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Iron Chef gem

"Treat your servers like cattle, not pets."

Build Status

  • A decentralized approach to managing servers
  • Simple Chef Solo wrapper
  • Built as a capistrano plugin
  • Update multiple nodes in parallel
  • Easily bootstrap nodes via omnibus for Chef configuration


From the terminal install the gem:

gem install 'iron_chef'

Bootstrap a new DevOps project

ironchef devops-project-name

The ironchef command creates the following DevOps project under the folder devops-project-name to get you started.

├── Capfile
├── Gemfile
├── config
│   └── deploy.rb
├── cookbooks
├── data_bags
│   ├── environments
│   │   ├── production.json
│   │   └── staging.json
│   └── global_settings
│       └── default.json
├── environments
│   ├── production.rb
│   ├── staging.rb
├── nodes
│   ├── production-server1.yml
│   └── staging-server1.yml
├── roles
│   ├── install_server.rb
│   └── setup_server.rb
└── site-cookbooks
    └── commons
        ├── attributes
        │   └── default.rb
        └── recipes
            └── default.rb

Demo DevOps project

Rails Template DevOps project

Show commands

cd devops-project-name
cap -T

Example output

cap bootstrap:chef       # Installs chef via omnibus on host.
cap chef:apply           # Applies the current chef config to the server.
cap chef:clear           # Clears the chef destination folder on the server.
cap chef:dump_nodes_json # Dump each node's dynamically generated node.json file to local ./tmp/nodes directory.
cap chef:nodes           # Shows all nodes available for chef config.
cap chef:unlock          # Clears the chef lockfile on the server.
cap chef:update_code     # Pushes the current chef configuration to the server.
cap chef:why_run         # Runs chef with --why-run flag to to understand the decisions it makes.
cap env:nodes            # Shows chef environment nodes available for chef apply config.
cap env:prepare          # Stub out the chef environment config files.
cap invoke               # Invoke a single command on the remote servers.
cap nodes                # Target individual nodes.
cap production           # Set the target chef environment to 'production'.
cap shell                # Begin an interactive Capistrano session.
cap site_cookbook:stub   # Stub a new chef cookbook in the site-cookbooks folder.
cap staging              # Set the target chef environment to 'staging'.

Example commands

Stub a new cookbook folder under site-cookbooks:

cap site_cookbook:stub
Created new cookbook stub 'site-cookbooks/cookbook_stub001' in the site-cookbooks folder.

Use bash shortcuts to bootstrap multiple boxes at once:

cap staging-{web,db}1 bootstrap:chef

Test chef config on multiple nodes:

cap staging-{web,db}1 chef:why_run

Apply chef configs to multiple nodes in a target environment:

cap staging all_nodes chef:apply

Clear a bad chef config from the server:

cap staging staging-web1 chef:clear


Under the nodes folder name each node.yml file something that makes it easy to run bash macro commands.

For example:


This allows you to not have to type in the cloud provider's generated machine name in the terminal:

cap staging-web{1,2} chef:why_run

Here's an example of what a node.yml should contain:

(below is the minimum acceptable values the gem expects for a node.yml file)

  chef_environment: staging




To map nodes to a target environment, just update the corresponding environments/staging.yml file.

Another example with roles and recipes:

  chef_environment: staging
    server_root_password: n1ceRand0mP@sswordItIs

  - web_server
  - app_server
  - db_server
  - rails

  - nginx
  - mysql:server
  - iptables


If you want to see how the node.yaml file's json attribute will be converted to the corresponding node.json file during a chef:apply run:

cap chef:dump_nodes_json

chef:dump_nodes_json is useful for debugging the generated node.json per node or allows you to import the node.json files into chef server in the future.


Iron Chef environments are based on the capistrano multistage idea with a twist.

The environments folder allows you to group nodes into chef environments using ['json']['chef_environment'] attribute in a node.yml file.

This allows the target environment to only run tasks for nodes where ['json']['chef_environment'] attribute equals staging:

cap staging staging-web{1,2,3} chef:clear

Also when targeting a chef environment only nodes having that ['json']['chef_environment'] attribute will be available as tasks:

cap staging all_nodes chef:apply

List all nodes that can be tasked in the staging environment:

cap staging env:nodes

If no environment is targeted then you have direct access to all node tasks.

Using the default 'nodes' task:

cap nodes env:nodes

Is the same as:

cap env:nodes

Use chef:clear when chef:apply throws an exception due to an issue with a cookbook or you need to start over:

cap staging-web1 chef:clear

Add a new environment by adding to the :chef_environments variable in config/deploy.rb like so:

set :chef_environments, %w(staging beta production)

Then run cap env:prepare to stub out the new beta environment.

Data Bags

Here's an example of how to access data bags per environment or global settings in a recipe:

# retrieve environment specific data bag item
env = Chef::DataBagItem.load('environments', node['chef_environment'])"Loaded environments information from DataBagItem env[#{env['id']}]")"Loaded environments information from DataBagItem env[#{env['description']}]")

# retrieve global settings specific data bag item
gs_default = Chef::DataBagItem.load('global_settings', 'default')"Loaded global settings information from DataBagItem gs_default[#{gs_default['id']}]")"Loaded global settings information from DataBagItem gs_default[#{gs_default['description']}]")

Capistrano Config Variables

These are the defaults in case they need to be changed for your environments.

They can easily be overridden inside your DevOps project's config/deploy.rb & environments/chef_environment.rb files.

set :chef_source, '.'
set :chef_destination, '/tmp/chef'
set :chef_cookbooks,   %w(cookbooks site-cookbooks)
set :chef_log_level, 'info'
set :chef_ssl_verify_mode, 'verify_peer'
set :chef_command, '/opt/chef/embedded/bin/ruby /opt/chef/bin/chef-solo -c /tmp/chef/solo.rb'
set :chef_parameters, '--color'
set :chef_excludes, %w(.git .svn nodes)
set :chef_stream_output, false
set :chef_parallel_rsync, true
set :chef_parallel_rsync_pool_size, 10
set :chef_write_to_file, nil
set :chef_lock_file, '/tmp/chef.lock'
set :chef_file_cache_dir, '/tmp/chef_cache'
set :chef_nodes_dir, 'nodes'
set :chef_data_bags_dir, 'data_bags'
set :chef_environment_dir, 'environments'
set :chef_site_cookbook_dir, 'site-cookbooks'

Adding to a remote git repo

  • git add -f cookbooks/.keep

Using the default iron_chef gem settings both the cookbooks & site-cookbooks folders are required by the chef client on the server.

Remember the site-cookbooks is where you put your custom cookbooks.

The cookbooks folder's purpose is for vendor cookbooks (see below).

Chef Cookbook Manager gems

If you're new to chef cookbooks, I'd recommend you start with librarian-chef first.


  • add the gem to your DevOps project's Gemfile
  • read up on the gem for commands: librarian-chef
  • librarian-chef will manage the cookbooks folder by default


  • add the gem to your DevOps project's Gemfile
  • run berks init and say no to conflict with Gemfile
  • read up on the gem for commands:
  • berks install will download the cookbooks, but it doesn't copy them by default to the cookbooks folder
  • after you berks install you need to copy the vendor cookbooks to the cookbooks
    • before a chef:apply run berks install --path cookbooks


  • v0.0.10
    • Initial release
  • v0.0.11
    • Make chef_file_cache_dir available as a variable & default to /tmp/chef_cache
  • v0.0.12
    • Added task to create a cookbook stubbed folder for site-cookbooks, inside project cap site_cookbooks:stub
  • v0.0.13
    • Updated project creation to stub all files/folders for commons cookbook
  • v0.0.14
    • Added chef_ssl_verify_mode variable & default to 'verify_peer'


A scrappy DevOps gem (chef solo wrapper)



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