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Chef vs Terraform: What are the differences?

What is 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.

What is Terraform? Describe your complete infrastructure as code and build resources across providers. With Terraform, you describe your complete infrastructure as code, even as it spans multiple service providers. Your servers may come from AWS, your DNS may come from CloudFlare, and your database may come from Heroku. Terraform will build all these resources across all these providers in parallel.

Chef and Terraform are primarily classified as "Server Configuration and Automation" and "Infrastructure Build" tools respectively.

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, Terraform provides the following key features:

  • Infrastructure as Code: Infrastructure is described using a high-level configuration syntax. This allows a blueprint of your datacenter to be versioned and treated as you would any other code. Additionally, infrastructure can be shared and re-used.
  • Execution Plans: Terraform has a "planning" step where it generates an execution plan. The execution plan shows what Terraform will do when you call apply. This lets you avoid any surprises when Terraform manipulates infrastructure.
  • Resource Graph: Terraform builds a graph of all your resources, and parallelizes the creation and modification of any non-dependent resources. Because of this, Terraform builds infrastructure as efficiently as possible, and operators get insight into dependencies in their infrastructure.

"Dynamic and idempotent server configuration" is the top reason why over 104 developers like Chef, while over 80 developers mention "Infrastructure as code" as the leading cause for choosing Terraform.

Chef and Terraform are both open source tools. It seems that Terraform with 17.4K GitHub stars and 4.77K forks on GitHub has more adoption than Chef with 5.83K GitHub stars and 2.35K GitHub forks.

According to the StackShare community, Terraform has a broader approval, being mentioned in 489 company stacks & 298 developers stacks; compared to Chef, which is listed in 359 company stacks and 80 developer stacks.

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 Terraform?

With Terraform, you describe your complete infrastructure as code, even as it spans multiple service providers. Your servers may come from AWS, your DNS may come from CloudFlare, and your database may come from Heroku. Terraform will build all these resources across all these providers in parallel.
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      Jobs that mention Chef and Terraform as a desired skillset
      PinterestPinterest
      San Francisco, CA; Palo Alto, CA
      PinterestPinterest
      San Francisco, CA; Palo Alto, CA
      PinterestPinterest
      San Francisco, CA; Palo Alto, CA
      PinterestPinterest
      San Francisco, CA; Palo Alto, CA
      What companies use Chef?
      What companies use Terraform?

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      What tools integrate with Chef?
      What tools integrate with Terraform?

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      What are some alternatives to Chef and Terraform?
      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鈥檚 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 Terraform
      StackShare Editors
      StackShare Editors
      Apache Thrift
      Apache Thrift
      Kotlin
      Kotlin
      Presto
      Presto
      HHVM (HipHop Virtual Machine)
      HHVM (HipHop Virtual Machine)
      gRPC
      gRPC
      Kubernetes
      Kubernetes
      Apache Spark
      Apache Spark
      Airflow
      Airflow
      Terraform
      Terraform
      Hadoop
      Hadoop
      Swift
      Swift
      Hack
      Hack
      Memcached
      Memcached
      Consul
      Consul
      Chef
      Chef
      Prometheus
      Prometheus

      Since the beginning, Cal Henderson has been the CTO of Slack. Earlier this year, he commented on a Quora question summarizing their current stack.

      Apps
      • Web: a mix of JavaScript/ES6 and React.
      • Desktop: And Electron to ship it as a desktop application.
      • Android: a mix of Java and Kotlin.
      • iOS: written in a mix of Objective C and Swift.
      Backend
      • The core application and the API written in PHP/Hack that runs on HHVM.
      • The data is stored in MySQL using Vitess.
      • Caching is done using Memcached and MCRouter.
      • The search service takes help from SolrCloud, with various Java services.
      • The messaging system uses WebSockets with many services in Java and Go.
      • Load balancing is done using HAproxy with Consul for configuration.
      • Most services talk to each other over gRPC,
      • Some Thrift and JSON-over-HTTP
      • Voice and video calling service was built in Elixir.
      Data warehouse
      • Built using open source tools including Presto, Spark, Airflow, Hadoop and Kafka.
      Etc
      See more
      John Kodumal
      John Kodumal
      CTO at LaunchDarkly | 3 upvotes 28.2K views
      atLaunchDarklyLaunchDarkly
      Armory
      Armory
      Packer
      Packer
      Terraform
      Terraform
      Spinnaker
      Spinnaker
      Ansible
      Ansible

      LaunchDarkly is almost a five year old company, and our methodology for deploying was state of the art... for 2014. We recently undertook a project to modernize the way we #deploy our software, moving from Ansible-based deploy scripts that executed on our local machines, to using Spinnaker (along with Terraform and Packer) as the basis of our deployment system. We've been using Armory's enterprise Spinnaker offering to make this project a reality.

      See more
      Joseph Kunzler
      Joseph Kunzler
      DevOps Engineer at Tillable | 9 upvotes 24.1K views
      atTillableTillable
      AWS CloudFormation
      AWS CloudFormation
      AWS Elastic Load Balancing (ELB)
      AWS Elastic Load Balancing (ELB)
      Amazon EC2
      Amazon EC2
      Amazon S3
      Amazon S3
      Terraform
      Terraform

      We use Terraform because we needed a way to automate the process of building and deploying feature branches. We wanted to hide the complexity such that when a dev creates a PR, it triggers a build and deployment without the dev having to worry about any of the 'plumbing' going on behind the scenes. Terraform allows us to automate the process of provisioning DNS records, Amazon S3 buckets, Amazon EC2 instances and AWS Elastic Load Balancing (ELB)'s. It also makes it easy to tear it all down when finished. We also like that it supports multiple clouds, which is why we chose to use it over AWS CloudFormation.

      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
      AWS CloudFormation
      AWS CloudFormation
      Google Cloud Deployment Manager
      Google Cloud Deployment Manager
      Terraform
      Terraform

      I use Terraform because it hits the level of abstraction pocket of being high-level and flexible, and is agnostic to cloud platforms. Creating complex infrastructure components for a solution with a UI console is tedious to repeat. Using low-level APIs are usually specific to cloud platforms, and you still have to build your own tooling for deploying, state management, and destroying infrastructure.

      However, Terraform is usually slower to implement new services compared to cloud-specific APIs. It's worth the trade-off though, especially if you're multi-cloud. I heard someone say, "We want to preference a cloud, not lock in to one." Terraform builds on that claim.

      Terraform Google Cloud Deployment Manager AWS CloudFormation

      See more
      Pedro Arnal Puente
      Pedro Arnal Puente
      CTO at La Cupula Music SL | 7 upvotes 30.5K views
      atLa Cupula Music SLLa Cupula Music SL
      Ansible
      Ansible
      Packer
      Packer
      Terraform
      Terraform
      Amazon ElastiCache
      Amazon ElastiCache
      Redis
      Redis
      Amazon RDS for Aurora
      Amazon RDS for Aurora
      Amazon S3
      Amazon S3
      Amazon EC2
      Amazon EC2
      Debian
      Debian

      Our base infrastructure is composed of Debian based servers running in Amazon EC2 , asset storage with Amazon S3 , and Amazon RDS for Aurora and Redis under Amazon ElastiCache for data storage.

      We are starting to work in automated provisioning and management with Terraform , Packer , and Ansible .

      See more
      Interest over time
      Reviews of Chef and Terraform
      No reviews found
      How developers use Chef and Terraform
      Avatar of Royal Icing
      Royal Icing uses TerraformTerraform

      Terraform makes it so easy to deploy AWS and Google Cloud services, with the declarative approach avoiding so many headaches of manual work and possible mistakes.

      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 B霉i Thanh
      B霉i Thanh uses TerraformTerraform
      • Infrastructure as Code.
      • Central tool to deploy all infratructure: AWS, CloudFlare, StatusCake
      Avatar of Zinc
      Zinc uses ChefChef

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

      Avatar of Prime Technologies
      Prime Technologies uses TerraformTerraform

      The entire AWS environments is described and setup using Terraform.

      Avatar of Binded
      Binded uses TerraformTerraform

      All of our infrastructure is stored as code thanks to Terraform.

      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 Razorpay
      Razorpay uses TerraformTerraform

      We orchestrate our AWS infrastructure using Terraform.

      Avatar of James Salas
      James Salas uses ChefChef

      Configuration and deployment of application

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