Manage a Cookbook or an Application's Cookbook dependencies

Getting Started

If you’re familiar with Bundler, then Berkshelf is a breeze.

$ gem install berkshelf
Successfully installed berkshelf-2.0.0
1 gem installed

Specify your dependencies in a Berksfile in your cookbook’s root

site :opscode

cookbook 'mysql'
cookbook 'nginx', '~> 0.101.5'

Install the cookbooks you specified in the Berksfile and their dependencies

$ berks install

Add the Berksfile to your project

$ git add Berksfile
$ git commit -m "add Berksfile to project"

A Berksfile.lock will also be created. Add this to version control if you want to ensure that other developers (or your build server) will use the same versions of all cookbook dependencies.

Managing an existing Cookbook

If you already have a cookbook and it’s not managed by Berkshelf it’s easy to get up and running. Just locate your cookbook and initialize it!

$ berks init ~/code/my_face-cookbook

Creating a new Cookbook

Want to start a new cookbook for a new application or supporting application?

$ berks cookbook new_application

Getting Help

If at anytime you are stuck or if you’re just curious about what Berkshelf can do, just type the help command

$ berks help

  berks apply ENVIRONMENT     # Apply the cookbook version locks from Berksfile.lock to a Chef environment
  berks configure             # Create a new Berkshelf configuration file
  berks contingent COOKBOOK   # List all cookbooks that depend on the given cookbook
  berks cookbook NAME         # Create a skeleton for a new cookbook
  berks help [COMMAND]        # Describe available commands or one specific command
  berks init [PATH]           # Initialize Berkshelf in the given directory
  berks install               # Install the cookbooks specified in the Berksfile
  berks list                  # List all cookbooks (and dependencies) specified in the Berksfile
  berks outdated [COOKBOOKS]  # Show outdated cookbooks (from the community site)
  berks package [COOKBOOK]    # Package a cookbook (and dependencies) as a tarball
  berks shelf SUBCOMMAND      # Interact with the cookbook store
  berks show [COOKBOOK]       # Display name, author, copyright, and dependency information about a cookbook
  berks update [COOKBOOKS]    # Update the cookbooks (and dependencies) specified in the Berksfile
  berks upload [COOKBOOKS]    # Upload the cookbook specified in the Berksfile to the Chef Server
  berks version               # Display version and copyright information

  -c, [--config=PATH]    # Path to Berkshelf configuration to use.
  -F, [--format=FORMAT]  # Output format to use.
                         # Default: human
  -q, [--quiet]          # Silence all informational output.
  -d, [--debug]          # Output debug information

You can get more detailed information about a command, or a sub command, but asking it for help

$ berks shelf help

  berks shelf help [COMMAND]  # Describe subcommands or one specific subcommand
  berks shelf list            # List all cookbooks and their versions
  berks shelf show            # Display information about a cookbook in the Berkshelf shelf
  berks shelf uninstall       # Remove a cookbook from the Berkshelf shelf

The Berkshelf

After running berks install you may ask yourself, “Where did my cookbooks go?”. They were added to The Berkshelf.

The Berkshelf is a location on your local disk which contains the cookbooks you have installed and their dependencies. By default, The Berkshelf is located at ~/.berkshelf but this can be altered by setting the environment variable BERKSHELF_PATH.

Berkshelf stores every version of a cookbook that you have ever installed. This is the same pattern found with RubyGems where once you have resolved and installed a gem, you will have that gem and it’s dependencies until you delete it.

This central location is not the typical pattern of cookbook storage that you may be used to with Chef. The traditional pattern is to place all of your cookbooks in a directory called cookbooks or site-cookbooks within your Chef Repository. We do have all of our cookbooks in one central place, it’s just not the Chef Repository and they’re stored within directories named using the convention {name}-{version}.

Given you have the cookbooks installed:

* nginx - 0.101.2
* mysql - 1.2.4

These cookbooks will be located at:


By default Chef interprets the name of a cookbook by the directory name. Some Chef internals weigh the name of the directory more heavily than if a cookbook developer were to explicitly set the name attribute in their metadata. Because the directory structure contains the cookbook’s version number, do not treat The Berkshelf as just another entry in your Chef::Config#cookbooks_path.

Vendoring Cookbooks

You can easily install your Cookbooks and their dependencies to a location other than The Berkshelf. A good case for this is when you want to “vendor” your cookbooks to be packaged and distributed.

$ berks install --path vendor/cookbooks

This will install your Cookbooks to the vendor/cookbooks directory relative to where you ran the command from. Inside the vendored cookbooks directory you will find a directory named after the cookbook it contains.

Configuring Berkshelf

Berkshelf will run with a default configuration unless you explicitly generate one. By default, Berkshelf uses the values found in your Knife configuration (if you have one).

You can override this default behavior by generating an explicit Berkshelf configuration file with the configure command

$ berks configure

Answer each question prompt with a value or press enter to accept the default value. As with Berkshelf’s default behavior, Berkshelf attempts to populate the default values from your Knife configuration (otherwise using something else sensible).

Config written to: '/Users/reset/.berkshelf/config.json'

You will only be prompted to fill in the most travelled configuration options. Looking in the generated configuration will give you some insight to some other configurable values.

  "chef": {
    "chef_server_url": "",
    "validation_client_name": "chef-validator",
    "validation_key_path": "/etc/chef/validation.pem",
    "client_key": "/Users/reset/.chef/reset.pem",
    "node_name": "reset"
  "vagrant": {
    "vm": {
      "box": "Berkshelf-CentOS-6.3-x86_64-minimal",
      "box_url": "",
      "forward_port": {

      "network": {
        "bridged": true,
        "hostonly": ""
      "provision": "chef_solo"
  "ssl": {
    "verify": true

Configurable options

The configuration values are notated in ‘dotted path’ format. These translate to a nested JSON structure.

Vagrant with Berkshelf

Berkshelf was designed for iterating on cookbooks and applications quickly. Vagrant provides us with a way to spin up a virtual environment and configure it using a built-in Chef provisioner. If you have never used Vagrant before - stop now - read the Vagrant documentation and give it a try. Your cookbook development life is about to become 100% better.

If you have used Vagrant before, READ ON!

Install Vagrant

Visit the Vagrant downloads page and download the latest installer for your operating system.

Install the Vagrant Berkshelf plugin

As of Berkshelf 1.3.0 there is now a separate gem which includes the Vagrant Berkshelf plugin. This plugin supports Vagrant 1.1.0 and greater.

To install the plugin run the Vagrant plugin install command

$ vagrant plugin install vagrant-berkshelf
Installing the 'vagrant-berkshelf' plugin. This can take a few minutes...
Installed the plugin 'vagrant-berkshelf (1.2.0)!'

Using the Vagrant Berkshelf plugin

Once the Vagrant Berkshelf plugin is installed it can be enabled in your Vagrantfile

Vagrant.configure("2") do |config|
  config.berkshelf.enabled = true

If your Vagrantfile was generated by Berkshelf it’s probably already enabled

The plugin will look in your current working directory for your Berksfile by default. Just ensure that your Berksfile exists and when you run vagrant up, vagrant provision, or vagrant destroy the Berkshelf integration will automatically kick in!

$ vagrant provision
[Berkshelf] Updating Vagrant's berkshelf: '/Users/reset/.berkshelf/vagrant/berkshelf-20130320-28478-sy1k0n'
[Berkshelf] Installing nginx (1.2.0)

You can use both the Vagrant provided Chef Solo and Chef Client provisioners with the Vagrant Berkshelf plugin.

Chef Solo provisioner

The Chef Solo provisioner’s cookbook_path attribute is hijacked when using the Vagrant Berkshelf plugin. Cookbooks resolved from your Berksfile will automatically be made available to your Vagrant virtual machine. There is no need to explicitly set a value for cookbook_path attribute.

Chef Client provisioner

Cookbooks will automatically be uploaded to the Chef Server you have configured in the Vagrantfile’s Chef Client provisioner block. Your Berkshelf configuration’s chef.node_name and chef.client_key credentials will be used to authenticate the upload.

Setting a Berksfile location

By default, the Vagrant Berkshelf plugin will assume that the Vagrantfile is located in the same directory as a Berksfile. If your Berksfile is located in another directory you can override this behavior

Vagrant.configure("2") do |config|
  config.berkshelf.berksfile_path = "/Users/reset/code/my_face/Berksfile"

The above example will use an absolute path to the Berksfile of a sweet application called MyFace.

The Berksfile

Dependencies are managed via the file Berksfile. The Berksfile is like Bundler’s Gemfile. Entries in the Berksfile are known as sources. It contains a list of sources identifying what Cookbooks to retrieve and where to get them.

cookbook 'memcached'
cookbook 'nginx'
cookbook 'pvpnet', path: '/Users/reset/code/riot-cookbooks/pvpnet-cookbook'
cookbook 'mysql', git: 'git://'
cookbook 'myapp', chef_api: :config

All sources and their dependencies will be retrieved, recursively. Two kinds of sources can be defined.

Metadata Source

The metadata source is like saying gemspec in Bundler’s Gemfile. It says, “There is a metadata.rb file within the same relative path of my Berksfile”. This allows you to resolve a Cookbook’s dependencies that you are currently working on just like you would resolve the dependencies of a Gem that you are currently working on with Bundler.

Given a Berksfile at ~/code/nginx-cookbook containing:


A metadata.rb file is assumed to be located at ~/code/nginx-cookbook/metadata.rb describing your nginx cookbook.

Cookbook Source

A cookbook source is a way to describe a cookbook to install or a way to override the location of a dependency.

Cookbook sources are defined with the format:

cookbook {name}, {version_constraint}, {options}

The first parameter is the name and is the only required parameter

cookbook "nginx"

The second parameter is a version constraint and is optional. If no version constraint is specified the latest is assumed

cookbook "nginx", ">= 0.101.2"

Constraints can be specified as

The final parameter is an options hash

Source Options

Options passed to a source can contain a location or a group(s).


By default a cookbook source is assumed to come from the Opscode Community site This behavior can be customized with a different location type. You might want to use a different location type if the cookbook is stored in a git repository, at a local file path, or at a different community site.

Chef API Location

The Chef API location allows you to treat your Chef Server like an artifact server. Cookbooks or dependencies can be pulled directly out of a Chef Server. This is super useful if your organization has cookbooks that isn’t available to the community but may be a dependency of other proprietary cookbooks in your organization.

A Chef API Location is expressed with the chef_api key followed by some options. You can tell Berkshelf to use the Chef credentials found in your Berkshelf config by passing the symbol :config to chef_api.

cookbook "artifact", chef_api: :config

The Berkshelf configuration is by default located at ~/.berkshelf/config.json. You can specify a different configuration file with the -c flag.

$ berks install -c /Users/reset/.berkshelf/production-config.json

You can also explicitly define the chef_server_url, node_name, and client_key to use:

cookbook "artifact", chef_api: "", node_name: "reset", client_key: "/Users/reset/.chef/reset.pem"
Site Location

The Site location can be used to specify a community site API to retrieve cookbooks from

cookbook "artifact", site: ""

The symbol :opscode is an alias for “Opscode’s newest community API” and can be provided in place of a URL

cookbook "artifact", site: :opscode
Path Location

The Path location is useful for rapid iteration because it does not download, copy, or move the cookbook to The Berkshelf or change the contents of the target. Instead the cookbook found at the given filepath will be used alongside the cookbooks found in The Berkshelf.

cookbook "artifact", path: "/Users/reset/code/artifact-cookbook"

The value given to :path can only contain a single cookbook and must contain a metadata.rb file.

Git Location

The Git location will clone the given Git repository to The Berkshelf if the Git repository contains a valid cookbook.

cookbook "mysql", git: ""

Given the previous example, the cookbook found at the HEAD revision of the opscode-cookbooks/mysql Github project will be cloned to The Berkshelf.

An optional branch key can be specified whose value is a branch or tag that contains the desired cookbook.

cookbook "mysql", git: "", branch: "foodcritic"

Given the previous example, the cookbook found at branch foodcritic of the opscode-cookbooks/mysql Github project will be cloned to The Berkshelf.

An optional tag key is an alias for branch and can be used interchangeably.

cookbook “mysql”, git: “”, tag: “3.0.2”

Given the previous example, the cookbook found at tag 3.0.2 of the opscode-cookbooks/mysql Github project will be cloned to The Berkshelf.

An optional ref key can be specified for the exact SHA-1 commit ID to use and exact revision of the desired cookbook.

cookbook “mysql”, git: “”, ref: “eef7e65806e7ff3bdbe148e27c447ef4a8bc3881”

Given the previous example, the cookbook found at commit id eef7e65806e7ff3bdbe148e27c447ef4a8bc3881 of the opscode-cookbooks/mysql Github project will be cloned to The Berkshelf.

An optional rel key can be specified if your repository contains many cookbooks in a single repository under a sub-directory or at root.

cookbook "rightscale", git: "", rel: "cookbooks/rightscale"

This will fetch the cookbook rightscale from the speficied Git location from under the cookbooks sub-directory.

GitHub Location

As of version 1.0.0, you may now use GitHub shorthand to specify a location.

cookbook "artifact", github: "RiotGames/artifact-cookbook", tag: "0.9.8"

Given this example, the artifact cookbook from the RiotGames organization in the artifact-cookbook repository with a tag of 0.9.8 will be cloned to The Berkshelf.

The git protocol will be used if no protocol is explicity set. To access a private repository specify the ssh or https protocol.

cookbook "keeping_secrets", github: "RiotGames/keeping_secrets-cookbook", protocol: :ssh

You will receive a repository not found error if you are referencing a private repository and have not set the protocol to https or ssh.

Default Locations

Any source that does not explicit define a location will attempted to be retrieved at the latest Opscode community API. Any source not explicitly defined in the Berksfile but found in the metadata.rb of the current cookbook or a dependency will also attempt to use this default location.

Additional site locations can be specified with the site keyword in the Berksfile

site ""

This same entry could also have been written

site :opscode

A Chef API default location can also be specified to attempt to retrieve your cookbook and it’s dependencies from

chef_api "", node_name: "reset", client_key: "/Users/reset/.chef/reset.pem"

Provided my Berkshelf config contains these Chef credentials - this could have been simplified by using the :config symbol

chef_api :config

Specifying a Chef API default location is particularly useful if you have cookbooks that are private to your organization that are not shared on the Opscode community site.

It is highly recommended that you upload your cookbooks to your organization’s Chef Server and then set a chef_api default location at the top of every application cookbook’s Berksfile

Multiple default locations

A combination of default locations can be specified in case a location is unavailable or does not contain the desired cookbook or version

chef_api :config
site :opscode

cookbook "artifact", "= 0.10.0"

The order in which the default locations keywords appear in the Berksfile is the order in which sources will be tried. In the above example Berkshelf would first try a Chef API using my Berkshelf configuration to find the “artifact” cookbook. If the Chef API didn’t contain the “artifact” cookbook, or version 0.10.0 of the cookbook, it will try the Opscode community site.


Adding sources to a group is useful if you want to ignore a cookbook or a set of cookbooks at install or upload time.

Groups can be defined via blocks:

group :solo do
  cookbook 'riot_base'

Groups can also be defined inline as an option:

cookbook 'riot_base', group: 'solo'

To exclude the groups when installing updating, or uploading just add the -except flag.

$ berks install --except solo

Generating a New Cookbook

Berkshelf includes a command to help you quickly generate a cookbook with a number of helpful supporting tools

$ berks cookbook my_face --foodcritic

This will generate a cookbook called “my_face” in your current directory with Vagrant, Git, and Foodcritic support. Check out this guide for more information and the help provided in the Berkshelf CLI for the cookbook command.

Build Integration

Instead of invoking Berkshelf directly on the command-line, you can also run Berkshelf from within a Thor process.


Just add the following line to your Thorfile:

require 'berkshelf/thor'

Now you have access to common Berkshelf tasks without shelling out

$ thor list

$ berkshelf
$ ---------
$ thor berkshelf:init [PATH]  # Prepare a local path to have it's Cook...
$ thor berkshelf:install      # Install the Cookbooks specified by a B...
$ thor berkshelf:update       # Update all Cookbooks and their depende...
$ thor berkshelf:upload       # Upload the Cookbooks specified by a Be...
$ thor berkshelf:version      # Display version and copyright informat...