State of the Onion for May 26 2015-05-26

It has now been almost six months since I started on my adventures in application deployment and I want to update everybody on how things are progressing. First off, a huge “thank you” to my Kickstarter backers and Bloomberg for supporting this development time. It truly would not have been possible without community support.


The biggest new development so far has been Halite. While not specifically related to application deployment, it has greatly improved my development workflow for cookbooks. You can read more in the Halite documentation, the short version is that Halite allows converting normal Ruby gems in to Chef cookbooks. This is handy for cookbooks that are otherwise 99% library code anyway as I can use the normal gem workflow tools more effectively, and then convert to a cookbook for release/upload. Halite 1.0 is available on and should be ready for general use if you find the workflow helpful. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “best practice” and normal cookbooks are still perfectly fine if you prefer them. All my Halite’d cookbooks are released in cookbook form to the Supermarket, so you can use them without needing to care about any of this.

If you want to try out prerelease versions of my cookbooks you will have to do a little extra work to get Berkshelf to recognize them. Halite includes a new source location for Berkshelf, gem: 'name'. To use a prerelease version of a Halite-based cookbook/gem you first need to install the gem itself, generally through a Gemfile:

gem 'poise-application', github: 'poise/application'

Once the gem is installed you can use it in your Berksfile:

source ''
extension 'halite'
cookbook 'application', gem: 'poise-application'

Anything that integrates with Berkshelf (Test Kitchen, Chefspec, etc) will now build the prerelease cookbook from the gem code as needed.


Poise has seen big internal improvements and restructuring around Halite and some other workflow tools I’ve written, but from a user perspective it is still mostly the same. A few new helpers have been added including Fused mode where action implementations can be written directly in the resource class, and Inversion which adds dependency injection/inversion to the Chef resource and provider model.

Poise 2.0 has been released to both and the Supermarket.

Application Cookbooks

The core application cookbook has been rebuilt from scratch to be more flexible and powerful. It no longer uses the deploy resource internally and many of the old bugs are gone thanks to switching to Poise instead of the early, ad-hoc versions of the helpers I wrote all those years ago. It will still be plugin-based; but rather than a model based around the deploy resource callbacks, plugins are now nested sub-resources and can define their own internal structure as needed. This also means that the explicit deployment phases are gone, instead relying on the ordering of resources in your code.

Two of the plugin cookbooks are relatively complete. application_git provides support for deploying application code from a git repository, including all the deploy key handling the old application resource handled internally. application_ruby has been converted over to the new structure with resources for bundle_install, rackup, thin, unicorn, and rails. Passenger support in the old cookbook was minimal at best and is going to be put off to its own application_passenger cookbook to be written in the future.

An example of a full Rails deployment and configuration using the new cookbooks:

include_recipe 'build-essential'

package %w{ruby-dev zlib1g-dev libsqlite3-dev}

application '/opt/test_rails' do
  git ''
  bundle_install do
    deployment true
    without %w{development test}
  rails do
    database 'sqlite3:///db.sqlite3'
    secret_token 'd78fe08df56c9'
  unicorn do
    port 8080

Next on the list is to rebuild the application_python cookbook, and then application_javascript and application_java after that.

Poise Service Cookbook

As part of the application deployment work I found a need to have a generic service configuration API for Chef. In the above example, I need to install unicorn as a service, but from the application_ruby cookbook I have no way to know which service framework the end-user wants to do that with. Traditionally we’ve worked around this by ignoring the end-user and hard-wiring things to use whatever system is generally dominant in that community, Runit for Ruby and Supervisord for Python.

poise-service uses the new Inversion helper in Poise to allow the library cookbook code to stay generic while the end-user can configure which underlying service framework to use and how to set it up. It currently has support for SysVInit, Upstart, Systemd, and Runit. Support for Supervisord will be added when I get to that point in the application_python rebuild.

An example of using poise-service to create an init script for Apache:

poise_service_user 'www-data'

poise_service 'apache2' do
  command '/usr/sbin/apache2 -f /etc/apache2/apache2.conf -DFOREGROUND'
  stop_signal 'WINCH'
  reload_signal 'USR1'

You can find more information about poise-service in the documentation. poise-service and poise-service-runit 1.0 have been released to both and the Supermarket.

Poise Ruby Cookbook

poise-ruby uses the same dependency inversion approach as poise-service but for installing Ruby runtimes. It currently supports installing from system packages and from ruby-build (the underlying build tool used by both rbenv and chruby, and rvm soon). This is still prerelease but should be ready for external testing and will hopefully be released shortly. If you have ever struggled with RVM or Rbenv in Chef recipes I would greatly value your feedback on the design and functionality.

Incoming Cookbooks

As part of the Python and Javascript revamps I plan to work on equivalents to poise-ruby for each of those. Java would be nice too, but is enough of a mess that I don’t currently plan to rework the java cookbook itself. Bloomberg is also going to support basic application deployment plugins for Go and Erlang, as well as exploratory work on integrating service discovery frameworks like ZooKeeper and Consul in to Chef for situations where Chef Search is not available or usable.

Secrets Management

Totally unrelated to the above but I wanted to mention that there have been several interesting new entries in to the field of secrets management and while all are still very new they are worth following in the hopes they will be proven safe enough for production use. These include Sneaker, KeyWhiz, and Vault. As part of improving application deployment I would like to see deep integration between these systems and Chef, but I don’t currently have time scheduled to work on this.


If anyone has any questions on any of these cookbooks or my future plans for them please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me. You can reach me at or any of the methods on my contact page.

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