adventures in coding

Chef gems and embedded ruby


Backporting the Chef Gem.

ChefGem Resource

The ChefGem resource was introduced in 0.10.9 to provide an easy way to install and make use of gems within Chef. In the past gems required by recipes had to be installed during compile time which added a handful of steps that had to be repeated every time a gem was required by a recipe. The ChefGem resource automates these steps making it much easier to provide gems required by Chef recipes.

Along with automating the steps required to make the gem useful at runtime, the ChefGem resource also attempts to install gems into Chef’s embedded ruby if it is running via an omnibus installed Chef. This is done to keep Chef and its dependencies isolated from the system at large. The ChefGem provider does some inspection to determine where it is running and based on location will install ChefGems into the embedded ruby or the system ruby. Likewise, the GemPackage provider will check if it is running via an omnibus install and ensure that packages get installed into the system ruby, and falls back to the embedded ruby if unavailable.

ChefGem Issues

With the introduction of ChefGem, a few issues are also introduced:

  1. The new resource introduction is not backwards compatibile.
  2. Proper omnibus detection does not work properly.
  3. Gems may be unintentionally installed into embedded ruby

The first issue, and arguably the most important, restricts the ability to implement recipes using the ChefGem resource until Chef has been upgraded to at least 0.10.9. It also means that omnibus installs are not viable until recipes have been converted to use ChefGem, as gems required by recipes will not be available if a system ruby is in use. This can be problematic as recipe updates plus Chef upgrades must be a synchronized action.

Also, within the 0.10.10 release, the omnibus detection does not work as expected due to the moving of the omnibus installation directory. This means ChefGems get installed into the system ruby if it is available and are not available to an omnibus chef process. Along with this, if a system ruby becomes available later in the installation, GemPackages will be installed to the embedded ruby first.


For omnibus based chef installations, it becomes vitally important to ensure a system ruby is available aside from the embedded ruby shipped with Chef. To provide this, we can use the ruby_installer cookbook to install a package based ruby or the REE version. By placing the ruby_installer recipe at the start of the run list, we can ensure that a system ruby is available for Chef during the first run.

To provide backwards compatibility, proper installation locations based on resources and proper omnibus detection, the chef_gem cookbook will add this support. For versions of Chef under 0.10.9, it will provide a compat chef_gem resource enabling recipes to be migrated to chef_gem without requiring an immediate upgrade. For Chef versions under 0.10.11, it will patch omnibus detection to ensure gem installations happen within the correct ruby instance. And for Chef versions 10.12.0 and beyond, it becomes a no-op cookbook.