Table of Contents

One concept in CFEngine should stand out from the rest as being the most important: promises. Everything else is just an abstraction that allows us to declare promises and model the various actors in the system.

Everything is a Promise

Everything in CFEngine 3 can be interpreted as a promise. Promises can be made about all kinds of different subjects, from file attributes, to the execution of commands, to access control decisions and knowledge relationships. If you are managing a system that serves web pages you may define a promise that port 80 needs to be open on a web server. This same web server may also define a promise that a particular directory has a particular set of permissions and the proper owner to serve web pages via Apache.

This simple but powerful idea allows a very practical uniformity in CFEngine syntax.

Promise Types

The promise_type defines what kind of object is making the promise. The type dictates how CFEngine interprets the promise body. These promise types are straightforward: The files promise type deals with file permissions and file content, and the packages promise type allows you to work with packaging systems such as rpm and apt.

Some promise types are common to all CFEngine components, while others can only be executed by one of them. cf-serverd cannot keep packages promises, and cf-agent cannot keep access promises. See the Promise Type reference for a comprehensive list of promise types.

The Promiser

The promiser is an object affected by a promise, and this can be anything: a file, a port on a network. It is the entity that is making a promise that a certain fact will be true. These facts are listed in the form of attributes and values. A file could promise that a permission attribute has a particular value (i.e. 775 permission value) and that an owner attribute has another value (i.e. "root").

When a promise is made in CFEngine it is made to another entity - a promisee. A promisee is an optional part of a promise declaration. The promisee can help provide insight into the system's configuration, and may become relevant as your system grows in complexity.

The classes in a promise control the conditions that make the promise valid. Examples are the operating system on which the policy is executed, or the day of the week. More about that in the classes and decision making section.

Not all of these elements are necessary every time, but when you combine them they enable a wide range of behavior.

Promise Example

     # Promise type
         "/home/mark/tmp/test_plain" -> "system blue team",
             create  => "true",
             perms   => owner("@(usernames)"),
             comment => "Hello World";

In this example, the promise is about a file named test_plain in the directory /home/mark/tmp, and the promise is made to some entity named system blue team. The create attribute instructs CFEngine to create the file if it doesn't exist. It has a list of owners that is defined by a variable named "usernames" (see the documentation about Bodies for more details on this last expression).

The comment attribute in this example can be added to any promise. It has no actual function other than to provide more information to the user in error tracing and auditing.

This is a promise that will affect the state of a file on the filesystem. In CFEngine you can do this without having to execute the touch, chmod, and chown commands. CFEngine is declarative: you declare a contract (or a promise) that you want CFEngine to keep and you leave the details up to the tool.

Promise Locking

When a promise is validated (has an outcome of kept or repaired) it is locked for body agent control ifelapsed minutes (1 by default). Locks are based on a hash of the promise (promiser, associated attributes, and context).

Promise locks can be useful for controlling frequency.

access, classes, defaults, meta, roles and vars type promises do not participate in locking.

See Also: ifelapsed in body agent control, ifelapsed action body attribute

Promise Attributes

Promise attributes have a type and a value. The type can be any of the datatypes that are allowed for variables, and in addition

  • Boolean - allowed input values are

    • "true"/"false"
    • "on"/"off"
    • "yes"/"no"
  • irange[min, max] and rrange[min, max] - a range of integer or real values, created via the irange() and rrange() functions

  • clist - a list of classes or class expressions. Note that these attributes can take both strings (which are evaluated as class expressions) and functions that return type class

  • Menu option - one value from a list of values

  • body type - a complex set of attributes expressed in a separate, reusable block

  • bundle type - a separate bundle that is used as a sub-routine or a sub-set of promises

Note: The language does not specifically disallow the use of the same attribute multiple times within a given promise. As a general rule the last definition wins but the behavior is not clearly defined and this should be avoided.

For example, the following promises use the same attribute multiple times.

bundle agent bad_example

      expression => "cfengine",
      expression => "my_other_class";

      perms => m( 600 ),
      perms => owner( "root" ),
      perms => group( "root" );

Implicit Promises

Some promise types can have implicit behavior. For example, the following promise simply prints out a log message "hello world".

     "hello world";

The same promise could be implemented using the commands type, invoking the echo command:

     "/bin/echo hello world";

These two promises have default attributes for everything except the `promiser'. Both promises simply cause CFEngine to print a message.