Table Of Contents


A knife.rb file is used to specify the chef-repo-specific configuration details for Knife.

  • This file is loaded every time this executable is run
  • The default location in which Knife expects to find this file is ~/.chef/knife.rb; use the --config option from the command line to change this location
  • This file is not created by default
  • When a knife.rb file is present in this directory, the settings contained within that file will override the default configuration settings

When running Microsoft Windows, the knife.rb file is located at %HOMEDRIVE%:%HOMEPATH%\.chef (e.g. c:\Users\<username>\.chef). If this path needs to be scripted, use %USERPROFILE%\.chef.


This configuration file has the following settings:

Setting Description

The URL for the Chef server. For example:

chef_server_url "http://localhost:4000"

Use to enable chef-zero. This setting requires local_mode to be set to true. Default value: false. For example:

chef_zero.enabled true

The port on which chef-zero will listen. Default value: 8889. For example:

chef_zero[:port] 8889

The location of the file which contains the client key. Default value: /etc/chef/client.pem. For example:

client_key "/etc/chef/client.pem"
cookbook_copyright The name of the copyright holder. This option will place a copyright notice that contains the name of the copyright holder in each of the pre-created files. If this option is not specified, a copyright name of “your_company_name” will be used instead; it can be easily modified later.
cookbook_email The email address for the individual who maintains the cookbook. This option will place an email address in each of the pre-created files. If this option is not specified, an email name of “your_email” will be used instead; it can be easily modified later.
cookbook_license The type of license under which a cookbook is distributed: apachev2, gplv2, gplv3, mit, or none (default). This option will place the appropriate license notice in the pre-created files: Apache v2.0 (for apachev2), GPL v2 (for gplv2), GPL v3 (for gplv3), MIT (for mit), or license 'Proprietary - All Rights Reserved (for none). Be aware of the licenses for files inside of a cookbook and be sure to follow any restrictions they describe.

The sub-directory for cookbooks on the chef-client. This value can be a string or an array of file system locations, processed in the specified order. The last cookbook is considered to override local modifications. For example:

cookbook_path [

The minimum required version of data bag encryption. Possible values: 1 or 2. When all of the machines in an organization are running chef-client version 11.6 (or higher), it is recommended that this value be set to 2. For example:

data_bag_encrypt_version 2

Use to run the chef-client in local mode. This allows all commands that work against the Chef server to also work against the local chef-repo. For example:

local_mode true

The name of the node. This is typically also the same name as the computer from which Knife is run. For example:

node_name "node_name"

A comma-separated list of URLs that do not need a proxy. Default value: nil. For example:

no_proxy "localhost, 10.*, *, *"
syntax_check_cache_path All files in a cookbook must contain valid Ruby syntax. Use this setting to specify the location in which Knife caches information about files that have been checked for valid Ruby syntax.

The name of the server that–along with the validation_key–is used to determine whether a chef-client may register with a Chef server. The validation_client_name located in the server and client configuration files must match. For example:

validation_client_name "chef-validator"

The location of the file which contains the key used when a chef-client is registered with a Chef server. A validation key is signed using the validation_client_name for authentication. Default value: /etc/chef/validation.pem. For example:

validation_key "/etc/chef/validation.pem"

Use to append cookbook versions to cookbooks. Set to false to hide cookbook versions: cookbooks/apache. Set to true to show cookbook versions: cookbooks/apache-1.0.0 and/or cookbooks/apache-1.0.1. When this setting is true, knife download will download ALL cookbook versions, which can be useful if a full-fidelity backup of data on the Chef server is required. For example:

versioned_cookbooks true

Proxy Settings

In certain situations the proxy used by the Chef server requires authentication. In this situation, three settings must be added to the knife.rb file. Which settings to add depends on the protocol used to access the Chef server: HTTP or HTTPS.

If the Chef server is configured to use HTTP, add the following settings:

Setting Description

The proxy server for HTTP connections. Default value: nil. For example:

http_proxy ""
http_proxy_user The user name for the proxy server when the proxy server is using an HTTP connection. Default value: nil.
http_proxy_pass The password for the proxy server when the proxy server is using an HTTP connection. Default value: nil.

If the Chef server is configured to use HTTPS (such as the hosted Enterprise Chef server), add the following settings:

Setting Description
https_proxy The proxy server for HTTPS connections. (The hosted Enterprise Chef uses an HTTPS connection.) Default value: nil.
https_proxy_user The user name for the proxy server when the proxy server is using an HTTPS connection. Default value: nil.
https_proxy_pass The password for the proxy server when the proxy server is using an HTTPS connection. Default value: nil.

Optional Settings

In addition to the default settings in a knife.rb file, there are other subcommand-specific settings that can be added. When a subcommand is run, Knife will use:

  1. A value passed via the command-line
  2. A value contained in the knife.rb file
  3. The default value

A value passed via the command line will override a value in the knife.rb file; a value in a knife.rb file will override a default value.

Before adding any settings to the knife.rb file:

  • Verify the settings by reviewing the documentation for the Knife subcommands and/or Knife plugins
  • Verify the use case(s) your organization has for adding them

Also note that:

  • Custom plugins can be configured to use the same settings as the core Knife subcommands
  • Many of these settings are used by more than one subcommand and/or plugin
  • Some of the settings are included only because Knife checks for a value in the knife.rb file

To add settings to the knife.rb file, use the following syntax:

knife[:setting_name] = value

where value may require quotation marks (” ”) if that value is a string. For example:

knife[:ssh_port] = 22
knife[:distro] = "ubuntu10.04-gems"
knife[:template_file] = ""
knife[:bootstrap_version] = ""
knife[:bootstrap_proxy] = ""

Some of the optional knife.rb settings are used often, such as the template file used in a bootstrap operation. The frequency of use of any option varies from organization to organization, so even though the following settings are often added to a knife.rb file, they may not be the right settings to add for every organization:

Setting Description
knife[:bootstrap_proxy] The proxy server for the node that is the target of a bootstrap operation.
knife[:bootstrap_version] The version of the chef-client to install.
knife[:distro] The template file to be used during a bootstrap operation. The following distributions are supported: chef-full (the default bootstrap), centos5-gems, fedora13-gems, ubuntu10.04-gems, ubuntu10.04-apt, ubuntu12.04-gems, and the name of a custom bootstrap template file. When this option is used, Knife will search for the template file in the following order: the bootstrap/ folder in the current working directory, the bootstrap/ folder in the chef-repo, the bootstrap/ folder in the ~/.chef/ directory, or a default bootstrap file. Do not use the --template-file option when --distro is specified.
knife[:editor] The $EDITOR that is used for all interactive commands.
knife[:ssh_gateway] The SSH tunnel or gateway that is used to run a bootstrap action on a machine that is not accessible from the workstation. Adding this setting can be helpful when a user cannot SSH directly into a host.
knife[:ssh_port] The SSH port.
knife[:template_file] The path to a template file that will be used during a bootstrap operation. Do not use the --distro option when --template-file is specified.

Other SSH-related settings that are sometimes helpful when added to the knife.rb file:

Setting Description
knife[:ssh_attribute] The attribute that is used when opening the SSH connection.
knife[:ssh_password] The SSH password. This can be used to pass the password directly on the command line. If this option is not specified (and a password is required) Knife will prompt for the password.
knife[:ssh_user] The SSH user name.

Some organizations choose to have all data bags use the same secret and secret file, rather than have a unique secret and secret file for each data bag. To use the same secret and secret file for all data bags, add the following to knife.rb:

Setting Description
knife[:secret] The encryption key that is used for values contained within a data bag item.
knife[:secret_file] The path to the file that contains the encryption key.

Some settings are better left to Ohai, which will get the value at the start of the chef-client run:

Setting Description
knife[:server_name] Same as node_name. Recommended configuration is to allow Ohai to collect this value during each chef-client run.
node_name See the description above for this setting.

When working with chef-container, add the following setting:

Setting Description
knife[:dockerfiles_path] The path to the directory in which Docker contexts are stored. Default value: /var/chef/dockerfiles.


Review the full list of optional settings that can be added to the knife.rb file. Many of these optional settings should not be added to the knife.rb file. The reasons for not adding them can vary. For example, using --yes as a default in the knife.rb file will cause Knife to always assume that “Y” is the response to any prompt, which may lead to undesirable outcomes. Other settings, such as --hide-healthy (used only with the knife status subcommand) or --bare-directories (used only with the knife list subcommand) probably aren’t used often enough (and in the same exact way) to justify adding them to the knife.rb file. In general, if the optional settings are not listed on the main knife.rb topic, then add settings only after careful consideration. Do not use optional settings in a production environment until after the setting’s performance has been validated in a safe testing environment.

Many Users, Same Repo

It is possible for multiple users to access the Chef server using the same knife.rb file. (A user can even access multiple organizations if, for example, each instance of the chef-repo contained the same copy of the knife.rb file.) This can be done by adding the knife.rb file to the chef-repo, and then using environment variables to handle the user-specific credential details and/or sensitive values. For example:

current_dir = File.dirname(__FILE__)
  user = ENV['OPSCODE_USER'] || ENV['USER']
  node_name                user
  client_key               "#{ENV['HOME']}/.chef/#{user}.pem"
  validation_client_name   "#{ENV['ORGNAME']}-validator"
  validation_key           "#{ENV['HOME']}/.chef/#{ENV['ORGNAME']}-validator.pem"
  chef_server_url          "{ENV['ORGNAME']}"
  syntax_check_cache_path  "#{ENV['HOME']}/.chef/syntax_check_cache"
  cookbook_path            ["#{current_dir}/../cookbooks"]
  cookbook_copyright "Your Company, Inc."
  cookbook_license "apachev2"
  cookbook_email ""

  # Amazon AWS
  knife[:aws_access_key_id] = ENV['AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID']
  knife[:aws_secret_access_key] = ENV['AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY']

  # Rackspace Cloud
  knife[:rackspace_api_username] = ENV['RACKSPACE_USERNAME']
  knife[:rackspace_api_key] = ENV['RACKSPACE_API_KEY']