Michael in Automation 10 minutes

Test Kitchen: Required, not Optional

When I first started reading through the Learning Chef book I became quite fascinated and enamored by Test Kitchen. The community created such a wonderful way to introduce testing into their workflow. That’s fantastic!

Integration and support of Test Kitchen was one of our reasons for partnering with Chef. We had a way to create a test-driven infrastructure, which would be essential to truly scaling our automation to fit our vision. But, I reasoned, for now we would leave it out of the picture so we can focus on the more important tasks like developing cookbooks and establishing a change-management workflow that fit our broader security model.

I now see that I was looking at this all wrong.

The choice to forego testing is a common one: teams often make sure then have a core idea that will work before they invest in testing. Then they pivot very hard into the testing direction when the core is there. This is the direction I took, largely because of how we couldn’t easily get Windows, Test Kitchen and vagrant to work together.

I changed my mind when I recently tried to work with a group of 25 people to learn Chef. In the workshop I asked people to set up a virtual machine somewhere, copy stuff over, get it on a chef server (or run it in local mode directly) and then watched them struggle with the nonessential details and not get much done.

The reality then dawned on me: Test Kitchen is the only efficient way to run your cookbooks. It’s not for testing first. It’s for running first. If you are a developer, you’re used to coding a little and running a little. The reality all developers discovered decades ago is that you’re not going to get very far with coding unless you are running your code frequently.

Since chef runs on an infrastructure, it’s much more difficult to run. You have to run it on a virtual machine. This is what Test Kitchen is for.**

Using chef without Test Kitchen is like opening a restaurant and inviting everyone to taste the food without practicing with your kitchen staff first. No one would do that because it would fail miserably. The restaurant would spend a massive amount of time getting feedback on a product that they can’t trust is ready for external consumption.

So my next task is to get us up and running with Test Kitchen. I now know that it’s not just a nice tool for testing; it’s an essential part of coding with chef.