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Chef vs Puppet: Comparing the Open Source Configuration Management Tools

Savanna Bruce - June 18, 2022

Chef vs Puppet is one of the biggest debates for those in system administration and information technology careers . Chef server and the Puppet server similarities and differences are important to compare when deciding which is best for you to use.

Luckily, we have compiled all of the information you need to choose between Puppet vs Chef in this guide. With everything from the similarities and differences to the pros and cons between the two configuration management tools, this guide is sure to help you decide which server to work with.

What Is Chef?

Chef is a code-driven configuration management tool used to transform infrastructure into code. Chef clients use this software tool to manage infrastructure and translate tasks into reusable terms. Chef is a cloud-based tool and it uses a Ruby-based domain-specific language (DSL). The Ruby DSL is used to write “recipes” for its “cookbook.”

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Chef is well-known for being able to automate how infrastructure is deployed, configured, and managed, regardless of size. This software tool can operate in the cloud, on premises, or even in a hybrid format to best suit each client’s individual needs.

What Is Puppet?

Puppet is another open-source configuration management tool, deemed to be the industry standard for configuration management. This software tool is designed to be simple enough for most users to learn, but also complex enough to be able to handle difficult tasks and infrastructure.

Using the Puppet Enterprise console, system administrators and IT professionals are able to complete a variety of tasks from managing large infrastructures to scheduling maintenance of the desired states of nodes.

Chef vs Puppet: The Most Important Differences and Similarities

Both Chef and Puppet can be amazing configuration management tools, but there are a few distinct differences and similarities between the two. Taking time to properly analyze and compare the differences and similarities before deciding to use one or the other.

Difference: Availability

While both Chef and Puppet have good availability, they run in different ways. For Chef, if the main server goes down, there is a backup server in place to take over. Puppet, on the other hand, is a system based on the use of masters. Since there are multiple masters, if the active master goes down for any reason, one of the others simply takes over and fills in for the previously active master.

Difference: Cost

One of the most important differences between Chef and Puppet is the cost. To use Chef, you will end up paying $137 per node. This is an annual fee, so you can calculate your yearly cost by determining how many nodes you will need and multiplying that number by 137.

Puppet, on the other hand, is a bit more forgiving when it comes to cost. You can enroll in a free trial version and use up to 10 nodes to begin with. After the free trial, you will pay an annual fee of $100 per node. So, for example, if you use 20 nodes, you will be paying $2,000 per year.

Difference: Configuration Language

The last major difference to consider is the configuration language used by each software tool. If you are leaning toward using Chef, you will need to learn their specific Ruby DSL. This is known for being a difficult language to learn, but having prior experience using Ruby can certainly help.

Puppet uses its own language, Puppet DSL. This is also known for being a difficult language to learn, and it is unfortunately more difficult than Chef’s Ruby DSL because it is developed by and specifically for the Puppet servers and its users.

Similarity: Interoperability

The interoperability of Chef and Puppet is relatively the same. Both servers work best on Linux and Unix machines, so you will want to learn Linux . However, there are versions of both software tools that work on other platforms. For example, Chef Client and Workstation and Puppet Agent are both compatible with Windows.

However, you will not be able to use many other operating systems with Chef or Puppet. There are versions of Chef which can be used to support cloud platforms, such as Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services , but you will likely find it is easiest to run both configuration management tools in Linux or Unix platforms.

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Similarity: Configuration Type

One of the other similarities Chef and Puppet share is the type of configuration they use. There are two types of configurations: push and pull. Both Chef and Puppet use pull configurations as opposed to the push configuration, in which all of the configurations in the central server are pushed to the nodes.

Using a pull configuration, users of both the Chef and Puppet servers will be able to have nodes pull configurations automatically. This means there are no necessary commands to pull configurations, ultimately making the configuration process a bit easier and smoother.

Similarity: Scalability

For most, scalability is an extremely important factor when deciding which configuration management tool to use. Luckily, Chef and Puppet both excel in this area. Both tools are capable of supporting large infrastructures.

In order to support large infrastructures, there is not much you will need to do. Simply provide the tools with the IP address and host name of the nodes in need of configuration, and Chef or Puppet will do the rest.

Chef vs Puppet: Pros and Cons

Person in yellow sweater sitting at wooden desk against window and typing on laptop
Choosing between Chef vs Puppet can be a tough decision, so weigh the pros and cons wisely.

Even after examining the differences and similarities between Puppet vs Chef, you are likely still debating which is better. To further help you in making your decision, we have compiled this short and simple list of both Chef and Puppet’s pros and cons.

Chef Pros

  • More Flexible. Chef is the best configuration management tool to use if you are looking for flexibility. Since this tool takes a code-driven approach, there is a wider range of functionality and flexibility in what tasks can be accomplished.
  • Easier Installation and Set Up. Since installation and set-up are some of the most vital steps in mastering a new software tool, it is important to be able to complete the steps. Chef makes installation and set-up easier than most configuration management tools.
  • Configuration and Module Recipes. Chef operates using recipes as part of a cookbook, and there is an extensive library of recipes. With such a large collection of configuration and module recipes, it is safe to say you will always find what you need.

Chef Cons

  • Higher Cost. The biggest con to using Chef is the cost. While not totally unaffordable, this is the more expensive of the two tools, which can impact those on a budget significantly. If you are not on a budget, it is still important to consider the cost, but it is more important to consider other aspects first.
  • Must Be an Experienced Programmer. Unfortunately, Chef is one tool designed specifically for experienced programmers and IT professionals. Without having completed a few courses in Ruby and basic procedural coding, you will likely struggle to operate this tool.
  • Complex and Difficult Tool. Chef is notorious for being a complicated and difficult tool to use. While the functionality of Chef can be extremely versatile and useful, the complexity of the tool itself often outweighs the awesome functions.

Puppet Pros

  • Lower Cost. Perhaps Puppet’s best feature is its relatively low cost. Compared to Chef, Puppet is by far the most affordable option, especially with the offer of a free trial for up to 10 nodes.
  • More Available. Though Chef uses a backup server in case the primary server ever goes down, Puppet uses a system of different masters. If the active master foes down, another one simply takes its place, making it more available and capable of recovering from downed servers.
  • Well-Established Support Community. Puppet has long been a favorite configuration management tool, so it has grown a large following. This has led to an extraordinarily well-established support community, making it easier than ever to find help when you need it.

Puppet Cons

  • Less Flexibility. Since Puppet is model-driven rather than code-driven, there is a bit less flexibility. This may not affect those who wish to perform more basic tasks, but for anything more complex, the lack of flexibility could be hindering.
  • Must Be Familiar with Ruby. To perform any advanced tasks in Puppet, you will need to be familiar with multiple coding languages . Of course, Puppet DSL is a given, but you will also need to be able to learn Ruby and CLI.
  • Support for Older Versions Diminishing. One of the biggest cons of Puppet is the diminishing support available for older versions of the tool. While this may not seem very problematic, if you have a pre-Ruby era version of Puppet, you will not be able to find any support for the tool, making it impossible to use.

Should You Use Chef or Puppet?

Black and silver laptop on gray desk in between open notebook and coffee mug
Chef and Puppet both have their advantages, but it is up to you to decide which is best for you.

While the decision to use Chef or Puppet is ultimately up to you, we want to help you as much as we can. Since this is such a difficult decision, as both tools have their own unique features, we will end this guide with the biggest advantages of each tool.

Advantages of Choosing Chef

The biggest advantages you will get for choosing Chef over Puppet are a more flexible tool, easier installation and set-up, an extensive collection of recipes, and the use of a Ruby DSL. These factors all contribute to a tool that allows you to complete difficult, complex tasks through a simple user interface that is relatively easy to learn and operate.

Advantages of Choosing Puppet

Puppet’s biggest advantages include low cost, a free trial option, better availability, and a well-established support community. You can easily take advantage of a free trial to learn Puppet’s complex interface, and with nearly perfect availability and a fantastic support community, you should have no trouble finding answers to all your questions.

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Savanna Bruce

About the author: As a writer at Career Karma, Savanna covers a wide array of topics in education, careers, and technology. Before joining the Career Karma team in June 2020, Savanna found success as a freelance writer and bookseller. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, she graduated with a bachelor's of Multidisciplinary Studies from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Savanna is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing to further enhance her career. Specifically, she aims to use her degree to start nonprofit animal welfare organizations in developing countries.

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