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 typically performed by a system administrator.

Basic properties

"Verify mode" 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.

Language License Mutual auth Encrypts Verify mode Agent-less Have a GUI First release Latest stable release
Ansible Python GPL Yes[1] Yes[2] Yes Yes Yes[3] (Free 30-day Trial) 2012-03-08 2015-04-28 1.9.1[4]
Bcfg2 Python BSD[5] Yes[6] Yes[7] Yes[8] No Yes[9] 2004-08-11[10] 2014-09-05 1.3.5[10]
Capistrano Ruby MIT License Yes[2] 2005 2015-03-02 3.4.0
cdist Python GPL Yes[1] Yes[2] Yes 2010 2015-03-19 3.1.12
Chef Ruby, Erlang Apache Yes[11] Yes[12] Yes[13][14] No 2009-01-15 0.5.0 2015-10-08 12.5.0 (client),[15] 2015-11-23 12.3.1 (server)[16]
CFEngine C GPL, COSL[17] Yes[1] Yes[18] Yes[19][20] No 1993 2015-09-09 3.7.1[21]
ISconf Python GPL[22] Yes[23] No[24] 1998 2006-08-13
Juju Python, Go[25] Affero General Public License Yes[1] Yes[7] No No Yes[26] 2010-09-17[27] 2015-06-17 1.24.0[28]
Local ConFiGuration system (LCFG) Perl GPL Partial[29] Partial[30] 1994 Weekly Releases
NixOS Nix MIT License Yes[1] Yes[2] Yes Yes No 2005-08-04 [31] 2015-09-30 15.09 [32]
NOC Python BSD Yes[1] Yes[2] Yes Yes Yes 2012-03-08 2013-09-05 0.8[33]
OCS Inventory NG with GLPI Perl, PHP, C++ GPL No[34] Yes[7] No 2003 2014-07-13[35]
Open pc server integration (Opsi) Python, Java GPL No Yes[7] No 2004 2013-03-01 4.0.3
PIKT C GPL[36] Yes[37] Yes[38] No 1998[39] 2007-09-10 1.19.0
Puppet Ruby Apache from 2.7.0, GPL before then Yes[40] Yes[7] Yes[41][42] Yes Yes[43] 2005-08-30[44] 2015-03-26 3.7.5[45]
Quattor Perl, Python Apache 2.0[46][47] Yes[48] Yes[49] 2005-04-01[50] 2016-01-11 15.12.0[51]
Radmind C BSD[52] Yes[53] Yes[54] No 2002-03-26[55] 2008-10-08 1.13.0[56]
Rex Perl Apache Yes[1] Yes[2] Yes 2010-11-05 0.9.0[57] 2014-07-14 0.50.0[58]
Rudder C and Scala GPL and Affero GPL Yes[1] Yes[7] Partial No Yes 2011-10-31 2015-08-19 3.1.1[59]
Rundeck[60] Java[61] Apache Yes Yes Yes Yes 2010-05-01 1.0.0 2015-02-13 2.4.2[62]
SmartFrog Java LGPL Yes[63] Yes[63] No 2004-02-11 2009-01-26 3.16.004[64][65]
Salt[66] Python[67] Apache[68] Yes[69] Yes[69] Yes Both[70][71] Yes[72][73] 2011-03-17 0.6.0[74] 2015-07-01 2015.5.3[75]
Spacewalk Java (C, Perl, Python, PL/SQL) GPLv2 Yes Yes No 2008-06[76] 2015-04 2.3[77]
STAF C++ CPL[78] No[79][80] Partial[81] No 1998-02-16[82] 2012-12-16 3.4.16 [83]
Synctool[84] Python[85] GPLv2[86] Yes[87] Yes[2] Yes[88] Yes[89] 2003[90] 2014-06-15 6.1[91]
Vagrant[92] Ruby MIT License 2010-01-21 2014-05-06 1.6.1

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 (Need linux control machine) Yes[93]
Bcfg2 Partial[94] Yes[95] No Yes[96] Partial[97] Yes No No
CFEngine Yes Yes[95] Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes[98]
cdist Yes Yes Yes No
Chef Yes[99] Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes[100] Yes
ISconf Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No
Juju Yes Yes[101]
Local ConFiGuration system (LCFG) No No No Partial[102] Partial[103] Partial[104] 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[105]
Puppet Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Quattor No No No Yes Partial[106] Yes No No
Radmind Yes Yes[95][107][108] No Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Rex Yes Yes Yes[109] Yes Yes[109] No
Rudder Yes Partial[110] No Yes Partial[110] Partial[111] Yes Yes[112]
Rundeck Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
SmartFrog No[113] No[113] Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No[113]
Salt Yes Yes Partial[114] Yes[115] Yes Yes[116] Yes Partial[114]
Spacewalk No[117] No No Yes[118] No Yes[119] No No
STAF Yes[120] Yes[121] Yes[122] Yes[123] Yes[124] Yes[125] Yes[126] Yes[127]
Synctool Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes[128]
Vagrant Yes Yes Yes

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.

Combines multi-node deployment, ad-hoc task execution, and configuration management in one package. Manages nodes over SSH and requires python (2.4 or later) to be installed on them.[129] Modules work over JSON and standard output and can be written in any language. Uses YAML to express reusable descriptions of systems.
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.
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.[130] CFEngine's paradigm is convergent "computer immunology".[131]
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 is a configuration management tool written in Ruby, 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.[132]
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 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.
NixOS Declarative Linux (NixOS)
NixOS is a declarative Linux distribution with configuration management built-in. Typical file editing is not possible at all, as Nix the package manager does not allow it.
Open pc server integration (Opsi)
Open pc server integration (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.[133]
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 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. This feature was deprecated, however, beginning with version 3.1.[130][132][134][135]
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 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 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.
Rudder is an easy to use, web-driven, role-based solution for IT infrastructure Automation & Compliance. A lightweight agent installed on all managed hosts applies configuration and verifies it regularly, centralising reporting data to a main server. Pre-defined modules enable quick and simple configuration for many scenarios, and a web-based interface allows you to build extra modules.
Rundeck is an open-source software Job scheduler and Run Book Automation system for automating routine processes across development and production environments. It combines task scheduling, multi-node command execution, workflow orchestration and logs everything that happens. Access control policy governs who executes actions across nodes via the configured "node executor" (default for unix uses SSH) and does not require any additional remote software.[1] to be installed on them. Jobs and plugins can be written in scripting languages or Java. The workflow system can be extended by creating custom step plugins to interface external tools and services.
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.
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 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).
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 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.
Vagrant is free and open-source software for creating and configuring virtual development environments.[1] It can be considered a wrapper around virtualization software such as VirtualBox and configuration management software such as Chef, Salt and Puppet.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Key Pair: Uses public/private key pairs and key fingerprints for mutual authentication, like SSH.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Secure Shell: Uses the Secure Shell protocol for encryption.
  3. Ansible, Inc. "Ansible Tower -".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  5. /. "bcfg2/LICENSE at master · Bcfg2/bcfg2 · GitHub". Retrieved 2014-02-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 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.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 SSL: Uses the Secure Sockets Layer, Transport Layer Security (TLS) for encryption.
  8. Full support for non-modifying determination of node compliance, including nodes not previously modified by a Bcfg2 configuration pass.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Download – Bcfg2". Retrieved 2014-12-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Per request signed headers and pre-shared keys.
  12. Payload encryption via SSL if HTTPS proxy is configured.
  13. Chef 10.14.0+ (called why-run mode)
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  18. Custom: Uses code specific to the software for this function.
  19. Called dry-run, used to verify what would happen
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  21. "CFEngine 3.7.1 released: stability enhancements". CFEngine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  23. HMAC: Uses HMAC signatures on all network traffic.
  24. Improved security which would include an encrypted, mutually authenticated, peer-to-peer message bus is tracked here [1].
  25. "Juju Source Code". 2015-06-19. Retrieved 2015-06-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  29. LCFG does not provide its own transport mechanism; it relies on an external program, most often Apache. Using Apache it should be possible to do mutual authentication in several ways; however the documentation at The Complete Guide to LCFG, Section 9.4: Authorization and Security, shows access control based on IP address ranges, implying that the client does not authenticate itself to the server via an SSL certificate; it also does not mention if the LCFG client checks the validity of the server's SSL certificate (such as via a per-site fingerprint distributed with the client, or a chain of trust to an accredited CA). It mentions that there can be a per-client password in the profile, but also states that "The contents of the LCFG profile should be considered public".
  30. LCFG supports encrypted communications channels (SSL via Apache); however the documentation at The Complete Guide to LCFG, Section 9.4: Authorization and Security, states that "The contents of the LCFG profile should be considered public".
  31. "[Nix-dev] NixOS boots and installs".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. "NOC".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Server authenticates to client, but client does not authenticate to server. See OCS Inventory NG Installation and Administration guide, page 114.
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  37. PIKT uses shared secret keys for mutual authentication. "As an option, you can use secret key authentication to prove the master's identity to the slave. [...] If one managed to crack any system in the PIKT domain, one would have access to all common secrets. To solve this problem, you may use per-slave uid, gid, and private_key settings." - from Security Considerations.
  38. "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.
  39. "Index of /pikt/dist". Retrieved 2014-02-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. Certificates: Uses SSL X.509 Certificates for mutual authentication. Can use any SSL Certificate Authority to manage the Public Key Infrastructure.
  41. Using the --noop option
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  48. "Client to server authentication and vice versa: on one hand, this allows to enforce access policies to sensitive data according to the client "name", on the other hand, clients are guaranteed to talk to the original server." - from Quattor Installation and User Guide: Version 1.1.x, page 70
  49. "[...] secure information transfer, since data are encrypted: this prevents eavesdroppers from obtaining information in transit over the network." - from Quattor Installation and User Guide: Version 1.1.x, page 70
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  53. "SSL certificates can also be used to authenticate both the Radmind server and the managed clients, regardless of DNS or IP-address variation." - from Radmind: The Integration of Filesystem Integrity Checking with Filesystem Management
  54. "For network security, Radmind supports SSL-encrypted links. This allows nodes on insecure networks to be updated securely." - from Radmind: The Integration of Filesystem Integrity Checking with Filesystem Management
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  60. Rundeck Rundeck is an open source workflow automation service to manage your operations.
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  63. 63.0 63.1 See Using the new SmartFrog Security
  65. The release the Smartfrog pushes from its own site is 3.17.014 of 2009-09-04
  66. Salt is an open source tool to manage your infrastructure. Easy enough to get running in minutes and fast enough to manage tens of thousands of servers
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  79. Network Trust: Trusts the network, like rsh.
  80. User-only Auth: User authenticates to server via password, but uses Network Trust to authenticate user to server, like telnet.
  81. There is a feature request for a Secure TCP/IP Connection Provider, and one of the developers stated on 2007-04-05 that "You will need to download the source code for OpenSSL and point the build files at it. Other than that, it should just work.", so it looks like there may be working encryption if you build from scratch instead of using the prebuilt binaries. It is unclear what if any authentication building against OpenSSL would give STAF.
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  84. Synctool aims to be easy to understand and use. It's built in Python and uses SSH and Rsync.
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  87. Secure Shell: Uses the Secure Shell protocol for authentication.
  88. Synctool performs a dry-run by default, and only modifies things when invoked with '--fix'.
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  92. Vagrant is free and open-source software for creating and configuring virtual development environments.
  93. Installation : Control Machine Requirements, retrieved May 12, 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Can manage any machine with Python 2.4 or later and sshd. Control machine can be any non-Windows machine with Python 2.6 or 2.7 installed. This includes Red Hat, Debian, CentOS, OS X, any of the BSDs, and so on.
  94. Encap, RPM, and POSIX File Support Only
  95. 95.0 95.1 95.2 FreeBSD
  96. Debian, Ubuntu; Gentoo; RPM-based distributions (CentOS, Mandrake, Red Hat, RHEL, SLES, SuSE)
  97. POSIX File, Launchd, and MacPorts Support Only
  98. Unix
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  101. Windows workloads using juju, retrieved November 25, 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  102. "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"
  103. "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."
  104. "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"
  105. Digital Unix; IRIX
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  107. NetBSD
  108. OpenBSD
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  110. 110.0 110.1 Multiple users have successfully built and run the agent on FreeBSD, but no official package is available currently
  111. "rudder-packages/rudder-agent/other at master · cfengineers-net/rudder-packages · GitHub". GitHub.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  112. Android
  113. 113.0 113.1 113.2 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.
  114. 114.0 114.1 Will run anywhere Python runs, but handlers for different platforms are untested.
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  116. Salt was added to the OpenCSW package repository in September of 2012 in version 0.10.2 of Salt
  117. "BrainBox – spacewalk".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  118. "spacewalk".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  119. "ManagingSolarisSystems – spacewalk".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  120. 4.3.3+ (Power 32); 5.1+ (Power 32/64)
  121. FreeBSD 4.10 (x86-32); FreeBSD 6.1+ (x86-32)
  122. 11.00+ (PA-RISC 32, IA-64)
  123. (x86-32, x86-64, IA-64, PPC 64, zSeries 32/64)
  124. [2]10.2+ (?)
  125. 2.6+ (Sparc 32); 10+ (x86-32, x86-64)
  126. 95, 98, Me, NT4, 2000, XP, 2003, Vista (x86-32), 7 (x86-32), 7 (x86-64); 2003, Vista (x86-64); 2004 (IA-64)
  127. OS/400 5.2+ (iSeries 32); z/OS Unix 1.4+
  128. Synctool runs on any platform that supports SSH, Rsync and Python.
  129. "Getting Started | AnsibleWorks". 2013-09-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  130. 130.0 130.1
  132. 132.0 132.1 Alan Sharp-Paul. "Puppet vs. Chef - The Battle Wages On".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  134. "Puppet & Ruby DSL - Puppet Labs". Puppet Labs.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  135. "Puppet 3.0 — 3.4 Release Notes".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>