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Spencer Owen

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and preserve change amid order - Alfred North Whitehead

Multiple knife config files

Chef 12 has an awesome new feature called ‘organizations’ that allows you to split your chef server into logical units. Perfect if you have a hard divide between production and lab.

Organizations have separate cookbooks, users, roles and environments. That also means that you need to have separate knife.rb config files.

While you could try and use a tool like knife block to manage multiple knife config files, it currently is very buggy and doesn’t work well with RVM on Mac OSX

This github gist shows an elegant solution

Variables inside the knife.rb


require 'yaml'

CHEF_ENV = ENV['CHEF_ENV'] || "your_environment"
current_dir = File.dirname(__FILE__)
env_config = YAML.load_file("#{current_dir}/#{CHEF_ENV}/config.yml")

log_level                :info
log_location             STDOUT
node_name                env_config["node_name"]
client_key               "#{current_dir}/#{CHEF_ENV}/#{env_config["node_name"]}.pem"
validation_client_name   env_config["validator"] || "chef-validator"
validation_key           "#{current_dir}/#{env_config["validator"]}.pem"
chef_server_url          env_config["server"]
cache_type               'BasicFile'
cache_options( :path => "#{current_dir}/#{CHEF_ENV}/checksums" )

Then create as many folders as you want

$ tree ~/.chef
├── azure-prod
│   └── knife.rb
├── foo-lab
│   ├── chef-foo-lab-validator.pem
│   ├── config.yml
│   ├── knife.rb
│   └── spuder.pem
├── foo-prod
│   ├── chef-foo-prod-validator.pem
│   ├── config.yml
│   ├── knife.rb
│   └── spuder.pem
├── knife.rb
├── bar-lab
│   ├── chef-bar-lab-validator.pem
│   ├── config.yml
│   ├── knife.rb
│   └── spuder.pem
├── bar-prod
│   ├── chef-bar-prod-validator.pem
│   ├── config.yml
│   └── spuder.pem

Here is an example for the foo chef server with the lab environment


node_name: "bacon"
server: ""
validator: "chef-foo-lab-validator"


current_dir = File.dirname(__FILE__)
log_level                :info
log_location             STDOUT
node_name                "spuder"
client_key               "#{current_dir}/spuder.pem"
validation_client_name   "lab-validator"
validation_key           "#{current_dir}/chef-foo-lab-validator.pem"
chef_server_url          ""
cookbook_path            ["#{current_dir}/../cookbooks"]


To switch between environments, simply set the environment variable CHEF_ENV where CHEF_ENV is the name of the folder that contains the knife.rb file you want.

CHEF_ENV=foo-lab knife node list
CHEF_ENV=foo-prod knife node edit
CHEF_ENV=bar-prod knife cookbook list

This makes it easy to automate with jenkins / gitlab-ci by creating automated upload of cookbooks to the correct chef servers, simply by changing an environment variable.


The only downside to this is if you use test kitchen and berkshelf, they for some reason need to query the knife.rb . You’ll need to get in the habit of setting this environment variable with them too.

CHEF_ENV=foo-lab berks install
CHEF_ENV=foo-lab berks upload

CHEF_ENV=bar-prod kitchen setup
CHEF_ENV=bar-prod kitchen converge


If you don’t like this solution, there is another tool that looks promising called chefvm (like RVM)