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Installing Chef on a workstation and using Knife to bootstrap an Amazon EC2 instance

November 15, 2011

Disclaimer: I am following the step by step guide from this website.

I was supposed to use Chef to automate the installation of NRPE plugins for Nagios monitoring in our HP environment. But, I gave up on that. This was because we have RedHat boxes but we dont have the RHN support. So, everytime I tried to upgrade or install anything, it was just a pain in the ass. It just wasn’t worth wasting my time on it when they are so locked down.

So, now I am going to do it from the scratch in our Amazon EC2 environment. Plus, Chef’s knife CLI has inbuilt support for AWS so thats a good thing to have. Basically, I am going to be installing Chef on an EC2 instance which will be the box where I will be doing all my cooking and from where I will be uploading the cookbooks and recipes to the hosted chef server. This will be my workstation and not one of the chef-clients. I will be using this instance as a management node for all my chef client nodes. Once I am done with the basics, I will try to see how I can effectively use Chef to install Nagios for monitoring.

Workstation Setup: 

  • I started the Basic Linux 64-bit AMI from the AWS console (ami-1b814f72).
  • I then followed these instructions to configure the environment for my workstation.
  • We need to install Ruby, RubyGems, Chef, Git and some other dependencies as mentioned in the above link.
  • We need to then create a Chef repository on the workstation, clone the github chef-repo to that repository and upload the three files (USERNAME.pem, ORGANIZATION-validator.pem, knife.rb) to make sure we have the knife CLI working fine and talking to the hosted server.
  • We are ready now to start cooking. Follow the instructions here to get started with the getting-started cookbook from the github repo. Finally, upload it to the Hosted Chef Server.
  • You can now configure your workstation as a chef-client or another instance as a chef-client depending upon your requirements. Follow the instructions here. I am going to keep my workstation like this. I am going to have different instances treated as chef-clients by this workstation.
  • For simplicity, I am going to start a new Ubuntu 11.04 instance on Amazon EC2 and I will have that configured as my chef-client via knife bootstrap command. I am following the above link as well as this one.
  • So, after starting the Ubuntu instance, I tried to run the knife bootstrap a few times and I kept on getting errors. Following is what I figured out:

I was typing the following command from the ~/chef-repo directory and I kept on getting the following error:

[ec2-user@ip-xxx chef-repo]$ knife bootstrap –distro ubuntu11.04-gems -N CL1 -x ubuntu –sudo -i Chef-WS.pem -V
Bootstrapping Chef on
ERROR: TypeError: can’t convert Array into String

I tried going inside the .chef directory and typing the above command again but that didn’t work either.
Then, being in the .chef directory, I typed in the below command and got the following error:

[ec2-user@xxx .chef]$ knife bootstrap -N CL1 -x ubuntu –sudo -i Chef-WS.pem -V
Bootstrapping Chef on
WARNING: Failed to connect to — Net::SSH::AuthenticationFailed: ubuntu@

So, as you can notice, as soon as I removed the “–distro” option, I got a different error which had something to do with SSH authentication. This was obvious and made sense because the private key Chef-WS.pem was in my chef-repo directory and not the current directory.

So, I went back to the chef-repo directory and without the distro option, typed in the above command and bingo, IT WORKED!
[ec2-user@xxx chef-repo]$ knife bootstrap -N CL1 -x ubuntu –sudo -i Chef-WS.pem -V
Bootstrapping Chef on
0% [Working]

The final output was as below:
INFO: *** Chef 0.10.4 ***
INFO: Client key /etc/chef/client.pem
INFO: Setting the run_list to [] from
INFO: Run List is []
INFO: Run List expands to []
INFO: Starting Chef Run for CL1
INFO: Loading cookbooks []
WARN: Node CL1 has an empty run list.
INFO: Chef Run complete in 0.776145 s
INFO: Running report handlers
INFO: Report handlers complete

  • We can verify the new client node added from the workstation by following the steps in the above links.
Next, I will continue with this and try to install recipes on this node from my workstation.
P.S. -> There is a nice knife-ec2 plugin by which you can start EC2 instances with Chef installed without worrying about he bootstrapping process but since I didn’t want to start a new instance and I just wanted to install chef-client on an existing EC2 instance, I followed the above method. In the future, I will be doing it via the knife-ec2 CLI once I figure out our requirements.
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One Comment
  1. The knife bootstrap command is looking for the IP address or hostname immediately after bootstrap. This worked for me: knife bootstrap IPADDRESS –distro ubuntu11.04-gems -N CL1 -x ubuntu –sudo -i Chef-WS.pem -V

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