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Grunt is a set of files for GNU Make with some helper shell scripts that assist a system administrator in the task of setting up and maintaining Unix-like systems. It's a very, very lightweight and simple alternative to more complex systems like Puppet and Chef.

Tasks that Grunt automates range from installing configuration files maintained in a local Git repository to installing software and restarting services after their configuration files change.

If you're comfortable with make files and shell scripts Grunt might be the right tool for you.

Why Does Grunt Exist?

I'm a software developer and I tend to create a lot of virtual machines to test out different ideas and to ensure complete isolation of client environments. After experimenting with tools like Puppet I decided I didn't really need so many features for these often short-lived systems.

Puppet or Chef might actually be the right tool for you and I suggest you look there first.

I'm a weirdo, I actually like writing make files and shell scripts and prefer to know exactly what files are going to change and when. That's why I wrote Grunt.

Getting Started with Grunt

Grunt comes with a script to generate a skeleton Git repository and set itself up as a submodule.

  1. Get a local copy of Grunt so you can run the skeleton script:

    git clone git://

  2. Run the skeleton script. It takes a single argument, the name of the directory you want to create for storing the skeleton files. This directory will become a new Git repository:

    grunt/bin/ mynewserver

    Optionally, can take a second argument that should name a supported operating system. This is useful when you are generating a skeleton on one operating system to be used for another:

    grunt/bin/ mynewserver debian

  3. Take a look at the files that were placed in the directory that created.

  4. Go into each sub-directory and do a dry run to see what would get installed:

    (cd etc && make -Bn)

Tips for Using Grunt

  1. Grunt comes with some default configuration files. For example, it has a default sshd_config in grunt/generic/etc. If you don't have a local copy in your etc (not /etc) directory then the Grunt provided version will be installed instead.

    To override Grunt's version of these configuration files simply place a file with the same name and your desired contents into your local directories. When looking for a file to install into /etc Grunt will usually look for the file in this order:

    • etc
    • grunt/<os>/etc
    • grunt/generic/etc
  2. If you scp an existing Git repository to a new server it's best to update all the timestamps on these files before running make. That way you know your copies of configuration files will get installed on a recently built system. Use the following command to update all the timestamps:

    find . -type f -exec touch '{}' ;

Technical Documentation

Grunt is split into several directories, one for each operating system that it supports with an additional generic directory for files that work on all supported operating systems.

Most of the operating system directories (and generic) have a directory called mk where make files are stored. Most of these make files include simple descriptions of what they do.

Additionally, some of these operating system directories contain a file that provides an overview of what the make files and shell scripts are used for and how to use them.

Helping Out

Patches and pull requests are welcome. Areas that might need some work:

  • Improved documentation in the *.mk files.

  • Improved documentation in files.

  • Improved skeleton files.

  • See the file for more.


Keep your OS config files in Git, and apply them with GNU Make




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