users Cookbook

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Manages OS users and groups (optionally from databags).


This cookbook is concerned with the management of OS users and groups (optionally from databags). It also manages the distribution of ssh keys to a user's home directory.


This cookbook is maintained by the Sous Chefs. The Sous Chefs are a community of Chef cookbook maintainers working together to maintain important cookbooks. If you’d like to know more please visit (opens in a new tab) or come chat with us on the Chef Community Slack in #sous-chefs (opens in a new tab).


If you are upgrading from a version < 6.0.0 please see (opens in a new tab)


The following platforms have been tested with Test Kitchen:

  • Debian / Ubuntu derivatives
  • RHEL and derivatives
  • Fedora
  • openSUSE / SUSE Linux Enterprises
  • FreeBSD / OpenBSD
  • macOS
  • AIX


  • Chef 12.7+


  • none


To use the resource users_manage, make sure to add the dependency on the users cookbook by the following line to your wrapper cookbook's metadata.rb (opens in a new tab):

depends 'users'

or to pin to a specific version of the users cookbook, in this case any version of 6.X:

depends 'users', '~> 6'

Then in a recipe use the user_manage resource to add all users in the defined group to the system:

users_variable = [{
  id: 'databag_test_user',
  ssh_keys: "ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEAklOUpkDHrfHY17SbrmTIpNLTGK9Tjom/BWDSU\nGPl+nafzlHDTYW7hdI4yZ5ew18JH4JW9jbhUFrviQzM7xlELEVf4h9lFX5QVkbPppSwg0cda3\nPbv7kOdJ/MTyBlWXFCR+HAo3FXRitBqxiX1nKhXpHAZsMciLq8V6RjsNAQwdsdMFvSlVK/7XA\nt3FaoJoAsncM1Q9x5+3V0Ww68/eIFmb1zuUFljQJKprrX88XypNDvjYNby6vw/Pb0rwert/En\nmZ+AW4OZPnTPI89ZPmVMLuayrD2cE86Z/il8b+gw3r3+1nKatmIkjn2so1d01QraTlMqVSsbx\nNrRFi9wrf+M7Q== chefuser@mylaptop.local",
  groups: [ 'GROUPNAME' ],
users_manage 'GROUPNAME' do
  group_id GROUPID
  action [:create]
  users users_variable


users_manage 'testgroup' do
  group_id 3000
  action [:create]
  users node['users']['array_of_users']

Note: The users property needs to be given an Array of Hashes that contains one user per hash. This can be done by passing a data bag like the example below or from any other source.

Databag Definition

This is an alternative to the attribute definition as mentioned below.

You could for instance create a databag called users. You then create a subdatabag for each user object.

A sample user object in a users databag would look like:

  "id": "test_user",
  "password": "$1$5cE1rI/9$4p0fomh9U4kAI23qUlZVv/",
  "ssh_keys": [
    "ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEAklOUpkDHrfHY17SbrmTIpNLTGK9Tjom/BWDSU\nGPl+nafzlHDTYW7hdI4yZ5ew18JH4JW9jbhUFrviQzM7xlELEVf4h9lFX5QVkbPppSwg0cda3\nPbv7kOdJ/MTyBlWXFCR+HAo3FXRitBqxiX1nKhXpHAZsMciLq8V6RjsNAQwdsdMFvSlVK/7XA\nt3FaoJoAsncM1Q9x5+3V0Ww68/eIFmb1zuUFljQJKprrX88XypNDvjYNby6vw/Pb0rwert/En\nmZ+AW4OZPnTPI89ZPmVMLuayrD2cE86Z/il8b+gw3r3+1nKatmIkjn2so1d01QraTlMqVSsbx\nNrRFi9wrf+M7Q== chefuser@mylaptop.local",
    "ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEAklOUpkDHrfHY17SbrmTIpNLTGK9Tjom/BWDSU\nGPl+nafzlHDTYW7hdI4yZ5ew18JH4JW9jbhUFrviQzM7xlELEVf4h9lFX5QVkbPppSwg0cda3\nPbv7kOdJ/MTyBlWXFCR+HAo3FXRitBqxiX1nKhXpHAZsMciLq8V6RjsNAQwdsdMFvSlVK/7XA\nt3FaoJoAsncM1Q9x5+3V0Ww68/eIFmb1zuUFljQJKprrX88XypNDvjYNby6vw/Pb0rwert/En\nmZ+AW4OZPnTPI89ZPmVMLuayrD2cE86Z/il8b+gw3r3+1nKatmIkjn2so1d01QraTlMqVSsbx\nNQCPO0ZZEa1== chefuser@mylaptop.local"
  "groups": [ "testgroup", "nfsgroup" ],
  "uid": 9001,
  "shell": "\/bin\/bash",
  "comment": "Test User"

A sample user to remove from a system would like like:

  "id": "mwaddams",
  "action": "remove",
  "groups": [ "testgroup", "nfsgroup" ]

Attributes Definition

This is an alternative to the data bag definition as mentioned above.

Consider having a cookbook called usermanagement where you include this users cookbook.

You could then set the attributes like this:

default['usermanagement']['users'] = [
    id: 'test_user',
    password: '$1$5cE1rI/9$4p0fomh9U4kAI23qUlZVv/',
    ssh_keys: [
      "ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEAklOUpkDHrfHY17SbrmTIpNLTGK9Tjom/BWDSU\nGPl+nafzlHDTYW7hdI4yZ5ew18JH4JW9jbhUFrviQzM7xlELEVf4h9lFX5QVkbPppSwg0cda3\nPbv7kOdJ/MTyBlWXFCR+HAo3FXRitBqxiX1nKhXpHAZsMciLq8V6RjsNAQwdsdMFvSlVK/7XA\nt3FaoJoAsncM1Q9x5+3V0Ww68/eIFmb1zuUFljQJKprrX88XypNDvjYNby6vw/Pb0rwert/En\nmZ+AW4OZPnTPI89ZPmVMLuayrD2cE86Z/il8b+gw3r3+1nKatmIkjn2so1d01QraTlMqVSsbx\nNrRFi9wrf+M7Q== chefuser@mylaptop.local",
      "ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEAklOUpkDHrfHY17SbrmTIpNLTGK9Tjom/BWDSU\nGPl+nafzlHDTYW7hdI4yZ5ew18JH4JW9jbhUFrviQzM7xlELEVf4h9lFX5QVkbPppSwg0cda3\nPbv7kOdJ/MTyBlWXFCR+HAo3FXRitBqxiX1nKhXpHAZsMciLq8V6RjsNAQwdsdMFvSlVK/7XA\nt3FaoJoAsncM1Q9x5+3V0Ww68/eIFmb1zuUFljQJKprrX88XypNDvjYNby6vw/Pb0rwert/En\nmZ+AW4OZPnTPI89ZPmVMLuayrD2cE86Z/il8b+gw3r3+1nKatmIkjn2so1d01QraTlMqVSsbx\nNQCPO0ZZEa1== chefuser@mylaptop.local"
    groups: %w(testgroup nfsgroup),
    uid: 9001,
    shell: '/bin/bash',
    comment: 'Test User'
     id: 'mwaddams',
     action: 'remove',
     groups: %w(testgroup nfsgroup)

User Key Definitions

  • id: String specifies the username, as well as the data bag object id.
  • password: String specifies the user's password.
  • ssh_keys: Array an array of authorized keys that will be managed by Chef to the user's home directory in $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys. A key can include an https endpoint that returns a line separated list of keys such as$GITHUB_USERNAME.keys this will retrieve all the keys and add it to the array and can be used with static keys as well as dynamic ones.
  • groups: Array an array of groups that the user will be added to
  • uid: Integer a unique identifier for the user
  • shell: String the user's shell
  • comment:String the GECOS field (opens in a new tab), generally the User's full name.

Other potential fields (optional):

  • home: String User's home directory. If not assigned, will be set based on platform and username.
  • manage_home: True, False Creates/removes the home directory. Defaults to false.
  • homedir_mode: String, Integer Modifies a user's home directory permissions.
  • no_user_group: True, False Specifies if the user needs to get a group with the name of the users. Defaults to false.
  • action: String Supported actions are one's supported by the user (opens in a new tab) resource. If not specified, the default action is create.
  • ssh_private_key: String manages user's private key generally ~/.ssh/id_*
  • ssh_public_key: String manages user's public key generally ~/.ssh/id_*.pub
  • authorized_keys_file: String a nonstandard location for the authorized_keys file
  • gid: String, Integer Specifies the primary group of a user by the gid number or the group name. If gid is an integer and no primary_group is specified than the gid will be assigned to the username group, if applicable. The group will be created if it doesn't exist.
  • primary_group: String To be used in combination with the gid field when the gid is an integer. Specifying the group name prevents errors where the user is created before their primary group.
  • system: True, False Specifies if a user is a system account. See the -r option of useradd.

Resources Overview


The users_manage resource manages users and groups based off the users property or of a data bag search and the specified action(s).


Creates the sysadmin group and users defined in the users databag.

# Get the users from the data bag
users_from_databag = search('users', '*:*')
users_manage 'sysadmin' do
  group_id 2300
  action [:create]
  users users_from_databag

Creates the testgroup group, and users defined in the test_home_dir attribute.

users_manage 'testgroup' do
  group_id 3000
  action [:create]
  users node['test_home_dir']

Creates the nfsgroup group, and users defined in the test_home_dir local variable and does not manage nfs home directories.

users_manage 'nfsgroup' do
  group_id 4000
  action [:create]
  users test_home_dir
  manage_nfs_home_dirs false


  • users Array This is the source of the users. It needs to be an array of hashes, where each hash represents its own user. You can use data bags, attributes or something different here.
  • group_name String name of the group to create, defaults to resource name
  • group_id Integer numeric id of the group to create, default is to allow the OS to pick next
  • cookbook String name of the cookbook that the authorized_keys template should be found in
  • manage_nfs_home_dirs Boolean whether to manage nfs home directories.
  • system True, False Specifies if a group is a system group. See the -r option of groupadd.

Reminder users_manage module will only create the user as long as the user's group (groups array) in the attribute or databag includes the users_manage's group name.

Recipe Overview

Recipes are not directly used. Please include the users_manage resource directly in your cookbook.

Data bag Overview

Reminder You do not have to use data bags, you can also pass the users directly to the resource from a different source as explained above.

Reminder Data bags generally should not be stored in cookbooks, but in a policy repo within your organization. Data bags are useful across cookbooks, not just for a single cookbook.

Use knife to create a data bag for users.

knife data bag create users

Create a user in the data_bag/users/ directory.

An optional password hash can be specified that will be used as the user's password.

The hash can be generated with the following command.

openssl passwd -1 "plaintextpassword"

Note: The ssh_keys attribute below can be either a String or an Array. However, we are recommending the use of an Array.

  "id": "bofh",
  "ssh_keys": "ssh-rsa AAAAB3Nz...yhCw== bofh"
  "id": "bofh",
  "password": "$1$d...HgH0",
  "ssh_keys": [
    "ssh-rsa foo",
    "ssh-rsa AAA456...uvw== bar"
  "groups": [ "sysadmin", "dba", "devops" ],
  "uid": 2001,
  "shell": "\/bin\/bash",
  "comment": "BOFH"

You can pass any action listed in the user (opens in a new tab) resource for Chef via the "action" option. For Example:

Lock a user, johndoe1.

knife data bag edit users johndoe1

And then change the action to "lock":

  "id": "johndoe1",
  "groups": ["sysadmin", "dba", "devops"],
  "uid": 2002,
  "action": "lock", // <--
  "comment": "User violated access policy"

Remove a user, johndoe1.

knife data bag edit users johndoe1

And then change the action to "remove":

  "id": "johndoe1",
  "groups": [ "sysadmin", "dba", "devops" ],
  "uid": 2002,
  "action": "remove", // <--
  "comment": "User quit, retired, or fired."
  • Note only user bags with the "action : remove" and a search-able "group" attribute will be purged by the :remove action.
  • As of v2.0.3 you can use the force parameter within the user data bag object for users with action remove. As per user docs (opens in a new tab) this may leave the system in an inconsistent state. For example, a user account will be removed even if the user is logged in. A user's home directory will be removed, even if that directory is shared by multiple users.

If you have different requirements, for example:

  • You want to search a different data bag specific to a role such as mail. You may change the data_bag searched.

    data_bag `mail`
  • You want to search for a different group attribute named postmaster. You may change the search_group attribute. This attribute defaults to the resource name.

    search_group `postmaster`
  • You want to add the users to a security group other than the lightweight resource name. You may change the group_name attribute. This attribute also defaults to the resource name.

    group_name `wheel`

Putting these requirements together our recipe might look like this:

users_manage "postmaster" do
  data_bag "mail"
  group_name "wheel"
  group_id 10

Knife supports reading data bags from a file and automatically looks in a directory called +data_bags+ in the current directory. The "bag" should be a directory with JSON files of each item. For the above:

$ mkdir data_bags/users
$EDITOR data_bags/users/bofh.json

Paste the user's public SSH key into the ssh_keys value. Also make sure the uid is unique, and if you're not using bash, that the shell is installed.

The Apache cookbook can set up authentication using OpenIDs, which is set up using the openid key here. See the Chef Software 'apache2' cookbook for more information about this.


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