Securely manage passwords, certs, and other secrets in Chef
Ruby Cucumber
Latest commit cb0efb3 Oct 21, 2016 @thommay thommay committed on GitHub Merge pull request #235 from chef/3_0_rc1
Ready first chef-vault 3.0 RC


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Gem that allows you to encrypt a Chef Data Bag Item using the public keys of a list of chef nodes. This allows only those chef nodes to decrypt the encrypted values.

For a more detailed explanation of how chef-vault works, please refer to this blog post Chef Vault – what is it and what can it do for you? by Nell Shamrell-Harrington.


Be sure you are running the latest version Chef. Versions earlier than 0.10.0 don't support plugins:

gem install chef

This plugin is distributed as a Ruby Gem. To install it, run:

gem install chef-vault

Depending on your system's configuration, you may need to run this command with root privileges.


Git Hooks

There is a git pre-commit hook to help you keep your chefstyle up to date. If you wish to use it, simply:

mv hooks/pre-commit .git/hooks/
chmod +x .git/hooks/pre-commit

Running Your Changes

To run your changes locally:

bundle install
bundle exec knife vault


Rspec Tests

There are some unit tests that can be run with:

bundle exec rspec spec/

Cucumber Testing

There are cucumber tests. Run the whole suite with:

bundle exec rake features

If you get any failures, you can run the specific feature that failed with:

bundle exec cucumber features/<failed>.feature

If you want to test things out directly, after a failure you can go into the test directory and try out the commands that failed:

cd tmp/aruba
bundle exec knife <your command that failed from test with -c knife.rb>

Optionally add -VV to the above to get a full stacktrace.

Rubocop Errors

If you are seeing rubocop errors in travis for your pull request, run:

bundle exec chefstyle -a

This will fix up your rubocop errors automatically, and warn you about any it can't.


See for examples of commands


To set 'client' as the default mode, add the following line to the knife.rb file.

knife[:vault_mode] = 'client'

To set the default list of admins for creating and updating vaults, add the following line to the knife.rb file.

knife[:vault_admins] = [ 'example-alice', 'example-bob', 'example-carol' ]

(These values can be overridden on the command line by using -A)

NOTE: chef-vault 1.0 knife commands are not supported! Please use chef-vault 2.0 commands.


knife vault create VAULT ITEM VALUES
knife vault edit VAULT ITEM
knife vault refresh VAULT ITEM
knife vault update VAULT ITEM VALUES [--clean]
knife vault remove VAULT ITEM VALUES
knife vault delete VAULT ITEM
knife vault rotate keys VAULT ITEM
knife vault rotate all keys
knife vault show VAULT [ITEM] [VALUES]
knife vault download VAULT ITEM PATH
knife vault isvault VAULT ITEM
knife vault itemtype VAULT ITEM

Global Options

Short Long Description Default Valid Values Sub-Commands
-M MODE --mode MODE Chef mode to run in. Can be set in knife.rb solo solo, client all
-S SEARCH --search SEARCH Chef Server SOLR Search Of Nodes create, remove , update
-C CLIENTS --clients CLIENTS Chef clients to be added as clients, can be comma list create, remove , update
-A ADMINS --admins ADMINS Chef clients or users to be vault admins, can be comma list create, remove, update
-J FILE --json FILE JSON file to be used for values, will be merged with VALUES if VALUES is passed create, update
--file FILE File that chef-vault should encrypt. It adds "file-content" & "file-name" keys to the vault item create, update
-p DATA --print DATA Print extra vault data search, clients, admins, all show
-F FORMAT --format FORMAT Format for decrypted output summary summary, json, yaml, pp show
--clean-unknown-clients Remove unknown clients during key rotation refresh, remove, rotate
--clean Clean clients list before performing search refresh, update


To use this gem in a recipe to decrypt data you must first install the gem via a chef_gem resource. Once the gem is installed require the gem and then you can create a new instance of ChefVault.

NOTE: chef-vault 1.0 style decryption is supported, however it has been deprecated and chef-vault 2.0 decryption should be used instead

Example Code

chef_gem 'chef-vault' do
  compile_time true if respond_to?(:compile_time)

require 'chef-vault'

item = ChefVault::Item.load("passwords", "root")

Note that in this case, the gem needs to be installed at compile time because the require statement is at the top-level of the recipe. If you move the require of chef-vault and the call to ::load to library or provider code, you can install the gem in the converge phase instead.

Specifying an alternate node name or client key path

Normally, the value of Chef::Config[:node_name] is used to find the per-node encrypted secret in the keys data bag item, and the value of Chef::Config[:client_key] is used to locate the private key to decrypt this secret.

These can be overridden by passing a hash with the keys :node_name or :client_key_path to ChefVault::Item.load:

item = ChefVault::Item.load(
  'passwords', 'root',
  node_name: 'service_foo',
  client_key_path: '/secure/place/service_foo.pem'

The above example assumes that you have transferred /secure/place/service_foo.pem to your system via a secure channel.

This usage allows you to decrypt a vault using a key shared among several nodes, which can be helpful when working in cloud environments or other configurations where nodes are created dynamically.

chef_vault_item helper

The chef-vault cookbook contains a recipe to install the chef-vault gem and a helper method chef_vault_helper which makes it easier to test cookbooks that use chef-vault using Test Kitchen.


ChefVault provides a helper method to determine if a data bag item is a vault, which can be helpful if you produce a recipe for community consumption and want to support both normal data bags and vaults:

if ChefVault::Item.vault?('passwords', 'root')
  item = ChefVault::Item.load('passwords', 'root')
  item = Chef::DataBagItem.load('passwords', 'root')

This functionality is also available from the command line as knife vault isvault VAULT ITEM.


ChefVault provides a helper method to determine the type of a data bag item. It returns one of the symbols :normal, :encrypted or :vault

case ChefVault::Item.data_bag_item_type('passwords', 'root')
when :normal
when :encrypted
when :vault

This functionality is also available from the command line as knife vault itemtype VAULT ITEM.


chef-vault can be used as a stand alone binary to decrypt values stored in Chef. It requires that Chef is installed on the system and that you have a valid knife.rb. This is useful if you want to mix chef-vault into non-Chef recipe code, for example some other script where you want to protect a password.

It does still require that the data bag has been encrypted for the user's or client's pem and pushed to the Chef server. It mixes Chef into the gem and uses it to go grab the data bag.

Use chef-vault --help to see all all available options

Example usage (password)

chef-vault -v passwords -i root -a password -k /etc/chef/knife.rb


To stub vault items in ChefSpec, use the chef-vault-testfixtures gem.

To fall back to unencrypted JSON files in Test Kitchen, use the chef_vault_item helper in the aforementioned chef-vault cookbook.

THE FUTURE OF chef-vault

It has become clear that supporting alternate keying mechanisms like GPG and Amazon KMS is something that chef-vault users want, but the implementation of chef-vault v2 makes this difficult, as much of the code is tied to the "side-along data bag item" implementation.

chef-vault v3.x.x will be a major rewrite. While the core vault item will remain a Chef encrypted data bag item, the way in which you get the secret to decrypt that data bag item will be delegated to plugins. At release, there will be at least a plugin that emulates the 2.x.x implementation, and hopefully one for KMS. Anyone who wants to support an alternate keying implementation will be able to write one and distribute it as a gem for others to use.

With that in mind, the 2.6.0 release is the last one that will receive new features. If you refer to the milestones on Github, the plan is for two releases prior to 3.x:

  • v2.7.x will focus on reducing tech debt - getting the test coverage up to 100% in both RSpec and Aruba, and getting the internal API docs completed.
  • v2.99.x will be a transitional release. This release will add deprecation warnings for any API or CLI option that will be changing in v3.x. Any user who wants to stay with the 2.x series can use a '~> 2.x' constraint (where x is any minor release of chef-vault) and be certain that they won't accidentally get the new release.

If you are interested helping with the robustness fixes in v2.7.x, please feel free to fork the repo and add more RSpec and Aruba tests. Frequent small pull requests are preferred to large omnibus patches, as the robustness pass is a multi-person effort and we don't want to create merge conflicts unnecessarily.


For information on contributing to this project see


Author:: Kevin Moser - @moserke
Author:: Eli Klein - @eliklein
Author:: Joey Geiger - @jgeiger
Author:: Joshua Timberman - @jtimberman
Author:: James FitzGibbon - @jf647
Author:: Thom May - @thommay


Contributor:: Matt Brimstone - @brimstone
Contributor:: Thomas Gschwind - @thg65
Contributor:: Reto Hermann


Copyright:: Copyright (c) 2013-15 Nordstrom, Inc.
Copyright:: Copyright (c) 2016 Chef Software, Inc.
License:: Apache License, Version 2.0

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
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