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Chef vs CircleCI: What are the differences?

Chef: Build, destroy and rebuild servers on any public or private cloud. Chef enables you to manage and scale cloud infrastructure with no downtime or interruptions. Freely move applications and configurations from one cloud to another. Chef is integrated with all major cloud providers including Amazon EC2, VMWare, IBM Smartcloud, Rackspace, OpenStack, Windows Azure, HP Cloud, Google Compute Engine, Joyent Cloud and others; CircleCI: Automate your development process quickly, safely, and at scale. Continuous integration and delivery platform helps software teams rapidly release code with confidence by automating the build, test, and deploy process. Offers a modern software development platform that lets teams ramp.

Chef can be classified as a tool in the "Server Configuration and Automation" category, while CircleCI is grouped under "Continuous Integration".

Some of the features offered by Chef are:

  • Access to 800+ Reusable Cookbooks
  • Integration with Leading Cloud Providers
  • Enterprise Platform Support including Windows and Solaris

On the other hand, CircleCI provides the following key features:

  • Language-Inclusive Support
  • Custom Environments
  • Flexible Resource Allocation

"Dynamic and idempotent server configuration" is the top reason why over 104 developers like Chef, while over 218 developers mention "Github integration" as the leading cause for choosing CircleCI.

Chef is an open source tool with 5.86K GitHub stars and 2.36K GitHub forks. Here's a link to Chef's open source repository on GitHub.

According to the StackShare community, CircleCI has a broader approval, being mentioned in 943 company stacks & 388 developers stacks; compared to Chef, which is listed in 360 company stacks and 80 developer stacks.

- No public GitHub repository available -

What is Chef?

Chef enables you to manage and scale cloud infrastructure with no downtime or interruptions. Freely move applications and configurations from one cloud to another. Chef is integrated with all major cloud providers including Amazon EC2, VMWare, IBM Smartcloud, Rackspace, OpenStack, Windows Azure, HP Cloud, Google Compute Engine, Joyent Cloud and others.

What is CircleCI?

Continuous integration and delivery platform helps software teams rapidly release code with confidence by automating the build, test, and deploy process. Offers a modern software development platform that lets teams ramp.
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    What are some alternatives to Chef and CircleCI?
    Ansible
    Ansible is an IT automation tool. It can configure systems, deploy software, and orchestrate more advanced IT tasks such as continuous deployments or zero downtime rolling updates. Ansible’s goals are foremost those of simplicity and maximum ease of use.
    Puppet Labs
    Puppet is an automated administrative engine for your Linux, Unix, and Windows systems and performs administrative tasks (such as adding users, installing packages, and updating server configurations) based on a centralized specification.
    Capistrano
    Capistrano is a remote server automation tool. It supports the scripting and execution of arbitrary tasks, and includes a set of sane-default deployment workflows.
    Fabric
    Fabric is a Python (2.5-2.7) library and command-line tool for streamlining the use of SSH for application deployment or systems administration tasks. It provides a basic suite of operations for executing local or remote shell commands (normally or via sudo) and uploading/downloading files, as well as auxiliary functionality such as prompting the running user for input, or aborting execution.
    Salt
    Salt is a new approach to infrastructure management. Easy enough to get running in minutes, scalable enough to manage tens of thousands of servers, and fast enough to communicate with them in seconds. Salt delivers a dynamic communication bus for infrastructures that can be used for orchestration, remote execution, configuration management and much more.
    See all alternatives
    Decisions about Chef and CircleCI
    Tymoteusz Paul
    Tymoteusz Paul
    Devops guy at X20X Development LTD · | 12 upvotes · 199.1K views
    Amazon EC2
    Amazon EC2
    LXC
    LXC
    CircleCI
    CircleCI
    Docker
    Docker
    Git
    Git
    Vault
    Vault
    Apache Maven
    Apache Maven
    Slack
    Slack
    Jenkins
    Jenkins
    TeamCity
    TeamCity
    Logstash
    Logstash
    Kibana
    Kibana
    Elasticsearch
    Elasticsearch
    Ansible
    Ansible
    VirtualBox
    VirtualBox
    Vagrant
    Vagrant

    Often enough I have to explain my way of going about setting up a CI/CD pipeline with multiple deployment platforms. Since I am a bit tired of yapping the same every single time, I've decided to write it up and share with the world this way, and send people to read it instead ;). I will explain it on "live-example" of how the Rome got built, basing that current methodology exists only of readme.md and wishes of good luck (as it usually is ;)).

    It always starts with an app, whatever it may be and reading the readmes available while Vagrant and VirtualBox is installing and updating. Following that is the first hurdle to go over - convert all the instruction/scripts into Ansible playbook(s), and only stopping when doing a clear vagrant up or vagrant reload we will have a fully working environment. As our Vagrant environment is now functional, it's time to break it! This is the moment to look for how things can be done better (too rigid/too lose versioning? Sloppy environment setup?) and replace them with the right way to do stuff, one that won't bite us in the backside. This is the point, and the best opportunity, to upcycle the existing way of doing dev environment to produce a proper, production-grade product.

    I should probably digress here for a moment and explain why. I firmly believe that the way you deploy production is the same way you should deploy develop, shy of few debugging-friendly setting. This way you avoid the discrepancy between how production work vs how development works, which almost always causes major pains in the back of the neck, and with use of proper tools should mean no more work for the developers. That's why we start with Vagrant as developer boxes should be as easy as vagrant up, but the meat of our product lies in Ansible which will do meat of the work and can be applied to almost anything: AWS, bare metal, docker, LXC, in open net, behind vpn - you name it.

    We must also give proper consideration to monitoring and logging hoovering at this point. My generic answer here is to grab Elasticsearch, Kibana, and Logstash. While for different use cases there may be better solutions, this one is well battle-tested, performs reasonably and is very easy to scale both vertically (within some limits) and horizontally. Logstash rules are easy to write and are well supported in maintenance through Ansible, which as I've mentioned earlier, are at the very core of things, and creating triggers/reports and alerts based on Elastic and Kibana is generally a breeze, including some quite complex aggregations.

    If we are happy with the state of the Ansible it's time to move on and put all those roles and playbooks to work. Namely, we need something to manage our CI/CD pipelines. For me, the choice is obvious: TeamCity. It's modern, robust and unlike most of the light-weight alternatives, it's transparent. What I mean by that is that it doesn't tell you how to do things, doesn't limit your ways to deploy, or test, or package for that matter. Instead, it provides a developer-friendly and rich playground for your pipelines. You can do most the same with Jenkins, but it has a quite dated look and feel to it, while also missing some key functionality that must be brought in via plugins (like quality REST API which comes built-in with TeamCity). It also comes with all the common-handy plugins like Slack or Apache Maven integration.

    The exact flow between CI and CD varies too greatly from one application to another to describe, so I will outline a few rules that guide me in it: 1. Make build steps as small as possible. This way when something breaks, we know exactly where, without needing to dig and root around. 2. All security credentials besides development environment must be sources from individual Vault instances. Keys to those containers should exist only on the CI/CD box and accessible by a few people (the less the better). This is pretty self-explanatory, as anything besides dev may contain sensitive data and, at times, be public-facing. Because of that appropriate security must be present. TeamCity shines in this department with excellent secrets-management. 3. Every part of the build chain shall consume and produce artifacts. If it creates nothing, it likely shouldn't be its own build. This way if any issue shows up with any environment or version, all developer has to do it is grab appropriate artifacts to reproduce the issue locally. 4. Deployment builds should be directly tied to specific Git branches/tags. This enables much easier tracking of what caused an issue, including automated identifying and tagging the author (nothing like automated regression testing!).

    Speaking of deployments, I generally try to keep it simple but also with a close eye on the wallet. Because of that, I am more than happy with AWS or another cloud provider, but also constantly peeking at the loads and do we get the value of what we are paying for. Often enough the pattern of use is not constantly erratic, but rather has a firm baseline which could be migrated away from the cloud and into bare metal boxes. That is another part where this approach strongly triumphs over the common Docker and CircleCI setup, where you are very much tied in to use cloud providers and getting out is expensive. Here to embrace bare-metal hosting all you need is a help of some container-based self-hosting software, my personal preference is with Proxmox and LXC. Following that all you must write are ansible scripts to manage hardware of Proxmox, similar way as you do for Amazon EC2 (ansible supports both greatly) and you are good to go. One does not exclude another, quite the opposite, as they can live in great synergy and cut your costs dramatically (the heavier your base load, the bigger the savings) while providing production-grade resiliency.

    See more
    Travis CI
    Travis CI
    CircleCI
    CircleCI

    I initially chose CircleCI for a personal project because I was not satisified with using Travis CI in the past. When it came time to develop my CI/CD config on Circle, I was pleasantly surprised with the fantastic documentation, invaluable collection of example configs and helpful support provided. The free tier they provide is quite robust for most small projects and the platform is updated frequently with nice features.

    Areas where CircleCI could improve:

    • the UI is a bit slow (you can feel the local machine straining to load all the code) and it is not as intuitive as it could be
    • many UI elements receive updates and/or changes that are not always reflected in the current docs
    See more
    Sebastian Gębski
    Sebastian Gębski
    CTO at Shedul/Fresha · | 4 upvotes · 224.4K views
    atFresha EngineeringFresha Engineering
    Logentries
    Logentries
    Sentry
    Sentry
    AppSignal
    AppSignal
    New Relic
    New Relic
    GitHub
    GitHub
    Git
    Git
    Jenkins
    Jenkins
    CircleCI
    CircleCI

    Regarding Continuous Integration - we've started with something very easy to set up - CircleCI , but with time we're adding more & more complex pipelines - we use Jenkins to configure & run those. It's much more effort, but at some point we had to pay for the flexibility we expected. Our source code version control is Git (which probably doesn't require a rationale these days) and we keep repos in GitHub - since the very beginning & we never considered moving out. Our primary monitoring these days is in New Relic (Ruby & SPA apps) and AppSignal (Elixir apps) - we're considering unifying it in New Relic , but this will require some improvements in Elixir app observability. For error reporting we use Sentry (a very popular choice in this class) & we collect our distributed logs using Logentries (to avoid semi-manual handling here).

    See more
    Sebastian Dellwig
    Sebastian Dellwig
    Tech Lead at Porsche Digital GmbH · | 6 upvotes · 17.2K views
    Codeship
    Codeship
    CircleCI
    CircleCI
    GitLab CI
    GitLab CI

    We are using GitLab CI and were very happy with it. The integration of all tools like CI/CD, tickets, etc makes it very easy to stay on top of things. But be aware, Gitlab currently does not have iOS build support. So if you want to exchange that for CircleCI / Codeship to have to invest some effort. We are using a managed Mac OS device and installed the Gitlab runner there, to have iOS builds.

    See more
    Tim Abbott
    Tim Abbott
    Founder at Zulip · | 12 upvotes · 27.5K views
    atZulipZulip
    CircleCI
    CircleCI
    Travis CI
    Travis CI

    We actually started out on Travis CI, but we've migrated our main builds to CircleCI, and it's been a huge improvement.

    The reason it's been a huge improvement is that Travis CI has a fundamentally bad design for their images, where they start with a standard base Linux image containing tons of packages (several versions of postgres, every programming language environment, etc). This is potentially nice for the "get builds for a small project running quickly" use case, but it's a total disaster for a larger project that needs a decent number of dependencies and cares about the performance and reliability of their build.

    This issue is exacerbated by their networking infrastructure being unreliable; we usually saw over 1% of builds failing due to transient networking errors in Travis CI, even after we added retries to the most frequently failing operations like apt update or pip install. And they never install Ubuntu's point release updates to their images. So doing an apt update, apt install, or especially apt upgrade would take forever. We ended up writing code to actually uninstall many of their base packages and pin the versions of hundreds of others to get a semi-fast, semi-reliable build. It was infuriating.

    The CircleCI v2.0 system has the right design for a CI system: we can customize the base image to start with any expensive-to-install packages we need for our build, and we can update that image if and when we want to. The end result is that when migrating, we were able to delete all the hacky optimizations mentioned above, while still ending up with a 50% faster build latency. And we've also had 5-10x fewer issues with networking-related flakes, which means one doesn't have to constantly check whether a build failure is actually due to an issue with the code under test or "just another networking flake".

    See more
    Dustin Falgout
    Dustin Falgout
    Developer at Elegant Themes · | 11 upvotes · 13.7K views
    atElegant ThemesElegant Themes
    CircleCI
    CircleCI

    We use CircleCI because of the better value it provides in its plans. I'm sure we could have used Travis just as easily but we found CircleCI's pricing to be more reasonable. In the two years since we signed up, the service has improved. CircleCI is always innovating and iterating on their platform. We have been very satisfied.

    See more
    Marcel Kornegoor
    Marcel Kornegoor
    CTO at AT Computing · | 5 upvotes · 67K views
    atAT ComputingAT Computing
    Python
    Python
    Chef
    Chef
    Puppet Labs
    Puppet Labs
    Ansible
    Ansible
    Google Compute Engine
    Google Compute Engine
    Kubernetes
    Kubernetes
    Docker
    Docker
    GitHub
    GitHub
    VirtualBox
    VirtualBox
    Jenkins
    Jenkins
    Visual Studio Code
    Visual Studio Code
    Fedora
    Fedora
    Red Hat Enterprise Linux
    Red Hat Enterprise Linux
    Debian
    Debian
    CentOS
    CentOS
    Ubuntu
    Ubuntu
    Linux
    Linux
    #ATComputing

    Since #ATComputing is a vendor independent Linux and open source specialist, we do not have a favorite Linux distribution. We mainly use Ubuntu , Centos Debian , Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora during our daily work. These are also the distributions we see most often used in our customers environments.

    For our #ci/cd training, we use an open source pipeline that is build around Visual Studio Code , Jenkins , VirtualBox , GitHub , Docker Kubernetes and Google Compute Engine.

    For #ServerConfigurationAndAutomation, we have embraced and contributed to Ansible mainly because it is not only flexible and powerful, but also straightforward and easier to learn than some other (open source) solutions. On the other hand: we are not affraid of Puppet Labs and Chef either.

    Currently, our most popular #programming #Language course is Python . The reason Python is so popular has to do with it's versatility, but also with its low complexity. This helps sysadmins to write scripts or simple programs to make their job less repetitive and automating things more fun. Python is also widely used to communicate with (REST) API's and for data analysis.

    See more
    Oliver Burn
    Oliver Burn
    Architect at Atlassian · | 12 upvotes · 83.6K views
    atAtlassianAtlassian
    Azure Pipelines
    Azure Pipelines
    jFrog
    jFrog
    Octopus Deploy
    Octopus Deploy
    AWS CodePipeline
    AWS CodePipeline
    CircleCI
    CircleCI
    Bitbucket
    Bitbucket
    Jira
    Jira

    We recently added new APIs to Jira to associate information about Builds and Deployments to Jira issues.

    The new APIs were developed using a spec-first API approach for speed and sanity. The details of this approach are described in this blog post, and we relied on using Swagger and associated tools like Swagger UI.

    A new service was created for managing the data. It provides a REST API for external use, and an internal API based on GraphQL. The service is built using Kotlin for increased developer productivity and happiness, and the Spring-Boot framework. PostgreSQL was chosen for the persistence layer, as we have non-trivial requirements that cannot be easily implemented on top of a key-value store.

    The front-end has been built using React and querying the back-end service using an internal GraphQL API. We have plans of providing a public GraphQL API in the future.

    New Jira Integrations: Bitbucket CircleCI AWS CodePipeline Octopus Deploy jFrog Azure Pipelines

    See more
    Travis CI
    Travis CI
    CircleCI
    CircleCI
    Google Cloud Build
    Google Cloud Build

    I use Google Cloud Build because it's my first foray into the CICD world(loving it so far), and I wanted to work with something GCP native to avoid giving permissions to other SaaS tools like CircleCI and Travis CI.

    I really like it because it's free for the first 120 minutes, and it's one of the few CICD tools that enterprises are open to using since it's contained within GCP.

    One of the unique things is that it has the Kaniko cache, which speeds up builds by creating intermediate layers within the docker image vs. pushing the full thing from the start. Helpful when you're installing just a few additional dependencies.

    Feel free to checkout an example: Cloudbuild Example

    See more
    Interest over time
    Reviews of Chef and CircleCI
    Review ofCircleCICircleCI

    I use CircleCI as part of a cross platform mobile app to build and test the app as well as deploying .apk files to an s3 bucket.

    Alongside CircleCI this repo also has a TravisCI setup for iOS. The CircleCI build has always been quicker and since moving from CircleCI v1 to CircleCI v2 it blows the TravisCI build out of the water. I'm really impressed with the performance gains from moving to v2. I'm pretty sure I could achieve similar results in Travis as well, but it was really easy to setup the Android CI build in Circle making use of Docker.

    Avatar of regentgal
    VP of Engineering at Jetpack Workflow
    Review ofCircleCICircleCI

    After trying several CI systems, we stuck with CircleCI because of the inference engine in CircleCI 1.0 made setup a breeze. We were up and running quickly. Builds are reliable, nicely integrated into GitHub, and anytime we've had a question, the support team was there to help. The 2.0 system provides Docker support and far more customization and is still fairly easy to set up with helpful documentation.

    Review ofCircleCICircleCI

    CircleCI has become our CI of choice. The UI is really good and it has all the integrations we need. The 2.0 upgrade was not yet possible for one of our projects due to outdated gems, however, I have been able to get it working for a different one.

    Avatar of ryuzaki01
    Information Technology
    Review ofCircleCICircleCI

    It help us with the automated build and test and also provide us with the build artifacts which we can use for the deployment also give use archive for each of our build, this things save us alot of time and cost

    Review ofCircleCICircleCI

    We use CircleCI to deploy to server. It is much easier than other websites like Travis especially for the free tier. It is especially useful for open source projects that need private access behind the scenes.

    How developers use Chef and CircleCI
    Avatar of AngeloR
    AngeloR uses CircleCICircleCI

    We originally used CircleCI as our self-contained build system for our internal node modules. It was very easy to set up and configure. Unfortunately we ended up stepping away from it to Jenkins and then CodePipeline due to better integration with our various applications.

    Avatar of Jeff Flynn
    Jeff Flynn uses CircleCICircleCI

    We prefer CircleCI because we care about testing our apps. We found it is better to invest the time writing rSPEC tests to ensure we don't insert any regression bugs with new branches. It's also nice to have a fully-automated deployment process from GitHub to Heroku.

    Avatar of Matt Welke
    Matt Welke uses CircleCICircleCI

    Used for CI/CD for all proofs of concept and personal projects, because of ease of use, GitHub integrations, and free tier.

    Also used for example repos hosted in GitHub, paired with Dependabot, so that example repo dependencies are kept up to date.

    Avatar of Marc3842h
    Marc3842h uses CircleCICircleCI

    CircleCI is used as continues integration system for shiro and all of its modules.

    It automatically deploys the latest GitHub commit to https://shiro.host/.

    Avatar of Goyoboard
    Goyoboard uses ChefChef

    Out custom recipes makes it simple for developers bootstrap process (using vagrant) and that same recipe is also the one that is used to prep instances

    Avatar of jasonmjohnson
    jasonmjohnson uses CircleCICircleCI

    CircleCI will be used for deployment and continuous integration using a scripted configuration that deploys to Amazon EC2.

    Avatar of Zinc
    Zinc uses ChefChef

    We use Chef for our configuration management and our service discovery.

    Avatar of EverTrue
    EverTrue uses ChefChef

    Configuration management for any services not provided by AWS.

    Avatar of Hund
    Hund uses ChefChef

    Distributed application deployments and server configuration.

    Avatar of James Salas
    James Salas uses ChefChef

    Configuration and deployment of application

    How much does Chef cost?
    How much does CircleCI cost?