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Configuration Management in Bash

not complicated enough to attract attention™ - @mikeal

basher is configuration management without the complication. It is a single bash script that is responsible for running other scripts (bash or not) that do things like install software, start services, create users, etc.

It's just bash, so it should work on any Unix or Unix-like operating system.

Quick Start Guide

Install Basher

Run the following commands as root or a user with escalated privileges to install basher. Change the path as appropriate for your environment.

Note: If you have forked this repo, or have your own repo, substitute your git url into the command below.

curl -L -o /opt/local/bin/basher
chmod +x /opt/local/bin/basher
git clone /var/basher
echo 'BASHER_DIR=/var/basher' > /etc/basher.conf

... and it's installed

The final step was to create a basic configuration file that tells basher that the repo is installed to /var/basher. If you skip this step, you will need to pass the directory into basher with -d /var/basher.

Lastly, test out basher by running the test plugin.

# ./basher test
[2014-05-15T11:25:03-0400] (main)
        -  INFO running basher (v0.0.0) as root on bahamas10.local (pid 2997)
        -  INFO 1 plugin - [test]

[2014-05-15T11:25:03-0400] (main->test->index)
        -  INFO it works!

[2014-05-15T11:25:03-0400] (main)
        -  INFO run finished in 0 seconds

And from the output we can see that it works!

How It Works

basher is a single bash script that is responsible for running other scripts, called plugins, found in /var/basher in the example above.

The plugins used above can be found in this skeleton basher-repo


Plugins are simply scripts (not necessarily bash) or programs that perform a specific job, such as install software, create users, manage services, etc.

For example, you could have a plugin called rsyslog whose job it is to install, configure, and start rsyslogd on a server.

It's also possible to make helper plugins that do nothing when run directly. For example, you could have a plugin called aptitude whose job it is to define helper functions that wrap apt-get and add basher style logging and error-checking logic. This way, the plugins can then be sourced by other plugins, like the rsyslog plugin mentioned above, to allow for code reuse.

Plugins are executed in their own subshell environment, so they can not modify the running environment of the basher process, and are free to call exit or similar without killing the entire basher process. In fact, the exit code of a plugin is used to determine if it was successfully run or not. A non-successful plugin will cause the basher process to halt execution and terminate.

In the quick start guide, the basher-repo was cloned to /var/basher. This repo contains a plugins/ directory which contains the plugins that can be used by basher.

The command line operands tell basher which plugins to run. For example

# basher test

...tells basher to run the test plugin, while

# basher node rsyslog

...tells basher to run the node plugin followed by the rsyslog plugin, halting execution if anything fails.

You can specify plugins in the config file, /etc/basher.conf, to be run when basher is run without any operands. For example

BASHER_PLUGINS=(test node rsyslog)

Will cause basher to run test, node, and rsyslog, in that order, when it is called on the command line with no operands like:

# basher


Try running the advanced version of the test plugin to make sure some of the fancier features of basher are working.

$ basher test/all
[2014-05-15T11:25:58-0400] (main)
        -  INFO running basher (v0.0.0) as dave on bahamas10.local (pid 3201)
        -  INFO 1 plugin - [test/all]

[2014-05-15T11:25:58-0400] (main->test->all)
        -  INFO loaded test item
        -  INFO testing log messages
        - ERROR > some error
        -  WARN > some warn
        -  INFO > some info
        -  INFO > some log
        -  INFO running in /Users/dave/dev/basher-repo/plugins/test as dave
        -  INFO basher version v0.0.0
        -  INFO uname Darwin
        -  INFO finished

[2014-05-15T11:25:58-0400] (main)
        -  INFO run finished in 0 seconds

And the fs portion of the test plugin can be used to see if put_file() and put_template() (erb templating) are working.

$ basher test/fs
[2014-05-15T11:27:07-0400] (main)
        -  INFO running basher (v0.0.0) as dave on bahamas10.local (pid 3268)
        -  INFO 1 plugin - [test/fs]

[2014-05-15T11:27:07-0400] (main->test->fs)
        -  INFO put_file :: files/hello-world1.txt -> /tmp/hello-world1.txt
diff: /tmp/hello-world1.txt: No such file or directory
        -  WARN put_file :: files/hello-world1.txt -> /tmp/hello-world1.txt
        -  INFO put_template :: templates/hello-world2.txt.erb -> /tmp/hello-world2.txt
diff: /tmp/hello-world2.txt: No such file or directory
        -  WARN put_template :: templates/hello-world2.txt.erb -> /tmp/hello-world2.txt
        -  INFO put_template :: templates/hello-world3.txt.erb -> /tmp/hello-world3.txt
diff: /tmp/hello-world3.txt: No such file or directory
        -  WARN put_template :: templates/hello-world3.txt.erb -> /tmp/hello-world3.txt

[2014-05-15T11:27:07-0400] (main)
        -  INFO run finished in 0 seconds

Now, running the plugin again, we can see that no action is taken for the files that have not changed, and that a diff is printed for template that has changed.

$ basher test/fs
[2014-05-15T11:27:08-0400] (main)
        -  INFO running basher (v0.0.0) as dave on bahamas10.local (pid 3333)
        -  INFO 1 plugin - [test/fs]

[2014-05-15T11:27:08-0400] (main->test->fs)
        -  INFO put_file :: files/hello-world1.txt -> /tmp/hello-world1.txt
        -  INFO put_template :: templates/hello-world2.txt.erb -> /tmp/hello-world2.txt
        -  INFO put_template :: templates/hello-world3.txt.erb -> /tmp/hello-world3.txt
            --- /tmp/hello-world3.txt   2014-05-15 11:27:07.000000000 -0400
            +++ /tmp/basher-3333-pP4bhU 2014-05-15 11:27:08.000000000 -0400
            @@ -1,2 +1,2 @@
             Hello bahamas10.local!
            -The time is 2014-05-15 11:27:07 -0400
            +The time is 2014-05-15 11:27:08 -0400
        -  WARN put_template :: templates/hello-world3.txt.erb -> /tmp/hello-world3.txt

[2014-05-15T11:27:08-0400] (main)
        -  INFO run finished in 0 seconds


Any posix compliant system will have the necessary tools installed to run this software. However, some optional dependencies are required for builtin convenience functions like put_template, git_repository, etc. to work.


  • bash v3 or higher.
  • date(1) - posix tool, required for all logging functions if bash is < v4

posix tools used

  • awk(1) - required for color_diff
  • chmod(1) - optionally needed for put_file and put_template
  • chown(1) - optionally needed for put_file and put_template
  • cp(1) - required for put_file
  • diff(1) - required for put_file and put_template
  • mv(1) - required for put_template


  • erb(1) - ruby templating tool, required for put_template
  • git(1) - source control tool, required for git_repository
  • mktemp(1) - portable temp file creation tool, required for put_template
  • tput(1) - used for colorizing output, will fail gracefully if not present

Note: basher doesn't attempt to check the version of bash running it. Because of this, if you attempt to run basher on any version less than the minimum supported, it may not work.


The config file is optional, see the Example Config for more information.

The file should be located at /etc/basher.conf, and is simply a bash script that will be sourced by basher when it is executed.


An array of plugins to run when basher is invoked. These plugins will only be executed if basher is run without any command line operands.


The date string in strftime(3) format to be passed to date(1) or printf for all logging functions. The default is ISO 8601 format.


The basher repo directory in which to run. This directory should, at the very least, have a plugins/ directory. This defaults to $PWD, and can be overridden at runtime with -d dir.

In default installations, this will be set to /var/basher


The lockfile to use when not run with -f.

Custom Environment

Since the config file is just a bash script that will be sourced every time basher is executed, it is possible to define your own environmental variables here, as well as execute arbitrary code.

It's also possible to define a custom formatter here, by redefining the basher_log function, which is called by all logging functions (log, debug, trace, etc.). For instance, in /etc/basher.conf you could have something like:

basher_log() {
    local level=$1
    echo "level=$level $*"

See the basher_log function as defined in the basher source code for a more verbose example.


Plugins without a name explicitly defined are assumed to be called index, much like index.html for the web, or index.js for node. For example:

basher test test/all test/fs

Executes, in order:


Plugins are executed in their plugin directory, so the rsyslog plugin will be executed in $BASHER_DIR/plugins/rsyslog, where it can access files, templates, script, etc. by using relative paths.

For example:

basher foo

Will effectively execute:

cd "$BASHER_DIR/plugins/foo" && . index


basher has log levels that are inspired by See the Functions section below for more information and usage.

Variables and Functions

Environmental Variables

These variables have been exported so they are available to all executing plugins, and any scripts they exec. Modifying these variables will not affect the running basher process.

  • BASHER_DATE_FORMAT - the date format in strftime format to be passed to date(1) or printf for logging
  • BASHER_DIR - the basher directory where plugins are stored
  • BASHER_LOCKFILE - the lockfile to use if -f is not supplied, defaults to /var/run/
  • BASHER_VERBOSITY - an integer representing the verbosity basher was started with
  • BASHER_VERSION - the version of basher installed

Global Variables

These variables will be available to your plugins, but are not exported, so they will not be available as environmental variables to executed scripts.

  • COLOR_RESET - output of tput sgr0
  • COLOR_BOLD - output of tput bold
  • COLOR_INVERSE - output of tput rev
  • COLOR_BLACK - output of tput setaf 0
  • COLOR_RED - output of tput setaf 1
  • COLOR_GREEN - output of tput setaf 2
  • COLOR_YELLOW - output of tput setaf 3
  • COLOR_BLUE - output of tput setaf 4
  • COLOR_MAGENTA - output of tput setaf 5
  • COLOR_CYAN - output of tput setaf 6
  • COLOR_WHITE - output of tput setaf 7

Note: these variables will be empty if the terminal doesn't support colors or basher is started in boring mode with -b.


The following functions are available for logging purposes

  • fatal()
  • error()
  • warn()
  • info()
  • debug()
  • trace()
  • log()

All logging functions have usage similar to echo.

  • log() is an alias for info()
  • fatal() will generate a log message and also force the process to exit with a code of 1.

  • color_diff()

This function is a simple wrapper around diff that adds color around the output. It has the same usage as diff, and produces the same exit codes. Arguments are passed to diff like:

diff -u "$@"

  • put_file()

This function has similar usage to cp or mv, except it only works with 2 options. It cp's $1 to $2, only if there was a difference found between the 2 files.

This function will fatal if the cp operation fails, return 0 if the files differ and the new file was moved into place, and return 1 if the files were the same. This allows for code like:

if put_file files/sshd_config /etc/ssh/sshd_config; then
     # files were different
     restart ssh

put_file() will also show the output of diff to the terminal.


  • $1 - source file
  • $2 - destination file
  • $3 - [optional] mode to set file, passed to chmod
  • $4 - [optional] owner to set file, passed to chown


  • 0 - file was updated
  • 1 - files were the same; nothing done

  • put_template()

This function is almost identical to put_file, except it takes an erb template as the first argument and automatically renders it.

This function will fatal if erb is not found

if put_template templates/sshd_config.erb /etc/ssh/sshd_config; then
    # files were different
    restart ssh


  • $1 - erb template
  • $2 - destination file
  • $3 - [optional] mode to set file, passed to chmod
  • $4 - [optional] owner to set file, passed to chown


  • 0 - file was updated
  • 1 - files were the same; nothing done

  • git_repository()

Synchronize a git repository to the local filesystem. This function ensures the directory is created, and kept up-to-date against a specific branch or tag (defaults to master).

usage: git_repository <repo> <dir> [tag|branch]

git_repository will fatal if anything goes wrong.

# ensure my dotfiles are in up-to-date in my home directory
git_repository git:// /home/dave/.dotfiles

# checkout the node.js source code to `/var/tmp` and compile it
git_repository git:// /var/tmp/node v0.10.10
(cd /var/tmp/node && ./configure --with-dtrace --prefix=/opt/local && make && make install) || fatal 'something failed'

2 line node.js install, ftw.


  • $1 - git url
  • $2 - destination directory (can be empty or an existing git directory)
  • $3 - [optional] branch|tag|commit to pass to git checkout


  • 0 - the repo was updated or created
  • 1 - no update or git pull was needed on the repo; nothing changed

Other Languages

It is possible to write your plugins in other languages, fairly easily. For example, let's make a plugin called polyglot.

mkdir plugin/polyglot
cd plugins/polyglot

We can now create an index script that looks simply like this


exec node ./my_script.js

...and then my_script.js will be run as your plugin, allowing you to signify failure or success by calling process.exit() or similar with the appropriate return code.

FAQ / Concerns

I want to run basher as a limited user but it says Permission Denied when trying to create the lockfile

Short Answer: use -f to skip the lockfile logic in basher.

Long Answer: Change BASHER_LOCKFILE in the config to a path where the limited user has read/write access.

Is there an easy way to test a single plugin I'm currently working on?


You can use the -t option to specify a single (bash) script to execute in the CWD. For example:

$ vim index
... edit ... edit ... edit ... <esc>:wq
$ basher -t index

... this will execute index in the current directory for testing. Note that lockfile checking/creation will be skipped when basher is executed with -t.

I want to test my plugin without loading /etc/basher.conf, can this be done?


Run basher like this:

basher -c /dev/null

I want to use a fancy new bash feature that is not guaranteed to be available for bash v3

The best way to do this is to use feature detection rather than version snooping. For instance, if you want to use associative arrays, you can do something like this:

if declare -A foo; then
    debug 'associative array created'
    fatal 'failed to create associative array'

or with one line

declary -A foo || fatal 'failed to create associative array'

This way, your plugin will fail and halt the execution of basher if the declaration of the associative array fails.

How do I determine the path where my plugin is located?


A plugin is guaranteed, by basher, to be run out of its directory.

Also, you can use $BASHER_DIR, as it will point the directory out of which the basher process is running.

Do I have to use debug, log, put_file, etc.? I just want to use scripts


Any bash script is already a valid basher plugin. The logging functions automatically add things like the date, log level, and executing plugin name, as well as line number and filename if -vvv is supplied.

All functions provided by basher are meant for nothing more than convenience.

I want certain plugins run on certain nodes based on X? Is that possible?


Because /etc/basher.conf is just a bash script, you are free to load it up with however much logic you want. basher blocks until the entire config file has been sourced.

For example, imagine this /etc/basher.conf file:

# every node gets node.js

# only prod nodes get ssl certificates
if [[ $HOSTNAME =~ $re ]]; then

# on Saturday nodes get the party plugin!
dow=$(date +%w)
if ((dow == 6)); then

You can even get really fancy, and retrieve a nodes plugin list from some database.

Note: Some error checking steps skipped for brevity

# assume data like => {"plugins":["node","rsyslog"]}
BASHER_PLUGINS=( $(curl -sS "$HOSTNAME" | json plugins | json -a) )
if (($? != 0)); then
    fatal 'failed to retrieve remote plugins list'

All functions available to plugins are also available when the config is sourced.

Can I use put_file, put_template, etc. without exiting if they fail?


These functions explicitly call fatal, which calls exit, which then causes your plugin to terminate immediately, and finally basher to terminate shortly after. You can turn the exit call into, effectively, a return call by wrapping it in a subshell. Think of it like a try/catch block.

# if `put_file` fails and fatals, the plugin will still continue executing
(put_file foo bar)

log 'we make it here no matter what!'

Contributing / Style

Pull requests and creating issues are welcomed and encouraged. However, I try to maintain a style with bash that makes it safe and predictable. The style guide is based on this wiki, specifically this page.

If anything is not mentioned explicitly in this readme, it defaults to matching whatever is outlined in the wiki.

Any pull request to the core basher script should adhere to this guide.

Note: Some of this style guide is based on personal aesthetic preference, and as such, is up for debate.

Tabs / Spaces



Use double quotes for strings that require variable expansion or command substitution interpolation, and single quotes for all others.

# right
foo='Hello World'
bar="You are $USER"

# wrong
foo="hello world"

# possibly wrong, depending on intent
bar='You are $USER'

All variables that will undergo word-splitting must be quoted (1). If no splitting will happen, the variable may remain unquoted.

foo='hello world'

if [[ -n $foo ]]; then   # no quotes needed - [[ ... ]] won't word-split variable expansions
    echo "$foo"          # quotes needed

bar=$foo  # no quotes needed - variable assignment doesn't word-split
  1. The only exception to this rule is if the code or bash controls the variable for the duration of its lifetime. For instance, basher has code like:
if printf '%()T' &>/dev/null; then

if $printf_date_supported; then

Even though $printf_date_supported undergoes word-splitting in the if statement in that example, quotes are not used because the contents of that variable are controlled explicitly and not taken from a user or command.

Also, variables like $$, $?, $#, etc. don't required quotes because they will never contain spaces, tabs, or newlines.

When in doubt however, quote all expansions.


Don't use the function keyword. All variables created in a function must be made local.

# wrong
function foo {
    i=foo # this is now global, wrong

# right
foo() {
    local i=foo # this is local, preferred

Command Substitution

Use $(...) for command substitution.

foo=`date`  # wrong
foo=$(date) # right

Math / Integer Manipulation

Use ((...)) and $((...)).


# wrong
if [[ $a -gt $b ]]; then

# right
if ((a > b)); then

Do not use the let command.

Variable Declaration

Avoid uppercase variable names unless there's a good reason to use them. Don't use let or readonly to create variables. declare should only be used for associative arrays. local should always be used in functions.

# wrong
declare -i foo=5
let foo++
readonly bar='something'

# right

Block Statements

then should be on the same line as if, and do should be on the same line as while.

# wrong
if true

# also wrong, though admittedly it looks kinda cool
true && {

# right
if true; then


Use bash builtins for generating sequences


# wrong
for f in $(seq 1 5); do

# wrong
for f in $(seq 1 "$n"); do

# right
for f in {1..5}; do

# right
for ((i = 0; i < n; i++)); do




None of the things listed in the link below will be accepted in this code base.

This reference also has examples on how to fix these issues.


MIT License


Configuration Management in Bash



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