RIP chef-rewind 2016-06-15

It’s been a bit since their release, but I wanted to draw attention to some new APIs in Chef: edit_resource and delete_resource. These were both added in Chef 12.10 along with a few other friends.

chef-rewind has been a mainstay of the Chef ecosystem for years. It allows modifying resources from wrapper code in a way that often allowed avoiding forks or special cases in community cookbooks. The general idea boils down to grabbing the existing Chef::Resource object from the global resource collection and then modifying it. We’ll talk about structural issues later, but the biggest stumbling block with chef-rewind has been complications getting the gem installed and loaded so you can use it from recipe code. With these new APIs in Chef 12.10, we don’t need to worry about this anymore.


The edit_resource helper doesn’t match the chef-rewind syntax exactly, but it inherits the same concept. It comes in two variants, edit_resource and edit_resource!. The ! version will raise an exception if the requested resource doesn’t exist, while the non-! will fall back to creating the resource for you.

As an example, let’s say we want to tweak a template resource from a wrapper cookbook to both reset which Erb template file it will use and to change a variable being passed in:

include_recipe 'communitycookbook'

edit_resource!(:template, '/etc/myapp.conf') do
  source 'other.erb'
  cookbook 'wrapper'
  variables.update(port: 8080)

In this case we opted to use the exception-raising variant so we won’t keep going if the resource isn’t found. This will grab the existing resource object and run our block against it.

We can also use edit_resource to power simple accumulator patterns with the non-exception-raising variant. This version will use the block to create the resource if it can’t be found, so the first time the code runs it will create the template and each later time it will update it:

def my_helper(value)
  edit_resource(:template, '/etc/myapp.conf') do
    source 'myapp.erb'
    owner 'root'
    variables['values'] ||= []
    variables['values'] << value


As before, delete_resource comes in both exception-raising and vanilla flavors. In this case the vanilla variant simply does nothing and returns nil if the resource to be deleted can’t be found. This replaces the unwind helper from chef-rewind. Let’s say we have a community cookbook installing something via a system package but we want to install our own build instead.

include 'communitycookbook'

delete_resource(:package, 'something')
package 'mycompany-something'

This can also be used with edit_resource when you want to remove already-queued notifications.

The Dangers Of Rewind

While these new APIs do remove the complexity of installing and loading a gem, they don’t entirely address some of the limitations chef-rewind has. Notably as more and more logic moves in to custom resources, these APIs don’t allow peering inside a custom resource or provider.

There is also the general problem of using mutation of global variables, which this effectively is. Mutable globals have been a negative cliché in programming for decades now, and for good reason. Excessive use of this kind of “spooky action at a distance” can lead to un-debuggable and un-reabable code.

Tread lightly.

We Have To Go Deeper

While edit_resource and delete_resource cover the high-level functionality from chef-rewind, there are some other niche helper methods worth mentioning for low-level manipulation tasks.


The find_resource helper is used by edit_resource, and can be used to do a “find existing or create” if you don’t want to edit the resource if it already exists.

res = find_resource(:template, '/etc/myapp.conf') do
  source 'myapp.erb'

If no block is given, this will return nil. A find_resource! variant is available as well, which is equivalent to the older resources() helper, though a bit nicer arguments and clearer to read.


The declare_resource helper is the core of the resource DSL. It creates the new resource object and then adds it to the current resource collection. This can be useful when you want to create a resource where the type is variable somehow.

declare_resource(:template, '/etc/myapp.conf') do
  source 'myapp.erb'

type = value_for_platform_family(debian: :deb, rhel: :rpm)
declare_resource(:"#{type}_package", 'myapp') do
  source "/myapp.#{type}"


Possibly the most niche of these extra APIs, with_run_context allows swapping the “current” run context for the scope of a block. You can pass it :root to get the top-level run context, :parent to get the parent of the current context, or a Chef::RunContext object. This should probably never be used from anything except very intricate meta-code but it is available. Some examples of potential use cases include global accumulators or definition-like macro resources.


Use edit_resource instead of rewind and delete_resource! instead of unwind. Profit.

Thanks again to Bloomberg for supporting my Chef community work.

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