Chapter 3. CFEngine Basics

In this chapter we will take a more detailed look at the basic concepts behind CFEngine, including its theoretical foundation, the syntax and constructs of its policy language, and some unique aspects of its behavior. I will also point you to some of the many online resources available for learning and improving your CFEngine skills.

Basic Principles

One of CFEngine’s unique characteristics is that it is built upon predefined, solid theoretical and behavioral principles. These principles guide the design and implementation of all the CFEngine components and of its policy language, and ensure that the behavior of those components remains consistent. These principles are: desired-state configuration, a minimum base set of native operations, promise theory, and convergent configuration. Let us look at them in more detail.

Desired-State Configuration

CFEngine is different from many other automation mechanisms in that you do not need to tell it what to do. Instead, you specify the state in which you wish the system to be, and CFEngine will automatically decide the actions to take to reach the desired state, or as close to it as possible. In programming language terms, we say that the CFEngine policy language is declarative, as opposed to imperative.

These are some examples of the things that you can express to CFEngine as desired states:

  • “Make sure file /etc/ssh/sshd_config contains the line UseDNS no

  • “Make sure user mysql exists/does not exist”

  • “Make sure process ...

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