spec.description = 'A Chef cookbook for managing a thing.'
  spec.summary = spec.description
  spec.homepage = ''
  spec.license = 'Apache 2.0'

  spec.files = `git ls-files`.split($/)
  spec.executables = spec.files.grep(%r{^bin/}) { |f| File.basename(f) }
  spec.test_files = spec.files.grep(%r{^(test|spec|features)/})
  spec.require_paths = %w{lib}

  spec.add_dependency 'halite', '~> 1.1'
  spec.add_dependency 'poise', '~> 2.5'

  spec.add_development_dependency 'poise-boiler', '~> 1.0'

Testing the Code

In the last section we talked a bit about the testing set up in the various files, now let’s look at how to use it.

poise-boiler includes a Rake task to run the unit tests: rake spec. This works like the spec task in most Ruby projects. You can also run rake debug spec to run the tests with debugging output. By default the test order is randomized. You can lock the order with an environment variable: SEED=123 rake spec.

Integration tests are generally run locally via normal kitchen commands. rake chef:foodcritic runs Foodcritic on the converted cookbook and rake chef:kitchen will run kitchen test -d always. To run all test-related tasks, there is a rake test, but generally this is used via the Travis wrappers.

The Test Kitchen configuration is set up to try and cut the overhead of the testing system and generally get the fastest tests possible. It uses kitchen-docker if the Docker authentication keys are available. It uses a custom Dockerfile template and some provision_commands to cache Chef, the busser gems, and some other support files in the Docker image. This allows launching a test container with only a few seconds of work. To speed up transferring the cookbook files, I use kitchen-sync.

Travis CI

I use Travis CI to run tests on each change and on pull requests. Unfortunately pull requests can’t run integration tests for security reasons (Travis doesn’t expose encrypted project variables to PR tests because the PR might print or otherwise compromise them), but it’s still better than nothing. I control the version of Chef being used through Bundler, so I don’t install via ChefDK at this time. I will state for the record that using Berkshelf (even indirectly via Test Kitchen) outside of ChefDK is unsupported and please please don’t bother their development team if and when it breaks in weird ways (notably when they upgrade the default Travis image this is going break horribly).

The Travis configuration is set to use their container infrastructure, this allows faster test startup times but means you can’t run commands as root. That is why I run Docker against a remote host instead of locally, though as a positive side effect I can put a lot more horsepower behind Docker than a Travis test VM. It uses the new addons system to install the libgecode packages, which will be used later when installing the dep-selector gem.

Travis uses the Gemfile path as part of the cache key, so each build in the matrix gets its own gem cache. The Bundler-installed Rake then kicks off the travis task. This handles downloading the latest docker binary, decrypting the private key, and running the test tasks as needed.

Making a Release

Most of the release logic is wrapped up in three similar tasks: rake release, rake release:minor, and rake release:major. All follow the same process, first the version.rb file is bumped to the next patch/minor/major version, then a tag is created, the new release is pushed to both RubyGems and Supermarket (using Stove), and the version is bumped to the new patch prerelease.

This has a few more “oops” checks than the default Bundler release task, like ensuring the changelog has been updated and using GPG signed tags if possible.

Rake Tasks

A lot of the repetitive tasks of this workflow are bundled up inside Rake tasks. You can always see all the tasks via rake -T but to cover the major ones:

External Services

I use a number of hosted services as part of my workflow. Most are free, though Rackspace has been kind enough to donate the use of their cloud services to cover the rest. In no particular order:

I’ve got a dashboard for all of these data services at, but it needs some love to be more useful.

In Summary

I have been using this flow and style for about a year now, with constant improvements throughout. As I said before, I don’t think this is the right style for everybody, but hopefully you get some value out of a piece here or there. If you have any questions about any of this, please don’t hesitate to ask me via email, IRC, or Twitter.

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