Generic methods guidelines

Rudder generic methods project

Rudder generic methods are building blocks used in technique editor. For general information, see documentation:

Generic methods are defined in a stand-alone project with code name ncf available in Normation Github. Generic methods are implemented for each Rudder agent, with CFEngine language and engine on Unix-based OS, and with Powershell and DSC for Windows based one.

The project is organized in different parts:

├── api      # code for Rudder technique editor APIs
├── builder  # code for the technique editor
├── tools    # python lib for technique editor
├── examples # not relevant - for ncf use without Rudder
├── Makefile # used to run tests
├── qa-test  # quick tests automatically run before merging
├── tests    # test directory - details in test chapter
└── tree     # contains all the actual configuration management code
    ├── 10_ncf_internals
    ├── 20_cfe_basics
    ├── 30_generic_methods
    ├── 40_it_ops_knowledge
    ├── 50_techniques
    ├── ncf.conf
    └── ncf-hooks.d

There are several layers in the actual framework, from 10 to 60, where each layer is a foundation for higher levels. The higher the lever, the higher the abstraction level.

  • 10_ncf_internals: This directory contains the mechanics and glue to make the framework work. This should be very rarely modified, and is generic.

  • 20_cfe_basics: This directory contains libraries that can be reused; most notably the CFEngine Standard Library and Rudder specific libraries.

  • 30_generic_methods: This directory contains reusable bundles, that perform unit tasks, and are completely generic (for example "file_absent").

Each level uses items from lower levels (lower numbers) or, in some cases, from its own level.


If a part of code is common to several methods or more generic than the method, you should put it in 20_cfe_basics. Use the file for general code, or a specific file for specific topics.

You should NOT modify the CFEngine stdlib in 20_cfe_basics/cfengine as it would prevent updating from upstream. If you need to fix a bug is stdlib, you need to send the fix upstream as well.

Generic method presentation

A generic method is: * A function that allows managing the state of a system item, and reports about this item’s state * Not OS or application specific * A test that verifies the function works properly

The generic method is made of: * One file in tree/30_generic_methods, named with the name of the method, that contains the implementation and metadata * Often split in a *Metadata header part and the effective CFEngine implementation of the method. * One or more files in tests/acceptance/30_generic_methods/, starting with the name of the method

The main file is made of CFEngine code plus some metadata in commentaries. The available fields are:

Naming convention

  • A generic method should be named as this:

  • The first part is the name of the item being defined or configured (a package, a file, a condition, etc.), the second part qualifies what is being done

  • item_state whenever a state name makes sense (like package_present)

  • item_subitem when we are configuring a subitem (like user_home)

  • item_subitem_state whenever a state name makes sense for a subitem (like file_lines_present)

  • item_from_source whenever it is converted from something else, replacing source by the type of the source (command, file, etc.)

  • item_action if it is an action (like service_restart)

  • Avoid useless words, and keep things short

  • When adding a more specific method, add a qualifier at the end


Mandatory tags

The Metadata of a method contains some mandatory fields, used by the technique editor.

# @name File present
# @description Create a file if it doesn't exist
# @parameter target     File to create (absolute path on the target node)
# @class_prefix file_present
# @class_parameter target

All generic methods need to be documented:

  • @name for the displayed name of the method in Rudder

  • @description describes what the method does (without repeating the name of the method)

  • @parameter one per parameter, always following the syntax

    # @parameter <parameter name> <parameter short description>
  • @class_prefix Base condition that will be used for reporting. At run time, the outcome conditions will always be

    # Applied to file_present on /tmp/test, the outcome conditions can be:
  • @class_parameter indicates the parameter that will be used to define the outcome conditions.

Other tags

Still, there are many other tags available, and some, even if not mandatory are more than recommended, such as the @documentation one.

Table 1. Complete list of Tags
Tag name Arguments Mandatory Multiple Comment




Human-readable name of the method




One-line description of the method


<parameter name> <String>


One-line description of the parameter


<parameter name> <Constraint>


Constraint over the given parameter




user documentation


<Canonified method name>


Base for the resulting conditions


<main parameter name>


Name of the argument which value will be used for outcome classes.



Deprecation message


[>=/<]<CFEngine version>

Agent version constraint



Deprecated, do not use



Tags a method as an "action" method ( not a state one) and add an action comment


<New method name>

Tag the renamed method


Constraints are assigned to a parameter and will help the editor doing sanity check in the arguments passed to the method.

The syntax is always

#@parameter_constraint <parameter name> <constraint specific syntax>

#@parameter_constraint provider "select" : [ "", "default", "yum", "apt", "zypper", "zypper_pattern", "slackpkg", "pkg" ]
#@parameter_constraint state "allow_empty_string" : true
  • min_length(int): set a minimum length for the parameter

  • max_length(int): set a maximum length for the parameter

  • not_regex(regex): a regex of forbidden pattern (regex need to be unicode)

  • regex(regex): a regex of a required pattern (regex need to be unicode)

  • allow_empty_string(bool): allow the parameter to be empty (useful for default values)

  • allow_whitespace_string(bool): allow the parameter to contain only spaces (useful for separators)

  • select(string1, string2, …): only accept a value from a list of options

Outcome conditions

Generic methods define two set of global classes; old_class_prefix and class_prefix * These two classes need to be canonified using the canonify function * old_class_prefix is defined as the tag class_prefix value, which means it is always something like:


#"old_class_prefix"  string => canonify("<@class_prefix> <@class_parameter>");
# Example for the file_present method
"old_class_prefix"  string => canonify("file_present_${target}");
  • It is the “public” class used to build the outcome conditions

    • class_prefix is defined as the generic method name plus all the parameters of the generic method, truncated to 1000 chars

  • It is the unique identifier used for reporting

An example of old_class_prefix and class_prefix
# @class_prefix file_replace_lines
# @class_parameter file

bundle agent file_replace_lines(file, line, replacement)
      "old_class_prefix"  string => canonify("file_replace_lines_${file}");
      "args"               slist => { "${file}", "${line}", "${replacement}" };
      "report_param"      string => join("_", args);
      "full_class_prefix" string => canonify("file_replace_lines_${report_param}");
      "class_prefix"      string => string_head("${full_class_prefix}", "1000");

Still, the method need to verify and apply if needed the desirated state and then, based on its actions, generate the complete outcome classes and a report to the server.

In most cases, the resulting can be define automatically by CFEngine when using a built in promise.

      create        => "true",
      classes       => classes_generic_two("${old_class_prefix}", "${class_prefix}");

If you need custom outcomes (i.e. not based directly on a promise outcome), use the bundles classes{success|repaired|failure} to define them.


Logging should always use the _log_v3 method. It takes the base of the report message, the class_parameter, the old_class_prefix, the class_prefix, and the list of generic method arguments as parameter Example:

"report"   usebundle => _log_v3("Replace line ${lines} with ${replacement} into ${file}", "${file}", "${old_class_prefix}", "${class_prefix}", @{args});

← Generic methods Reports reference →