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users Cookbook

Build Status Cookbook Version

Manages OS users from databags.


This cookbook is concerned with the management of OS users and groups from databags. It also manages the distribution of ssh keys to a user's home directory.



The following platforms have been tested with Test Kitchen:

  • Debian / Ubuntu derivatives
  • RHEL and derivatives
  • Fedora
  • openSUSE / SUSE Linux Enterprises
  • FreeBSD / OpenBSD
  • macOS
  • AIX


  • Chef 12.7+


  • none


To use the resource users_manage, make sure to add the dependency on the users cookbook by the following line to your wrapper cookbook's metadata.rb:

depends 'users'

or to pin to a specific version of the users cookbook, in this case any version of 2.X:

depends 'users', '~> 2'

Then in a recipe use the user_manage resource to add all users in the defined group to the system:

users_manage 'GROUPNAME' do
  group_id GROUPID
  action [:create]
  data_bag 'DATABAG_NAME'


users_manage 'testgroup' do
  group_id 3000
  action [:create]
  data_bag 'test_home_dir'

Note: If you do not specify the data_bag, the default will be to look for a databag called users.

Databag Definition

A sample user object in a users databag would look like:

  "id": "test_user",
  "password": "$1$5cE1rI/9$4p0fomh9U4kAI23qUlZVv/",
  "ssh_keys": [
    "ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEAklOUpkDHrfHY17SbrmTIpNLTGK9Tjom/BWDSU\nGPl+nafzlHDTYW7hdI4yZ5ew18JH4JW9jbhUFrviQzM7xlELEVf4h9lFX5QVkbPppSwg0cda3\nPbv7kOdJ/MTyBlWXFCR+HAo3FXRitBqxiX1nKhXpHAZsMciLq8V6RjsNAQwdsdMFvSlVK/7XA\nt3FaoJoAsncM1Q9x5+3V0Ww68/eIFmb1zuUFljQJKprrX88XypNDvjYNby6vw/Pb0rwert/En\nmZ+AW4OZPnTPI89ZPmVMLuayrD2cE86Z/il8b+gw3r3+1nKatmIkjn2so1d01QraTlMqVSsbx\nNrRFi9wrf+M7Q== chefuser@mylaptop.local",
    "ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEAklOUpkDHrfHY17SbrmTIpNLTGK9Tjom/BWDSU\nGPl+nafzlHDTYW7hdI4yZ5ew18JH4JW9jbhUFrviQzM7xlELEVf4h9lFX5QVkbPppSwg0cda3\nPbv7kOdJ/MTyBlWXFCR+HAo3FXRitBqxiX1nKhXpHAZsMciLq8V6RjsNAQwdsdMFvSlVK/7XA\nt3FaoJoAsncM1Q9x5+3V0Ww68/eIFmb1zuUFljQJKprrX88XypNDvjYNby6vw/Pb0rwert/En\nmZ+AW4OZPnTPI89ZPmVMLuayrD2cE86Z/il8b+gw3r3+1nKatmIkjn2so1d01QraTlMqVSsbx\nNQCPO0ZZEa1== chefuser@mylaptop.local"
  "groups": [ "testgroup", "nfsgroup" ],
  "uid": 9001,
  "shell": "\/bin\/bash",
  "comment": "Test User"

A sample user to remove from a system would like like:

  "id": "mwaddams",
  "action": "remove",
  "groups": [ "testgroup", "nfsgroup" ]

Databag Key Definitions

  • id: String specifies the username, as well as the data bag object id.
  • password: String specifies the user's password.
  • ssh_keys: Array an array of authorized keys that will be managed by Chef to the user's home directory in $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys. A key can include an https endpoint that returns a line separated list of keys such as$GITHUB_USERNAME.keys this will retrieve all the keys and add it to the array and can be used with static keys as well as dynamic ones.
  • groups: Array an array of groups that the user will be added to
  • uid: Integer a unique identifier for the user
  • shell: String the user's shell
  • comment:String the GECOS field, generally the User's full name.

Other potential fields (optional):

  • home: String User's home directory. If not assigned, will be set based on platform and username.
  • action: String Supported actions are one's supported by the user resource. If not specified, the default action is create.
  • ssh_private_key: String manages user's private key generally ~/.ssh/id_*
  • ssh_public_key: String manages user's public key generally ~/.ssh/id_*.pub
  • authorized_keys_file:String a nonstandard location for the authorized_keys file

Resources Overview


The users_manage resource manages users and groups based off of a data bag search and specified action.


Creates the sysadmin group and users defined in the users databag.

users_manage 'sysadmin' do
  group_id 2300
  action [:create]

Creates the testgroup group, and users defined in the test_home_dir databag.

users_manage 'testgroup' do
  group_id 3000
  action [:create]
  data_bag 'test_home_dir'

Creates the nfsgroup group, and users defined in the test_home_dir databag and does not manage nfs home directories.

users_manage 'nfsgroup' do
  group_id 4000
  action [:create]
  data_bag 'test_home_dir'
  manage_nfs_home_dirs false


  • data_bag String is the data bag to search
  • search_group String groups name to search for, defaults to resource name
  • group_name String name of the group to create, defaults to resource name
  • group_id Integer numeric id of the group to create, default is to allow the OS to pick next
  • cookbook String name of the cookbook that the authorized_keys template should be found in
  • manage_nfs_home_dirs Boolean whether to manage nfs home directories.

Otherwise, this cookbook is specific for setting up sysadmin group and users with the sysadmins recipe for now.

Recipe Overview

Deprecation Notice

This recipe has been deprecated and the resource will be removed from the recipe in a new major release of this cookbook in April 2017. The functionality can easily be recreated and changed to suit your organization by copying the single resource below into your own cookbook.

sysadmins.rb: recipe that manages the group sysadmins with group id 2300, and adds users to this group.

To use:

include_recipe "users::sysadmins"

The recipe is defined as follows:

users_manage "sysadmin" do
  group_id 2300
  action [ :create ]

This users_manage resource searches the users data bag for the sysadmin group attribute, and adds those users to a Unix security group sysadmin. The only required attribute is group_id, which represents the numeric Unix gid and must be unique. The default action for the resource is :create.

The recipe, by default, will also create the sysadmin group. The sysadmin group will be created with GID 2300.

Data bag Overview

Reminder Data bags generally should not be stored in cookbooks, but in a policy repo within your organization. Data bags are useful across cookbooks, not just for a single cookbook.

Use knife to create a data bag for users.

knife data bag create users

Create a user in the data_bag/users/ directory.

An optional password hash can be specified that will be used as the user's password.

The hash can be generated with the following command.

openssl passwd -1 "plaintextpassword"

Note: The ssh_keys attribute below can be either a String or an Array. However, we are recommending the use of an Array.

  "id": "bofh",
  "ssh_keys": "ssh-rsa AAAAB3Nz...yhCw== bofh"
  "id": "bofh",
  "password": "$1$d...HgH0",
  "ssh_keys": [
    "ssh-rsa foo",
    "ssh-rsa AAA456...uvw== bar"
  "groups": [ "sysadmin", "dba", "devops" ],
  "uid": 2001,
  "shell": "\/bin\/bash",
  "comment": "BOFH"

You can pass any action listed in the user resource for Chef via the "action" option. For Example:

Lock a user, johndoe1.

knife data bag edit users johndoe1

And then change the action to "lock":

  "id": "johndoe1",
  "groups": ["sysadmin", "dba", "devops"],
  "uid": 2002,
  "action": "lock", // <--
  "comment": "User violated access policy"

Remove a user, johndoe1.

knife data bag edit users johndoe1

And then change the action to "remove":

  "id": "johndoe1",
  "groups": [ "sysadmin", "dba", "devops" ],
  "uid": 2002,
  "action": "remove", // <--
  "comment": "User quit, retired, or fired."
  • Note only user bags with the "action : remove" and a search-able "group" attribute will be purged by the :remove action.
  • As of v2.0.3 you can use the force parameter within the user data bag object for users with action remove. As per user docs this may leave the system in an inconsistent state. For example, a user account will be removed even if the user is logged in. A user's home directory will be removed, even if that directory is shared by multiple users.

If you have different requirements, for example:

  • You want to search a different data bag specific to a role such as mail. You may change the data_bag searched.

    data_bag `mail`
  • You want to search for a different group attribute named postmaster. You may change the search_group attribute. This attribute defaults to the resource name.

    search_group `postmaster`
  • You want to add the users to a security group other than the lightweight resource name. You may change the group_name attribute. This attribute also defaults to the resource name.

    group_name `wheel`

Putting these requirements together our recipe might look like this:

users_manage "postmaster" do
  data_bag "mail"
  group_name "wheel"
  group_id 10

Knife supports reading data bags from a file and automatically looks in a directory called +data_bags+ in the current directory. The "bag" should be a directory with JSON files of each item. For the above:

$ mkdir data_bags/users
$EDITOR data_bags/users/bofh.json

Paste the user's public SSH key into the ssh_keys value. Also make sure the uid is unique, and if you're not using bash, that the shell is installed.

The Apache cookbook can set up authentication using OpenIDs, which is set up using the openid key here. See the Chef Software 'apache2' cookbook for more information about this.

License & Authors

Author: Cookbook Engineering Team (

Copyright: 2009-2017, Chef Software, Inc.

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.
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