About Definitions

A definition is code that is reused across recipes, similar to a compile-time macro. A definition is created using arbitrary code wrapped around built-in chef-client resources—file, execute, template, and so on—by declaring those resources into the definition as if they were declared in a recipe. A definition is then used in one (or more) recipes as if it were a resource.

Though a definition behaves like a resource, some key differences exist. A definition:

  • Is not a resource or a custom resource
  • Is defined from within the /definitions directory of a cookbook
  • Is loaded before resources during the chef-client run; this ensures the definition is available to all of the resources that may need it
  • May not notify resources in the resource collection because a definition is loaded before the resource collection itself is created; however, a resource in a definition may notify a resource that exists within the same definition
  • Automatically supports why-run mode, unlike custom resources

Use a defintion when repeating patterns exist across resources and/or when a simple, direct approach is desired. There is no limit to the number of resources that may be included in a definition: use as many built-in chef-client resources as necessary.


A definition has four components:

  • A resource name
  • Zero or more arguments that define parameters their default values; if a default value is not specified, it is assumed to be nil
  • A hash that can be used within a definition’s body to provide access to parameters and their values
  • The body of the definition

The basic syntax of a definition is:

define :resource_name do

More commonly, the usage incorporates arguments to the definition:

define :resource_name, :parameter => :argument, :parameter => :argument do
  body (likely referencing the params hash)

The following simplistic example shows a definition with no arguments (a parameterless macro in the truest sense):

define :prime_myfile do
  file '/etc/myfile' do
    content 'some content'

An example showing the use of parameters, with a parameter named port that defaults to 4000 rendered into a template resource, would look like:

define :prime_myfile, port: 4000 do
  template '/etc/myfile' do
    source 'myfile.erb'
      port: params[:port],

Or the following definition, which looks like a resource when used in a recipe, but also contains resources—directory and file—that are repeated, but with slightly different parameters:

define :host_porter, :port => 4000, :hostname => nil do
  params[:hostname] ||= params[:name]

  directory '/etc/#{params[:hostname]}' do
    recursive true

  file '/etc/#{params[:hostname]}/#{params[:port]}' do
    content 'some content'

which is then used in a recipe like this:

host_porter node['hostname'] do
 port 4000

host_porter 'www1' do
  port 4001


The following examples show how to use cookbook definitions.

Simplify Repeating Patterns

A definition file is similar to a macro; use a definition to define reusable code. For example, the following definition defines a common installation scenario, in this case installing Splunk on multiple machines:

define :splunk_installer, :url => nil do
  cache_dir = Chef::Config[:file_cache_path]
  package_file = splunk_file(params[:url])
  cached_package = ::File.join(cache_dir, package_file)

  remote_file cached_package do
    source params[:url]
    action :create_if_missing

  if %w{omnios}.include?(node['platform'])
    pkgopts = [
      '-a #{cache_dir}/#{params[:name]}-nocheck',
      '-r #{cache_dir}/splunk-response'

    execute 'uncompress #{cached_package}' do
      not_if { File.exist?("#{cache_dir}/#{package_file.gsub(/\.Z/, '')}") }

    cookbook_file '#{cache_dir}/#{params[:name]}-nocheck' do
      source 'splunk-nocheck'

    file '#{cache_dir}/splunk-response' do
      content 'BASEDIR=/opt'

  package params[:name] do
    source cached_package.gsub(/\.Z/, '')
    case node['platform_family']
    when 'rhel'
      provider Chef::Provider::Package::Rpm
    when 'debian'
      provider Chef::Provider::Package::Dpkg
    when 'omnios'
      provider Chef::Provider::Package::Solaris
      options pkgopts.join(' ')

Once created, this definition is used just like a resource:

splunk_installer 'use #1' do
  url node['splunk']['server']['url']

and then another recipe:

splunk_installer 'use #2' do
  url node['splunk']['forwarder']['url']

and so on.

Create a Resource

A definition file can be used to create an object that the chef-client can then use like a resource. For example:

apache_site Definition
define :apache_site, :enable => true do
  include_recipe 'apache2'

  if params[:enable]
    execute 'a2ensite #{params[:name]}' do
      command '/usr/sbin/a2ensite #{params[:name]}'
      notifies :restart, resources(:service => 'apache2')
      not_if do
        ::File.symlink?('#{node[:apache][:dir]}/sites-enabled/#{params[:name]}') or
      only_if do ::File.exist?('#{node[:apache][:dir]}/sites-available/#{params[:name]}') end
    execute 'a2dissite #{params[:name]}' do
      command '/usr/sbin/a2dissite #{params[:name]}'
      notifies :restart, resources(:service => 'apache2')
      only_if do ::File.symlink?('#{node[:apache][:dir]}/sites-enabled/#{params[:name]}') end

Once created, the definition can be used by placing it in a recipe:

apache_site resource
# Enable my_site.conf
apache_site 'my_site.conf' do
  enable true

# Disable my_site.conf
apache_site 'my_site.conf' do
  enable false

The attributes of the new apache_site object are made accessible with the params hash. Within the context of a chef-client run, the definition will be replaced by all the resources that are specified within the definition. For example, in the enabled case, the definition will be expanded to:

execute 'a2ensite my_site.conf' do
  command '/usr/sbin/a2ensite my_site.conf'
  notifies :restart, resources(:service => 'apache2')
  not_if do
    ::File.symlink?('/etc/apache2/sites-enabled/my_site.conf') or

Many Recipes, One Definition

Data can be passed to a definition from more than one recipe. Use a definition to create a compile-time macro that can be referenced by resources during the converge phase. For example, when both /etc/aliases and /etc/sudoers require updates from multiple recipes during a single chef-client run.

A definition that reopens resources would look something like:

define :email_alias, :recipients => [] do
  name       = params[:name]
  recipients = params[:recipients]

  find_resource(:execute, 'newaliases') do
    action :nothing

  t = find_resource(template: '/etc/aliases') do
    source 'aliases.erb'
    cookbook 'aliases'
    variables({:aliases => {} })
    notifies :run, 'execute[newaliases]'

  aliases = t.variables[:aliases]

  if !aliases.has_key?(name)
    aliases[name] = []

Virtual Hosts

Two applications need to be deployed and run on a single node under the same domain and sub-domain. A Ruby on Rails application will reside as the main application at example.com and a WordPress application will reside at blog.example.com. The domain is running Apache2 as the web server. The domain is expected to grow, but for now only two run_list resources are created, with the appropriate roles added to them. At some point in the future, when a new sub-domain is required, a new run_list resource would also be created.

The virtual host on the Apache2 server is only one per node, which can create challenges when a node requires updates. Using a definition helps get around this issue. For example, the web_app definition exists in the apache2 cookbook, and can be used like this:

web_app 'blog_site' do
  server_name 'blog'
  server_aliases [ "blog.#{node['domain']}", node['fqdn'] ]
  docroot '/srv/www/blog_site'

When the chef-client processes a recipe that contains this definition, it will find the web_app resource and will attempt to recognize it as a resource. Assuming that the apache2 cookbook is available, the resources contained within that cookbook will be found and loaded, replacing the definition.