Comparison of open-source configuration management software

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This is a comparison of notable free and open-source configuration management software, suitable for tasks like server configuration, orchestration and infrastructure as code typically performed by a system administrator.

Basic properties

"Verify mode" (also called dry run) refers to having an ability to determine whether a node is conformant with a guarantee of not modifying it, and typically involves the exclusive use of an internal language supporting read-only mode for all potentially system-modifying operations. "Mutual auth" refers to the client verifying the server and vice versa.

"Agent" describes whether additional software daemons are required. Depending on the management software these agents are usually deployed on the target system or on one or many central "controller" servers. Although "Agent-less" = "No" is colored red and might seem to be a negative, in fact having an agent can be considered quite advantageous to many. Consider the impact if an agent-less tool loses connectivity to a node while making critical changes—leaving the node in an indeterminate state that compromises its (production?) functionality.

Language License Mutual auth. Encryption Verify mode Agent-less Incl. GUI First release Latest stable release
Ansible Python GPLv3+ Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 2012-03-08 2023-11-11 2.15.4
Bcfg2 Python BSD 2-clause Yes Yes Yes No Yes 2004-08-11 2015-06-11 1.3.6
Capistrano Ruby MIT License Yes Yes No 2005 2022-08-07 3.17.1
cdist Python GPLv3+ Yes Yes Yes 2010 2021-08-24 6.9.8
Chef Ruby, Erlang Apache 2.0 Yes Yes Yes No Yes 2009-01-15 0.5.0 2023-01-05 18.1.0 (client), 15.4.0 (server)
CFEngine C GPLv3 Yes Yes Yes No Yes 1993 2023-12-06 3.23.0, 2024-06-21 3.21.5, 2024-06-21 3.18.8,
ISconf Python GPL Yes No 1998 2006-08-13
Juju Python, Go AGPL Yes Yes No No Yes 2010-09-17 2024-02-15 3.4.0
Local ConFiGuration system (LCFG) Perl GPL Partial Partial No No No 1994 Weekly Releases
NOC Project Python BSD License 2.0 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 2012-03-08 2015-05-20 15.05.1
OCS Inventory NG with GLPI Perl, PHP, C++ GPL No Yes No 2003 2014-07-13
Open pc server integration (Opsi) Python, Java GPL No Yes No 2004 2013-03-01 4.0.3
PIKT C GPLv2+ Yes Yes No 1998 2007-09-10 1.19.0
Puppet Ruby, C++ & Clojure (server-side also Ruby before 4.0) Apache since 2.7.0, GPL before then Yes Yes Yes No Yes 2005-08-30 2024-04 8.6.0, 7.30.0 (client), 2024-04 8.6.0, 7.17.0 (server)
Quattor Perl, Python Apache 2.0 Yes Yes 2005-04-01 2023-08-14 23.6.0
Radmind C BSD Yes Yes No 2002-03-26 2008-10-08 1.13.0
Rex Perl Apache Yes Yes Yes 2010-11-05 0.9.0 2021-07-05 1.13.4
Rudder C, Scala and Rust GPLv3 and Apache 2.0 Yes Yes Yes No Yes 2011-10-31 2023-07-21 7.3.4
SmartFrog Java Apache 2.0 Yes Yes No 2004-02-11 2012-03-13 3.18.016
Salt Python Apache 2.0 Yes Yes Yes Both Yes 2011-03-17 0.6.0 2023-05-05 v3006.1
Spacewalk Java (C, Perl, Python, PL/SQL) GPLv2 Yes Yes No 2008-06 2019-01-14 2.9
STAF C++ CPL No Partial No 1998-02-16 2012-12-16 3.4.16
Synctool Python GPLv2 Yes Yes Yes Yes 2003 2019-08-11 6.3
Uyuni Java, Python, PL/SQL (Perl) GPLv2/Apache 2.0 Yes Yes Yes Both Yes 2018-06 31-01-2024 2024.01
Language License Mutual auth Encrypts Verify mode Agent-less Have a GUI First release Latest stable release

Platform support

Note: This means platforms on which a recent version of the tool has actually been used successfully, not platforms where it should theoretically work since it is written in good portable C/C++ or an interpreted language. It should also be listed as a supported platform on the project's web site.

AIX *BSD HP-UX Linux OS X Solaris Windows Others
Ansible Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes (excluding controller) Yes
Bcfg2 Partial Yes No Yes Partial Yes No No
CFEngine Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes (enterprise version only) Yes
cdist Yes Yes Yes No
Chef Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
ISconf Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Juju Yes Yes
Local ConFiGuration system (LCFG) No No No Partial Partial Partial No No
OCS Inventory NG Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Open pc server integration (Opsi) No No No Yes No No Yes No
PIKT Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Puppet Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Quattor No No No Yes Partial Yes No No
Radmind Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Rex Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Rudder Yes Partial No Yes Partial Partial Yes Yes
SmartFrog No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Salt Yes Yes Partial Yes Yes Yes Yes Partial
Spacewalk No No No Yes No No No No
STAF Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Synctool Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Uyuni No No No Partial No No No No
AIX *BSD HP-UX Linux OS X Solaris Windows Others

Short descriptions

Not all tools have the same goal and the same feature set. To help distinguish between all of these software packages, here is a short description of each one.

Ansible Combines multi-node deployment, ad-hoc task execution, and configuration management in one package. Manages nodes over SSH and requires python (2.6+ or 3.5+) to be installed on them. Modules work over JSON and standard output and can be written in any language. Uses YAML to express reusable descriptions of systems. Bcfg2 Software to manage the configuration of a large number of computers using a central configuration model and the client–server paradigm. The system enables reconciliation between clients' state and the central configuration specification. Detailed reports provide a way to identify unmanaged configuration on hosts. Generators enable code or template-based generation of configuration files from a central data repository. CFEngine Lightweight agent system. Manages configuration of a large number of computers using the client–server paradigm or stand-alone. Any client state which is different from the policy description is reverted to the desired state. Configuration state is specified via a declarative language. CFEngine's paradigm is convergent "computer immunology". cdist cdist is a zero dependency configuration management system: It requires only ssh on the target host, which is usually enabled on all Unix-like machines. Only the administration host needs to have Python 3.2 installed. Chef Chef is a configuration management tool written in Erlang, and uses a pure Ruby DSL for writing configuration "recipes". These recipes contain resources that should be put into the declared state. Chef can be used as a client–server tool, or used in "solo" mode. ISconf Tool to execute commands and replicate files on all nodes. The nodes do not need to be up; the commands will be executed when they boot. The system has no central server so commands can be launched from any node and they will replicate to all nodes. Juju Juju concentrates on the notion of service, abstracting the notion of machine or server, and defines relations between those services that are automatically updated when two linked services observe a notable modification. Local Configuration system (LCFG) LCFG manages the configuration with a central description language in XML, specifying resources, aspects and profiles. Configuration is deployed using the client–server paradigm. Appropriate scripts on clients (called components) transcribe the resources into configuration files and restart services as needed. Open PC server integration (Opsi) Opsi is desktop management software for Windows clients based on Linux servers. It provides automatic software deployment (distribution), unattended installation of OS, patch management, hard- and software inventory, license management and software asset management, and administrative tasks for the configuration management. PIKT PIKT is foremost a monitoring system that also does configuration management. "PIKT consists of a sophisticated, feature-rich file preprocessor; an innovative scripting language with unique labor-saving features; a flexible, centrally directed process scheduler; a customizing file installer; a collection of powerful command-line extensions; and other useful tools." Puppet Puppet consists of a custom declarative language to describe system configuration, distributed using the client–server paradigm (using XML-RPC protocol in older versions, with a recent switch to REST), and a library to realize the configuration. The resource abstraction layer enables administrators to describe the configuration in high-level terms, such as users, services and packages. Puppet will then ensure the server's state matches the description. There was brief support in Puppet for using a pure Ruby DSL as an alternative configuration language starting at version 2.6.0. However this feature was deprecated beginning with version 3.1. Quattor The quattor information model is based on the distinction between the desired state and the actual state. The desired state is registered in a fabric-wide configuration database, using a specially designed configuration language called Pan for expressing and validating configurations, composed out of reusable hierarchical building blocks called templates. Configurations are propagated to and cached on the managed nodes. Radmind Radmind manages hosts configuration at the file system level. In a similar way to Tripwire (and other configuration management tools), it can detect external changes to managed configuration, and can optionally reverse the changes. Radmind does not have higher-level configuration element (services, packages) abstraction. A graphical interface is available (only) for OS X. Rex Rex is a remote execution system with integrated configuration management and software deployment capabilities. The admin provides configuration instructions via so-called Rexfiles. They are written in a small DSL but can also contain arbitrary Perl. It integrates well with an automated build system used in CI environments. Salt Salt started out as a tool for remote server management. As its usage has grown, it has gained a number of extended features, including a more comprehensive mechanism for host configuration. This is a relatively new feature facilitated through the Salt States component. With the traction that Salt has gotten in the last bit, the support for more features and platforms might continue to grow. SmartFrog Java-based tool to deploy and configure applications distributed across multiple machines. There is no central server; you can deploy a .SF configuration file to any node and have it distributed to peer nodes according to the distribution information contained inside the deployment descriptor itself. Spacewalk Spacewalk is an open source Linux and Solaris systems management solution and is the upstream project for the source of Red Hat Network Satellite. Spacewalk works with RHEL, Fedora, and other RHEL derivative distributions like CentOS, Scientific Linux, etc. There are ongoing efforts on getting it packaged for inclusion in Fedora. Spacewalk provides systems inventory (hardware and software information, installation and updates of software, collection and distribution of custom software packages into manageable groups, provision systems, management and deployment of configuration files, system monitoring, virtual guest provisioning, starting/stopping/configuring virtual guests and delegating all of these actions to local or LDAP users and system entitlements). As of May 2020, Spacewalk is now EOL with users having moved to either Uyuni or Foreman/Katello. STAF The Software Testing Automation Framework (STAF) enables users to create cross-platform, distributed software test environments. STAF removes the tedium of building an automation infrastructure, thus enabling users to focus on building their automation solution. The STAF framework provides the foundation upon which to build higher-level solutions, and provides a pluggable approach supported across a large variety of platforms and languages. Synctool Synctool aims to be easy to understand, learn and use. It is written in Python and makes use of SSH (passwordless, with host-based or key-based authentication) and rsync. No specific language is needed to configure Synctool. Synctool has dry run capabilities that enable surgical precision. Synctool depends on Python2 which is now EOL and there are no current plans to migrate it to Python3.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Key pair: uses public/private key pairs and key fingerprints for mutual authentication, like SSH.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Secure Shell: Uses the Secure Shell protocol for encryption.
  3. ^ Certificate and Passwords: Uses SSL X.509 certificate and fingerprint for clients to authenticate server, and passwords for server to authenticate clients; clients should only share the same password if they are allowed access to each other's configuration data.
  4. ^ a b c d e f SSL: Uses the Secure Sockets Layer, Transport Layer Security (TLS) for encryption.
  5. ^ Full support for non-modifying determination of node compliance, including nodes not previously modified by a Bcfg2 configuration pass.
  6. ^ Per request signed headers and pre-shared keys.
  7. ^ Payload encryption via SSL if HTTPS proxy is configured.
  8. ^ Chef 10.14.0+ (called why-run mode)
  9. ^ HMAC: Uses HMAC signatures on all network traffic.
  10. ^ Certificates: Uses SSL X.509 Certificates for mutual authentication. Can use any SSL Certificate Authority to manage the Public Key Infrastructure.
  11. ^ Using the --noop option
  12. ^ Using the Audit mode.
  13. ^ Network Trust: Trusts the network, like rsh.
  14. ^ User-only Auth: User authenticates to server via password, but uses Network Trust to authenticate user to server, like telnet.
  15. ^ Secure Shell: Uses the Secure Shell protocol for authentication.
  16. ^ Synctool performs a dry-run by default, and only modifies things when invoked with '--fix'.
  17. ^ Encap, RPM, and POSIX file support only.
  18. ^ a b c FreeBSD.
  19. ^ Debian, Ubuntu; Gentoo; RPM-based distributions (CentOS, Mandrake, Red Hat, RHEL, SLES, SuSE)
  20. ^ POSIX File, Launchd, and MacPorts Support only.
  21. ^ Unix.
  22. ^ "Recent versions run on Fedora Core (3, 5, 6). Various people have ported some of the LCFG core to other Linux distributions, such as Debian, but these ports have not been incorporated"
  23. ^ "There has been an experimental port to OS X, which does work and includes some Mac-specific components. However, this is not production quality and the lack of uniform packaging system under OS X means that automatic management of installed software is likely to be difficult."
  24. ^ "LCFG core has been ported back to Solaris and we are using this in production, although the software has not been packaged for distribution, and is not so well supported"
  25. ^ Digital Unix; IRIX
  26. ^ NetBSD.
  27. ^ OpenBSD.
  28. ^ a b Multiple users have successfully built and run the agent on FreeBSD, but no official package is available currently.
  29. ^ Android.
  30. ^ a b c Written in Java, so should in theory work on this platform if there is the appropriate JVM version available for it; however it has not been tested on the platform, which should be considered unsupported.
  31. ^ a b Will run anywhere Python runs, but handlers for different platforms are untested.
  32. ^ 4.3.3+ (Power 32); 5.1+ (Power 32/64)
  33. ^ FreeBSD 4.10 (x86-32); FreeBSD 6.1+ (x86-32)
  34. ^ 11.00+ (PA-RISC 32, IA-64)
  35. ^ (x86-32, x86-64, IA-64, PPC 64, zSeries 32/64)
  36. ^ 2.6+ (Sparc 32); 10+ (x86-32, x86-64)
  37. ^ 95, 98, Me, NT4, 2000, XP, 2003, Vista (x86-32), 7 (x86-32), 7 (x86-64); 2003, Vista (x86-64); 2004 (IA-64)
  38. ^ OS/400 5.2+ (iSeries 32); z/OS Unix 1.4+
  39. ^ Synctool runs on any platform that supports SSH, rsync and Python.
  40. ^ SuSE"


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  34. ^ "For file installs, file fetches (to diff against the central configuration), and command executions, you can optionally encrypt all such data traffic between master and slave." - from Security Considerations.
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