Chef Governance & Maintenance

This post originally appeared at

In a way this is a follow-up to my earlier post about the state of community involvement in Chef. Adam Jacob, the CTO of Chef Software and current de facto lead of Chef as an overall software project, has worked out a new governance and maintenance structure for Chef that I think will help immensely with the issues I laid out in the other post.

This new policy is currently under review as Chef RFCs, which means if there is anything you read here that you think is a bad idea, you can still comment on the pull request. I am hoping we will discuss and approve these RFCs in the November 13th developer meeting. Any misinterpretations or paraphrasing are my own and should not be construed as the opinions of Adam or Chef Software.

I’m a busy Chef user; how will this affect me?

In general, it won’t. If you are content to be only a user of Chef then hopefully all you will notice is that Chef gets better faster.


Chef will have an advisory board elected from both the userbase and maintainers of Chef. Major components/projects within the Chef ecosystem will elect a Lieutenant to manage them, with localized veto power. Maintainers (commiters) can be approved by simple majority of existing Maintainers in their component.

Governance Policy

The general idea of the governance policy is to ensure that users have a voice in the long term planning of Chef as a project. The advisory board, named CBGB, will help both project and company leadership to have a more balanced view of life in the trenches, as it were. It holds no direct decision making power, that will stay with the respective leadership teams, but it helps formalize the relationship with the community.

The advisory board will have 12 members: four individual contributors, four corporate contributors, three component Lieutenants, and the overall Project Lead. Other than the Project Lead, all members are elected by the Maintainers for one year terms. Any active contributor can run for the board in their respective category.

Maintenance Policy

As noted in earlier posts, almost all current Chef maintainers are employees of Chef Software. The new maintenance policy helps to split those two roles apart. It lays out a tree structure, with the Project Lead at the top, then a layer of component or subsystem Lieutenants, and then the Maintainer teams.

Each layer resolves conflicts for the layer below them, so overall the maintainers for a component operate by rough consensus with the Lieutenant having veto/override authority if discussions drag on too long or have become unproductive. The Project Lead, in turn, has veto power over the Lieutenants.

Becoming a maintainer is a simple majority vote from other maintainers in the component, and is handled by creating a pull request adding your name to the appropriate section of the MAINTAINERS file. Maintainers get commit access to the relevant project, and are expected to be available to assist users with issues and to attend the developer meetings every other Thursday on IRC.

Each component team manages their own roadmap and release schedule (if applicable), and the Lieutenant is responsible for publishing it and resolving any issues with other components.

How will these policies change over time?

Once ratified and accepted by the community, each of these policies will become a Chef RFC like any other. While some sections are required for legal reasons, much of this will still be up for discussion as the size and shape of the community continues to change. These documents are not written lightly, but they should also be considered beta quality until we see how well this structure works in practice.

There will also be future work in bringing other, similar RFCs in to line with the maintenance policy such as the RFC editing process and the Community Advocate roles. It is also hoped that over time more projects in the Chef ecosystem can be brought in to this maintenance structure if they would like to.

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Noah Kantrowitz

Former Chef Employee